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Argentine Election Results Suggest A Turn To Leftist Populism


Argentina elected a new president. Mauricio Macri is out, and once again the country has tilted to the left.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

INSKEEP: That's the sound of a crowd gathering in Buenos Aries last night to celebrate their new president and also their new Vice President Cristina Kirchner, who is returning to power. She's one of the giants of Latin American politics. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Buenos Aries. Hi there, Philip.


INSKEEP: Who is the new president-elect, who's a bit less famous than the vice president-elect?

REEVES: Yes. He is. He's Alberto Fernandez. He's 60. He's a career politician, a law professor. He used to be chief of staff for Cristina's husband, Nestor, when he was in power, and then briefly for Cristina herself. He's seen as astute, pragmatic, a very seasoned operator and, at this time, a very popular figure. The crowd that gathered in Buenos Aries last night was absolutely massive.

INSKEEP: So is he the real president in waiting, so to speak, or is he - is Kirchner actually the power behind the presidency here?

REEVES: Well, now you've put your finger on a very important question, and one that's mightily disputed here. Her opponents say that she will be the power in the land here, the sort of puppet master. But in reality, people say that Alberto Fernandez has, in fact, a record of being his own man. And in fact, in 2008, when he was working alongside Cristina, he fell out with her and left and was quite critical of her afterwards. So if you talk to people who are not politically engaged on one side or other of the debate, they'll tell you that he's likely to assert his views quite strongly in this, you know, relationship.

INSKEEP: Well how is it exactly that Cristina Kirchner managed to make this comeback and get back into office?

REEVES: I mean, it's remarkable. You know, she's been president for two terms. She's been first lady. She was one of the most influential women in the world. And then everybody wrote her off 'cause she was, you know, drowning in corruption allegations and political scandals. And here she is back in power. How did she do it? Well, one thing we know - she couldn't have done it on her own. She just didn't have the power base. She has a very loyal following, but one that's not big enough to win outright. So she brought in Alberto Fernandez. He brought in wider support, and thus they achieved their victory.

INSKEEP: So Fernandez is in. Kirchner is in. There's a change in power. An unpopular president goes. What does this mean, if anything, for the United States?

REEVES: Well, it means quite a bit in the sense that in the most - probably the most important issue in the region is Venezuela. Macri was a supporter of the Trump administration's policy in Venezuela in the effort to oust Nicolas Maduro from power. He recognized the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as the legitimate leader of the country. That is not the case with this new administration. They'll take a different position. And that means that the coalition in Latin America that was pressing Maduro to go is slightly weaker.

INSKEEP: Are you saying that the new administration is sympathetic to the socialist regime in Venezuela?

REEVES: Well, we don't know. They haven't taken power yet, Steve. But I think that would be going a little too far. But they will be more detached. And that is something which I'm sure will cause furrowed brows in Washington, D.C., right now.

INSKEEP: Philip, thanks for the insight.

REEVES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Buenos Aires, where Argentina has elected a new president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.