Kirchner has a tough job ahead

To a packed Congress and a dozen Latin American leaders, the Peronist governor vowed to restore faith in the government after the mismanagement, cronyism and corruption of the last decade.

“We know where we are going and where we don’t want to return,” said Kirchner in his inaugural speech.

A year and a half after Argentines took to the streets banging pots and pans to protest against politicians, polls show a majority are optimistic about the little-known Kirchner.

In a central square of Buenos Aires, Kirchner broke away from security to hug followers. A crowd of 15,000 hailed him and his senator wife, Cristina, as they stood on the balcony where Juan and Eva Peron gave speeches almost 60 years ago.

Latin leaders like Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva and Cuba’s Fidel Castro came to Buenos Aires to lend support to a nation that was one of the world’s wealthiest 80 years ago and a middle-class model.

Troubled past

Described as a centre-leftist, Kirchner takes office with a 22% vote from a first-round election after ex-President Carlos Menem dropped out of the run-off.

Two of Argentina’s last three leaders have resigned, including Fernando De La Rua, who quit after dozens were killed in food riots and protests in December 2001.

Four men held the presidency inside two weeks while Argentina declared a debt default and devalued its currency.

Kirchner made clear in his speech that his foreign policy priority will be to strengthen regional ties.

He has been critical of Argentina’s “automatic alignment” with the United States in the past decade. He said relations with Washington would be “serious, broad and mature”.

Kirchner faces the task of renegotiating $60 billion in external debt default with nearly half a million investors.

“We know our debt is a central problem. It is not about not paying,” he said. He warned that creditors “will only get their money if Argentina does well”.

The president will need to strike a new deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which approved a stopgap $6.78 billion loan programme that expires in August.