Cristina’s Other Head Case

Nicolás Maduro and his conspiracy theory book club must certainly be pondering if they were right about U.S. meddling in the health of Latin American leaders. 

Yesterday’s announcement that Cristina Fernández would be down for the count due to the residual effects of a head injury showed her at her most vulnerable in all her political career.

I have been hearing for some time now from connected political friends in Buenos Aires that Cristina’s health isn’t what it appeared to be. After her cancer scare last year, many remained unconvinced that everything was hunky-dory, and the same way those close to her know a darker truth about what’s going on inside her head, they seem to also be shielding secrets about what’s going on inside her body.

I have to admit, I did entertain the wild idea that this might be a political stunt to test the viability of VP Amado Boudou for a 2015 run. The thought also crossed my mind that this was a sympathy-generating turn for a constitution change to allow a third term. But, my realistic side, coupled with some gossip I’ve gained over the last few months, brought me back to earth. But it still is making me worry.

Like two other major national political figures before her, her husband and Peronism’s fairy godmother Evita, the quick and rapid deterioration in health of a leader can lead to important shifts in politics and the national mood. Combined with this is the hindsight that, particularly in the case of Evita, serious coverups and medical secrecy led to a public in the dark about the true state of their leaders.

To boot, all three have deeply-rooted personalistic styles. This is why both Evita’s and Néstor’s deaths provoked a sense of loss of direction, and set their successors on a mission to govern from a legacy frozen in a moment in time.

So what happens to the cult of personality when the person is gone?

As the Economist aptly stated: “news from Argentina can resemble a David Lynch film: the more you learn, the less you fathom”. Although it is somewhat of a copout, it is really, really hard to draw conjectures of Argentine politics based on past events.

I am going to be writing a short analysis of the upcoming midterm elections for my friends over at Se Mancha in the next week or so. While many commentators take to analyzing the impact on 2013’s congressional elections and the broader sustainability of Cristina’s mandate, I think it’s important for those who observe and care about Argentina to think very critically about what happens if the worst happens.

It’s also important to plan for the worst. Unfortunately, this is not one of Argentina’s strong suits. I think few people realistically wish for Cristina’s personal demise, even those plotting her political defeat. Because, for those who know the country’s poisonous politics know the uncertainty an early demise generates will be a greater evil than for Cristina to finish out her term in 2015.

In the meanwhile, the world will get to learn about Boudou economics.

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