December 5, 2013
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner spent the first hours in intensive care after undergoing a successful head surgery at the Favaloro Foundation hospital to drain a clot on Tuesday morning. The same intensive care should be taken in these initial hours of Fernández de Kirchner’s recuperation when addressing the delicate and unnerving question of who is now running this notoriously volatile republic. Vice-President Amado Boudou, now formally in charge of the Executive, is an easy target for the opposition because he is facing court investigations for graft and influence peddling and does not enjoy impressive popularity ratings. He is the sitting duck of a lame-duck administration. Yet the criticism of Boudou is already dividing the opposition between those who have blasted him without mercy, like the dissident Peronist lawmaker from Buenos Aires province Felipe Solá, and those who have called for institutional responsibility and moderation, like Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri (the leader of the centre-right opposition party PRO).
The president, who has centralized decisions and concentrated power since taking office in 2007, has now been forced to learn in the hardest of possible ways the art of delegating responsibilities. In this new context it is perhaps an oversimplification to suppose that Boudou, even though he was handpicked by Fernández de Kirchner, will centralize power in the manner his superior did before she fell ill. Teamwork seems to be the government’s line in dealing with this mishap (although Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina was quick to point out yesterday that the president has the last say). Yet neither can Boudou’s caretaker presidency be reduced to an administrative anecdote because already he has attended ceremonies and has spoken at public rallies ahead of the nearing midterm elections scheduled for October 27.
Politicians try to control events. But politicians at times will find themselves controlled by extraordinary events. These are testing times for Boudou and the Cabinet just when the vast majority of voters chose to inflict defeat on the ruling coalition in the August primaries. The officials running the country should and will eventually be held accountable for their actions if they err. But events currently pose a challenge for the opposition and the press too because the president’s surgery is a news story that will continue to generate developments that are controlled by no one. In such a context, and with the president still in hospital, it is best to take a deep breath before opining.