The new president puts his predecessor in her place
Economist Jul 2nd 2016
Wedged behind the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s presidential palace, the Museo del Bicentenario (bicentenary museum) tells the story of the country’s leaders since the revolution against Spanish rule in 1810. Until recently, half its floorspace was devoted to exhibits about Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who was president when she opened the museum in 2011, and her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, who preceded her in office. On display were Kirchner’s trademark loafers and a football shirt emblazoned with the legend “100% K”. Founding fathers like Domingo Sarmiento, Argentina’s seventh president, were “practically non-existent” says Luciano de Privitellio, director of cultural programmes at the Casa Rosada.
On the orders of Ms Fernández’s recently elected successor, Mauricio Macri, the museum has undergone a seven-week overhaul; it reopened on June 28th. Mr Privitellio claims it is now more even-handed. All of Argentina’s former presidents, including brutal 20th-century dictators, are represented with paintings, video screens and artefacts (Sarmiento’s desk and the dinner jacket of Carlos Menem, for example). “You can’t leave out the ones you don’t like,” says Mr Privitellio.
The rearrangement is part of a broader effort to banish the soft cult of personality that Ms Fernández had created around herself and her husband, who died in 2010. It’s a big job—166 public spaces are named after Kirchner, according to Clarín, a newspaper. His body lies in a three-storey cement mausoleum in Río Gallegos, in the province of Santa Cruz, which he governed. Visitors can look down reverentially upon his coffin, an idea borrowed from Napoleon’s tomb. Last year Ms Fernández inaugurated the Néstor Kirchner Cultural Centre (CCK), housed in a palace in Buenos Aires that once served as the headquarters of the post office.
Rather than knocking the monuments down, the government is changing their purpose. It dropped the idea of renaming the CCK, but closed its “Néstor Kirchner experience”, an exhibition that extolled the late president’s deeds. A marble image of Kirchner, unveiled by Ms Fernández at the entrance to the Casa Rosada on her last day in office, has joined the chronologically arranged row of presidential busts (from which the dictators have been culled).
The downgrading extends to figures venerated by the populist Peronist movement, founded by the mid-20th-century strongman Juan Perón, to which the Kirchners belong. Mr Privitellio has removed portraits and photographs of 43 leftist luminaries, including Che Guevara and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Especially painful to Ms Fernández must be the desanctifying of Eva “Evita” Perón, Juan’s popular wife, who died young. Her image, etched on 100-peso notes since 2012, is to be replaced next year by that of a Taruca, an Andean deer.
Kirchneristas detect authoritarian impulses behind the restoration of dictators’ portraits and the removal of leftist imagery. They accuse Mr Macri of erasing the Kirchners from history in order to write his own version. If his government “could ban the letter K from the alphabet, they would”, Ms Fernández fumed.
Argentines will not soon put back the symbols that Mr Macri is taking down. Ms Fernández and her coterie have been at the centre of corruption scandals since she left office. On June 14th José López, a former public-works minister, was caught by police hurling nearly $9m in cash over the wall of a convent, apparently intending to bury it on the convent’s grounds. Ms Fernández says this has nothing to do with her, but nearly 64% of Argentines doubt that, according to a recent poll. No one has written a musical about Ms Fernández, but she is in no danger of being forgotten.