* Fernandez stuns allies, investors with YPF takeover bid
* Her combative approach divides opinion at home
* Couple's 1970s political awakening inspires policy
By Helen Popper and Karina Grazina
BUENOS AIRES, April 17 Argentine President
Cristina Fernandez is a sharp-tongued widow bent on honoring her
late husband's political legacy by boosting state control over
the economy - even if that means making enemies along the way.
Defying warnings from Spain and the European Union, the
center-left leader unveiled a plan on Monday to take control of
energy company YPF from Spain's Repsol.
Argentina already has a reputation as a global rule-breaker
after staging the biggest sovereign debt default in history in
2002. It has ignored demands for compensation b y creditors and
private investors ever since.
But Fernandez, 59, has her own reasons for flouting
international conventions, dating back to her days as a student
activist in the turbulent years leading up to the "Dirty War"
It was at that time that she met gawky Nestor Kirchner, a
charismatic militant and fellow law student who later became her
husband and preceded her as president from 2003 to 2007.
"We're going to keep working tirelessly for the Argentina he
dreamed of," Fernandez said on Monday as she explained the YPF
takeover plan, referring to Kirchner. "I wish he could see me
now, because he always dreamed of regaining control of YPF for
our country, always."
Fernandez is a glamorous dresser known for her expensive
taste, but she has worn only black since Kirchner died of a
heart attack 18 months ago. She mentions him in nearly all her
public speeches, often tearing up.
The president once compared her marriage to Kirchner to the
vaunted pairing of legendary Argentine leader General Juan Peron
and his famous second wife, Evita, a cultural icon.
Her nationalistic tone and protectionist policies hearken
back to the heyday of Peron's rule in the late 1940s.
But while Fernandez calls herself as a staunch Peronist, she
more often pays homage to Kirchner than to Peron, who distanced
himself from the left in his later years.
Her son, Maximo, founded a youth movement called La Campora
- in honor of left-leaning Peronist President Hector Campora,
who governed briefly in 1973 - which has gained significant
influence in Fernandez's tight inner circle.
The bid to nationalize YPF is the latest move signaling a
sharper shift left since Fernandez won a landslide re-election
in October. She has imposed currency and import controls to stem
capital flight and bolster the country's trade surplus, while
also favoring domestic production over foreign-made goods.
These restrictions may be taking a toll, however. Consumer
and business confidence readings are down, and so are her
At the YPF announcement, Fernandez greeted members of the
Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group who were invited
to attend - linking the takeover push to the political hopes
that inspired her as a student in the 1970s.
"The Mothers view this (expropriation) as a gift after 35
years of struggle," said the group's radical leftist leader,
Hebe de Bonafini.
HUGO, NOT DILMA
After marrying, Fernandez and Kirchner moved to his
Patagonian homeland as political violence escalated ahead of a
1976 military coup. There they worked as lawyers, building a
property rental business and a career in local politics.
Kirchner became governor of oil-rich Santa Cruz province
while Fernandez served as a provincial lawmaker and later a
national senator. Some commentators later dubbed them
Argentina's Bill and Hillary Clinton.
An outspoken member of the upper house, Fernandez was far
better known than her husband when he was elected president in
the ashes of a crippling 2001-02 economic and political crisis.
The couple worked as a team and some political analysts
speculated they planned to take turns in power after Kirchner
declined to seek re-election in 2007 and Fernandez ran instead.
If that plan ever existed, Kirchner's death put an end to
it. But nostalgia over his legacy - which included a sustained
economic rebound and generous welfare spending - helped
Fernandez to easy re-election for another four years.
Voters also saw a softer side to Fernandez's combative
character as she struggled to adapt to widowhood.
Although Wall Street economists harbored some hope that
Fernandez would be more market-friendly than her husband, she
shattered their expectations by nationalizing private pension
funds and expropriating the country's flagship airline in 2008.
She also failed to clean up the country's discredited
inflation data, which drastically lowballs price rises.
Ultimately, Fernandez looks more wedded to ideology than
Kirchner, who was seen as an agile, pragmatic politician.
"The world views South America as having two models: Brazil
and Venezuela," said political analyst Rosendo Fraga, referring
to the moderate left-leaning government in investor favorite
Brazil and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution.
"The cost Cristina will pay for nationalizing YPF is that,
from a global perspective, she'll be seen as more aligned with
Chavez than with (Brazilian President) Dilma Rousseff."