Cristina Fernandez was being sworn in as Argentina’s first elected female president today, completing a rare husband-wife transfer of power that the nation hopes will ensure continued recovery from an economic meltdown.
Half a decade after the financial blow-out, which her husband and current president Nestor Kirchner has called an “economic hell”, Ms Fernandez embarks on a four-year term challenged with prolonging a recovery that has seen annual growth rates above 8%.
“The government that is coming is going to be much better than the one that’s now leaving,” Mr Kirchner said.
He was poised to hand the presidential sash to Ms Fernandez this afternoon, a three-term senator who won office handily on their left-leaning Victory Front coalition ticket.
Police barricaded whole blocks around Congress with steel barriers, and government workers in downtown Buenos Aires were ordered to leave work well before the mid-afternoon inauguration before lawmakers and fellow South American presidents.
“This is the dawn of a big fiesta in Buenos Aires,” said Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, an ally of Mr Kirchner.
Ms Fernandez won 45% of the vote against a divided opposition on October 28. She now joins Michelle Bachelet in neighbouring Chile as the second current female president in South America.
She drew comparisons to US Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton; both are powerful senators who accompanied their small-state governor husbands to the presidency before launching their own bids for their nations’ highest office.
Ms Fernandez seems unlikely to alter Mr Kirchner’s alliance with Latin American leftists, including Mr Chavez, but she could forge better ties with the next US president
At home, the new president will try to correct some lingering headaches from the Kirchner term: inflation that private economists estimate to be in the double digits, corruption scandals and a sputtering energy crisis. Unemployment is mired at near 10% and a quarter of the country’s 39 million people are poor.
“Hard tasks await Cristina,” Mr Kirchner acknowledged.
But he said he was handing Ms Fernandez a country that has returned to “nearly normal” from the 2001-2002 crisis, which saw a steep devaluation of the peso and a 100 billion dollar (£49 billion) debt default.
Mr Kirchner renegotiated payment on the debt, and the recovery blunted memories of hungry people scavenging for food in bins and depositors hammering on bank doors after losing savings overnight.
Argentina’s first female president was Isabel Peron, the second wife of former strongman Juan Peron. She assumed power when he died in 1974, and was ousted by a coup after 20 months in office.