Former president Kirchner’s death stuns Argentina

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Buenos Aires, Oct 28 (IANS/EFE) The death of former president Nestor Kirchner, husband of current head of state Cristina Fernandez, has stunned Argentina and fueled uncertainty about the country’s political future one year shy of the next presidential election.

The 60-year-old Kirchner, who governed Argentina from 2003 to 2007, died suddenly of a heart attack just before 10 a.m. Wednesday at a hospital in the Patagonian city of El Calafate, said Luis Buonomo, Kirchner’s personal physician.

The former head of state had traveled to El Calafate with his wife, President Cristina Fernandez, who was getting some rest to recover from an illness.

With Fernandez in El Calafate are the couple’s son, Maximo, and several Cabinet ministers, while daughter Florencia, who studies cinema in New York, is en route.

A wake will be held Thursday at Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, officials confirmed. They did not say whether Kirchner will be buried in Buenos Aires or, as the media has speculated, in his Patagonian hometown of Rio Gallegos.

Argentina’s Catholic primate, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, celebrated a Mass at the cathedral in Buenos Aires and hundreds of supporters of the governing Peronist party gathered late Wednesday outside the presidential palace to lay wreaths and leave messages of support for Fernandez.

Leader of the Peronists and a sitting congressman, Kirchner had been mulling the possibility of running for president in the 2011 general elections, in what many analysts predicted would be a bid by the left-leaning “presidential couple” to alternate in power.

Although his intentions were still unknown, he had headed numerous Peronist rallies across the country in recent weeks, ignoring the advice of doctors who cautioned him to reduce his workload and stress after undergoing two heart procedures earlier this year.

After an emergency procedure in February to clear an obstruction of the right carotid artery, Kirchner required angioplasty last month to unblock a coronary artery.

Combative and controversial, Kirchner - who rose to the presidency after serving as mayor of his native Patagonian city of Rio Gallegos and later as three-term governor of Santa Cruz province - remained a high-profile, influential figure in Argentine politics even after stepping down as head of state in late 2007.

Kirchner and Fernandez, who met in law school, were active in the leftist youth wing of Peronism and both spent some time in custody during the 1976-83 military regime.

In May, Kirchner became secretary-general of the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, and in that capacity he worked to mend ties between Colombia and Venezuela in the wake of allegations by Bogota that Colombian guerrillas were operating on Venezuelan territory.

Condolences for Kirchner’s death poured in Wednesday from around the world.

“@CFKArgentina Ay my dear Cristina … So much pain! What a great loss for Argentina and our America! May Kirchner live forever!!” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wrote on Twitter.

For his part, Chilean President Sebastian Piera said Kirchner’s death affected him very deeply on a personal level and is “a great loss for all the countries of South America”.

Meanwhile, a statement by Spain’s foreign ministry expressed its condolences to Fernandez “at this time of sadness for our brotherly nation of Argentina”, while King Juan Carlos and Crown Prince Felipe paid their respects in separate telegrams.

“On behalf of the American people, I offer my sincere condolences to the Argentine people and to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner upon the death of Nestor Kirchner,” US President Barack Obama said in a statement.

Kirchner, Obama said, “played a significant role in the political life of Argentina and had embarked upon an important new chapter with Unasur”.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Wednesday in a public appearance that he had received the news of Kirchner’s death with sadness.

“We received some sad news just now. Our ambassador in Argentina informed us that the former president of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner, has just died of a heart attack,” Lula said during the inauguration of a public works project on Brazil’s southern coast.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, speaking at an air force ceremony in the coastal city of Manta, expressed his condolences after Kirchner’s death and called “not for a minute of silence, but for a round of applause” in his honour.


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