Argentina's political power couple echo Clintons

The Bush administration has been put off by Nestor Kirchner's ardent populism and coziness with Chavez. In addition to buying Argentine bonds, Venezuela has pledged to fund part of a natural gas plant to help address Argentina's energy shortage. For his part, Kirchner supports Venezuela's bid to join Mercosur, a four-nation South American trade group. During the 2005 Summit of the Americas that Kirchner hosted at a seaside resort, Chavez was allowed to lead an anti-U.S. rally in a nearby soccer stadium where he pronounced "dead" a regional trade pact sought by the U.S. president. Earlier this month, Nestor Kirchner was conspicuously absent from a list of "responsible democratic leaders" in Latin America that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cited in a Washington speech to the Organization of American States.

Still, some are skeptical of the prospects for real change. "There's a lot of talk that if she wins, she and Hillary are going to have a love fest. Hillary Clinton will neither have the time nor interest in the kind of things Cristina Kirchner is interested in," said Riordan Roett, a Latin America specialist at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies.

In New York recently, Kirchner outlined her philosophy in a speech to the Council of the Americas, a business group whose board of directors includes representatives of JPMorgan, Merrill Lynch, IBM and Merck. She boasted of the country's progress under her husband's administration and said that if Argentina grows as expected next year it will mark six consecutive years of expansion for the first time in almost 200 years. And she reiterated a governing philosophy with a Peronist tinge: "Economics is not an exact science as some people believe — it's profoundly social."

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