Amidst the excitement aroused by the election of a Latin American pope, many have highlighted the tense relationship between Pope Francis and Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner. As joyous Catholic Argentinians congregated in the cathedral of Buenos Aires to celebrate the historic event, people at the presidential palace were gnashing their teeth. Argentinian newspaper La Nacion reported “hours of shock, annoyance, and disappointment” at the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires following the announcement of Pope Francis’ election.
As a cardinal, Bergoglio was a strong and outspoken critic of the policies of President Cristina Kirchner (and those of her predecessor and late husband, Nestor). As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio made frequent and not-so-veiled references to the Kirchners’ misuse of power and the unfavorable social and economic conditions caused by their policies.
In 2009, the Catholic Church’s new pontiff declared that “the worst risk, the worst sickness, is to homogenize thought” – a clear allusion to the ruling government’s taste for political distraction and censorship of the press. He also added that the eradication of poverty and the establishment of social justice should be the government’s primary pursuits, labeling the Argentinian state of affairs as “scandalous” and referring to Mrs. Kirchner’s media law as a distraction.
Pope Francis is said to be a profoundly humble individual known to shy away from the pomposity and excess that come with high-ranking positions. Mrs. Kirchner and her “revolutionary” government could learn a lesson or two from the man who chose to live in a humble apartment next to the Buenos Aires cathedral instead of in the comfort of the archbishop’s palace, and who refused to have a chauffeured car, choosing to ride the city’s metro and public transportation instead. In 2011, Bergoglio called on the government to “banish its excessive ambitions” and criticized its “delusions of grandeur.”
President Kirchner seems to lead a life of luxury and self-promotion. As an example, her personal fortune experienced a dramatic 3,540% increase in eight years. Her populist approach and participation in the media circus spun up by her fellow South American “revolutionaries” are meant to distract attention from the corruption, clientelism, and opportunism of Kirchner’s government.
Not surprisingly, Kirchner issued a cold, congratulatory message and agreed to attend the new pope’s enthronement. However, denizens of the Casa Rosada have waged a whisper campaign linking Pope Francis to the Argentinian dictatorship, despite the fact that even radical individuals like Nobel Peace Price winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel have publically denied those accusations.
In Cardinal Bergoglio, Kirchner’s most important critic has now become the head of a global institution, which leads over half a billion followers in Latin America alone. Pope Francis dwarfs Latin American politicians and will be a potent voice in rejecting the hypocrisy of failed, neo-populist policies that have beguiled and betrayed the region’s poor.