Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who underwent emergency brain surgery in October, has disappeared from the public eye and it's prompting concern among her people.
Fernandez was as visible as ever in the days following her medical leave, but fell off the grid about a month ago. She hasn't updated her Twitter feed since December 13 and, according to CNN, she hasn't made a public appearance in nearly a month. The Argentine people are speculating that Fernandez's health is failing, or that she is preparing to transition away from the presidency. Center of Public Opinion at the University of Belgrano in Buenos Aires Director Orlando D'Adamo told CNN that Fernandez's recent procedure has people on edge:
"If we hadn't had the president's illness just a few months ago, one would discard it. But the problem is the rumor has been established, and the sense of uncertainty of not knowing why... Is it a political strategy? Is she making room for a new candidate for 2015? Is it because she does not want to face difficult situations for the government? We do not know."
Argentines are especially in need of a leader now, as inflation is rising to rates not seen since 2002.
Argentine consumer prices will rise about 30 percent in 2014, according to a poll of five analysts on Tuesday, the highest rate since 2002, when millions in the middle class were pushed into poverty by a crisis punctuated by 41 percent inflation. In the 12 months through November, the government says Argentine consumer prices rose 10.5 percent. But the country's official statistics are widely seen as unreliable. Private analysts say inflation is running at more than twice the official rate, reaching 25 to 26 percent in full-year 2013.
Rapidly-rising inflation has hurt Fernandez's image. The president is seen as being too casual about the problem, refusing to alter fiscal policy to deal with the issue. Policies that have been adjusted to cope with inflation keep food prices frozen as the peso slides, making it difficult for poor families to feed themselves.
Though a member of her cabinet said Fernandez "is present every day, working with us," earlier this month, her ill health would leave the Argentine government in a precarious situation. When Fernandez was hospitalized, the Financial Times outlined how central she is to the country's leadership, and how dangerous that is for the nation:
The 60-year-old leader’s delicate health has exposed the institutional fragility of her highly centralized regime, where power is concentrated among a coterie of loyal advisers, and underlined the limits of her ability to govern – even as Argentina faces a crescendo of economic problems that need to be addressed. “It feels like the beginning of the end,” said Walter Molano, strategist at BCP Securities and author of an Argentine economic history In the Land of Silver. “The economy is on a knife-edge; so too the population.”
CNN has suggested that Argentina's democratic system could be in peril:
Argentina, is of course, a democracy. But President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has displayed worrying symptoms. Between her and her late husband, the Kirchners have now ruled Argentina for a decade. In recent months, Cristina Fernández has clamped down on the media, floated rumors of amending the constitution to run for a third term. She's building a cult of personality, fashioning herself after Evita, the populist widow of the former president Peron – made famous on stage and screen.
More hopeful speculators say Fernandez may just be resting up, and is being especially careful with her health, because her husband, himself a former president, died of a heart attack at age 60.