Ever since thousands of supporters of Juan Perón packed out the Plaza de Mayo on October 17, 1945 to demand the release of their leader from jail, Argentina’s politicians have longed for their opportunity to recreate that historic moment. And yesterday, on a rainy Buenos Aires fall day Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was given her chance.
The former president had been called on Wednesday to testify in the nearby federal courts before the judge overseeing an investigation into accusations that the former central bank president cost Argentina’s government billions of dollars by illegally trading derivatives during her mandate.
The former president had been called to testify in an investigation into accusations the central bank illegally traded derivatives during her mandate
But waiting for Fernández de Kirchner when she left the court building around 11.30am, after two-hours in the witness box, were thousands of cheering supporters who had descended on downtown Buenos Aires, many of them bussed in from the provinces and the shanty towns on the outskirts of the capital, waving Argentinean flags and bearing umbrellas or cardboard boxes to keep the rain off. They then stood and cheered for more than an hour under the deluge as their leader spoke.
Supporters had already spent the previous two days celebrating the return, 120 days after stepping down, of Fernández de Kirchner from her home province of Santa Cruz, the southern region of Patagonia, occupying the streets around the block where she has an apartment in central Buenos Aires, singing, and occasionally bursting into a few verses of the national anthem, accompanied by a piano somebody had brought along, while all the time encouraging passing cars and trucks to honk their horns.
One supporter, who gave her name only as Daniela, had come in from the tough working class district of Barracas, outside the capital, and had spent the night outside in the rain hoping for Fernández de Kirchner to appear on her balcony and greet the crowds. She says she was just 13 when Fernández de Kirchner’s husband, Néstor Kirchner, assumed the presidency in 2003.
“I grew up quickly and became involved in politics. I was one of those young people he encouraged to get involved with trying to change things. I was very happy being an activist,” she says.
Meanwhile, Verónica had spent 20 hours aboard a bus to make the 1,500-kilometer journey from the northeastern province of Salta. “I left my three kids behind, but they know what the struggle means. Cristina is everything to us and we can’t leave her alone at a time like this. Cristina empowered me. My mom and pop were able to retire and they [the Kirchners] helped my kids start university with the Progresar plan”
Victor Hugo Bejarano, a factory worker in his fifties, had traveled by car with five friends from Jujuy province in the far northwest of Argentina, close to the border with Chile. “We came because we had to. We wanted Cristina to know we were with her: not many leaders would receive this kind of support after their mandate was over. If she had done things badly, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.
The day passed off largely without incident, with the good-natured crowds sharing cigarettes, beer and mate (a traditional herbal tea), and occasionally letting off firecrackers. Even employees inside the court buildings took photos from the windows.
“Historic processes have deep roots in the people; they are not decided by the opinions of columnists or by judges’ decisions,” said José Cruz Campagnoli of the New Encounter party, which has close links to the Kirchners’ Justicialist Party.
Campagnoli, like the thousands of others who had also turned out on Wednesday to show their support for Kirchner, dismissed the investigation into the derivatives trading that took place under Fernández de Kirchner’s mandate by the central bank. “This trial has no substance, it’s making a legal issue out of public policy,” he said, blaming the current president, Mauricio Macri, of using the trial as a smokescreen to cover unpopular austerity policies. “But he will find that the people love Fernández de Kirchner and that they will not accept these policies. Macri is mistaken if he thinks he can overrule the will of the Argentinean people,” he concluded.
Back in the 1950s, legendary Argentinean sports writer Luis Elías Sojit used to joke that when the sun was shining it was a “Peronist” day, to which the Kirchner-supporting crowds in Buenos Aires on Wednesday laughed that from now on, rainy days are as well.
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English version by Nick Lyne.