When Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the wife of Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, was elected by landslide in November, many compared her to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet or U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Some even spoke of the unprecedented "new wave" of female presidents in South America.
But if anything, Cristina Fernandez, who assumed the presidency Dec. 10, is far from being the representative of any new trend in Argentina.
Business as usual
On the contrary, local analysts believe she is the evidence that Argentines have voted to keep "business as usual" with a heavily subsidized economy and an uncertain future in life and family issues.
"Cristina's government, especially after she decided to keep most of her husband's ministers, will be a continuation of the same politics," said Joaqu'n Morales Sola, the political analyst of the daily La Nacion.
In fact, Fernandez has responded to criticism about keeping Kirchner's top advisers by saying that "you don't change a winning team."
Angel Anaya, a political commentator from the daily La Gaceta, told Our Sunday Visitor that "Cristina's changes are made to make sure that nothing changes" and that the political dynasty that Kirchner started as a successful governor of the small province of Santa Cruz will continue, resembling the political dynasty started in the 1950s by the populist leader Juan Domingo Peron, whose popular wife, Evita, became the main character of the famous musical opera of the same name.
Peron's second wife, Maria Estela Martinez, succeeded Peron after his death, but was deposed by a military coup in 1976.
Kirchner was elected president in 2003 by a very small margin and in the midst of massive political disenchantment. Nevertheless, after four years of buying the loyalty of the provinces by subsidizing them with federal money, Kirchner retired with a 60 percent rate of approval, which he was able to transfer to his wife.
Kirchner's political entourage says that he is hoping to run again for president after his wife's term.
Nevertheless, many question if the Argentinean economy will resist Kirchner's model.
Immediately after Fernandez's election, Xavier Musca, president of the Paris Club -- the group of Argentina's European creditors -- said he hopes the new government would be able to pay some of the $6.3 billion Argentina owes.
Fernandez is expected to ask for the debt to be restructured, and under current Paris Club rules, this would require Argentina to sign on to a program with the International Monetary Fund.
But the IMF policy is very simple: Stop government spending, especially in bureaucracy and subsidized products.
"It seems that the buyout of loyalties through unlimited federal spending is about to reach an end," Anaya said.
But many Argentines are not only concerned about the future of the economy.
Kirchner's government was very aggressive in pushing some anti-life policies that put him frequently at odds with the Argentine episcopate. The main bone of contention was his minister of health, Gines Gonzalez Garcia, who launched a compulsory "sex education" campaign based on the massive distribution of condoms and openly proposed the legalization of abortion, which is unconstitutional in Argentina.
So far, in terms of relationship with the Church, Fernandez has taken all the expected steps to ensure the sympathy of the largely Catholic population.
She exchanged kind words and cordial letters with the president of the Argentine bishops, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, met the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone -- who happened to be in Argentina for the beatification of the first Argentine Indian, Ceferino Namuncura -- and even invited Pope Benedict XVI to visit Argentina.
She removed Gonzalez Garcia, replacing him with Graciela Ocana. However, Carlos Polo, Latin American director of the Population Research Institute, told OSV that "Ocana could be worst than Gonzalez Garcia when it comes to life issues."
Ocana entered politics in 2002 with Elisa Carrio, a former presidential candidate and leader of the left-leaning alliance, ARI. A successful businesswoman, she was appointed by President Kirchner to lead an investigation on money laundering and corruption, a position that gave her prominence, even if it never bore fruit.
Polo pointed out that Ocana's voting record as a congresswoman for the province of Buenos Aires has been "100 percent in favor of same sex unions, mandatory sex education and condom distribution in schools without parents' consent."
Ocana studied at a Catholic school, but publicly renounced to her Catholic faith after leaving the university. At present, she still describes herself as a "former Catholic."
Fernandez has insisted that Ocana has been appointed only for her reputation as an honest, silent and hardworking woman."
Local pro-life leaders, nevertheless, have said that Ocana will be watched very closely.
Fernandez herself has been ambiguous about abortion. Before the election, in an interview with the daily La Nacion, she said that she was personally opposed to abortion and that she was a Catholic, but "I respect those who have a different opinion in the matter."
"Does this mean that Cristina will not oppose moves to legalize abortion?" Polo asked.
Meanwhile, during their yearly general assembly in early November, the bishops offered a special prayer for the new government.
"Mrs. President, the Argentine people has entrusted its future to your female heart. You can count on our constant prayers and our openness to a fruitful dialogue," the bishops said in their message to the new president.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one Argentine bishop told OSV that two years ago, Nestor Kirchner sent a messenger to the Vatican to assure that he and his wife were completely opposed to abortion and that abortion would never be legal under his administration.
"In this specific aspect, we do expect continuity," the bishop said.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of Catholics in the South American country, which comprises 90 percent of the country
Number of priests, in which 3,817 are diocesan and 2,028 belong to religious orders
Number of parishes
Number of dioceses
Number of archdiocese
Number of cardinals, including Cardinal Estanislao Karlic, who was created a cardinal Nov. 24 by Pope Benedict XVI
Source: 2008 Catholic Almanac (OSV, $28.95)
Alejandro Bermudez writes from Peru.