The Argentine president's secret weapon? A super-charged youth movement.
La Cámpora, a political youth movement – 30,000-strong and mostly under 30 – is one of Fernandez de Kirchner's most significant political tools. But they stand out for more than just solidarity.
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“The president has distanced herself from the unions in favor of a new loyal base whose ideas are entirely allied with the government,” Leandro Bullor, an economic historian at the University of Buenos Aires, says.Skip to next paragraph
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“To think differently [than] Cristina is scorned upon,” Julio Bárbaro, a leading Peronist figure and former culture secretary, said in a television debate.
La Cámpora aspires to be an extension of the left-wing political movements of the '70s, such as the Montoneros, a Peronist guerrilla group obliterated by the military dictatorship, says Dr. Bullor. During Fernández’s speeches at the presidential palace, she often has to pause as activists who fill the back of the room declare themselves “soldiers of Cristina” and break into song about surviving the military’s executions – representative of their repudiation of the junta’s Dirty War against the left.
Two members of La Cámpora’s inner circle are children of “disappeared” parents and Hijos, an organization for young people with the same background, is strongly linked to the group.
Critics accuse Fernández of choosing members of La Cámpora for government posts, an “anti-democratic” process that contradicts the movement’s values, says Bullor.
Axel Kicillof, for example, was appointed economy vice-minister in December and is today viewed as Kirchnerism’s “golden boy.” Mr. Kicillof, a neo-Keynesian economist, led the YPF intervention and was named by Fernández as the government’s main representative on its board. He was close to the president’s side once again as she announced a state mortgage credit plan last month.
Other leading members of La Cámpora who hold legislative and government positions include the justice secretary; the CEO of Argentine Airlines, nationalized in 2008; two members of the lower house of Congress; and a deputy in the Buenos Aires government.
“Many people join the La Cámpora as they see it as a route to public office,” Mr. Bugallo says.
Fernández has defended the presence of La Cámpora in her government. “They have just 29 posts out of nearly 30,000 in the whole country,” she said in a recent speech.
A family affair
Despite having little experience in politics, the Kirchners’ son, Máximo, is widely believed to influence his mother. He does not hold elected office.
Máximo is a diffident figure and rarely heard in public. But in her recent book, La Cámpora, author Laura Di Marco emphasizes the power he exerts. He told Fernández which members of the movement to put at the top of her Justicialist Party’s list of candidates before last October’s presidential and provincial elections, writes Ms. Di Marco.
However, Daniel Miguez, a former political editor at Clarín, a leading newspaper in Argentina, believes Máximo’s role is overstated by the anti-Kirchner media. “I think the relationship is given more relevance than it ought to,” Mr. Miguez says.
Today, La Cámpora has turned Néstor Kirchner into a mythical figure, accentuated by Fernández who refers to him simply as “él” or “he." He is lauded by some for turning Argentina away from neoliberalism in favor of a model of social equality, and brought to justice the military dictators that “disappeared” 30,000 people in the 1970s.
“Néstor began the reconstruction of Argentina after it had been decimated by the dictatorship and by [former President] Carlos Menem’s privatizations in the 1990s,” says a La Cámpora member in Buenos Aires. He asked to remain anonymous because of restrictions on speaking to the media imposed by the group, renowned for its secrecy. “He gave birth to this project and we believe in his fight against inequality.”
La Cámpora’s unrelenting poster campaigns cast Néstor as Argentina’s savior – he appears as the Eternauta, a 1950s science fiction character who fought against aliens that invaded the capital.
Fernández reaches her term limit in 2015 and her search for an heir to continue “the project” her husband started will most likely end in a member of the group, according to Bullor.
Midterm elections take place next year and it is widely reported that Máximo will run for the Justicialist Party as a candidate for Buenos Aires Province.
“Cristina will use the midterms to test the water,” for a successor Bullor says. “And it’s probable that the Kirchnerist candidate for 2015 will come from La Cámpora.”