South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
Cristina Fernández is an aggressive politician with a fragile state of health, which makes for a lousy combination. Credibly diagnosed over the weekend with blood on her brain — a possibly but not necessarily serious condition — doctors have ordered the Argentine president to rest for a month. Just three weeks before mid-term elections, this surprise development has the potential to throw Argentina, its politics and even its creditor discussions wide open. For Ms Fernández it is also a medical misfortune that could, ironically, turn out to be a political gift.
Her government faces a crescendo of problems. Its long-running battle in a New York court with a group of holdout creditors could well end in a technical default.Currency controls are strangling the economy and deterring investment while inflation is running at a privately-estimated 25 per cent (not even ministers believe the official figures.) Corruption scandals are a regular occurrence. Meanwhile, Ms Fernández has also picked a series of fights with her neighbours, most recently Chile and Uruguay, losing Argentina its few remaining international friends. As a result, her ruling coalition is expected to lose big in the mid-term elections on October 27.
Yet although Argentina faces many serious challenges, none of them are insuperable. The problem is that Ms Fernández, who alongside her recently deceased husband has ruled Argentina for a decade, is too proud or stubborn to admit error and change her ways. Now, having been ordered by her doctors to stay off politics for a month, she may not have to. Someone else can execute the U-turns for her.
That person is the vice-president, Amado Boudou, who under the constitution is supposed to step into her shoes. (He already did once before in late 2011, after she was operated on for thyroid cancer.) Although an unpopular politician, currently facing corruption charges, Mr Boudou is also a former economy minister with a reputation for pragmatism who at least understands what inflation means and what debt negotiations require.
Indeed, according to one theory doing the rounds in Buenos Aires, Ms Fernández might even go so far as to take the opportunity of her time out from politics to stay out for good. Retiring for health reasons offers her a graceful exit from an increasingly difficult situation. She hates losing, as will happen on October 27. It is time for someone else, at least vaguely competent, to pick up the country’s economic reins. On a more personal note, she has also said that her children worry about losing their mother so soon after their father’s death. Backing out of politics because the doctors say she should, would allow her to assume the aura of a martyr, sanctified by her widowhood, her enduring faith in the “project” and her desire to spend more time with her grandchildren.
It is a credible escape hatch, and perhaps a plausible scenario — although also one that may only be wishful thinking by her many critics. After all, the last time Mr Boudou assumed the presidency Ms Fernández gave him this public advice: “Take care what you do. Be serious, it’s not a joke”. After that ringing endorsement, she then continued to issue orders from her hospital bed.