Kirchner: Argentina's divisive ex-president

Alexandre PEYRILLE
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Argentina's former president and Buenos Aires senator Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner swearing-in for a new mandate as senator

In the two years since she left office, fiery ex-president Cristina Kirchner has been hit by a series of legal setbacks that threaten to derail her promised political comeback and put her where her enemies say she belongs -- in jail.

The most serious legal blow came Thursday when a judge ordered her arrest for treason, for her role in covering up Iran's alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center.

The 64-year-old former president has dismissed all the charges against her as "political persecution" by the enemies she accumulated during the 12 years she dominated Argentine politics with her husband Nestor.

The key difference this time is that judge Claudio Bonadio also requested that she be stripped of her immunity.

The Senate will now have to consider the judge's request to vote on lifting her immunity, which requires a two-thirds majority.

The ex-president crowned her political comeback and theoretically made herself untouchable to prosecutors -- serving members can't be jailed if convicted -- when she won a Senate seat last month. The lower house is due to convene on December 10.

The former president is accused of a cover-up by signing a 2012 deal with Tehran to allow Iranian officials suspected of ordering the Buenos Aires bombing to be investigated in their own country rather than Argentina.

Nobody has been charged for the attack, which killed 85 people and injured some 300.

Kirchner is accused in a slew of other corruption cases stemming from her time as president. One involves a construction magnate friend, Lazaro Baez, whom she is accused of favoring for public contracts in Patagonia, her southern political bastion.

To her working-class base, Kirchner and her husband are saviors who salvaged Argentina after a 2001 economic crisis and stood up for the little guy.

To her generally better-off opponents, she is an uncompromising bully who steered the economy back into recession and embarrassed the country with nasty attacks against her favorite foes.

They included the old Falklands War enemy Britain, big media conglomerates whose empires she sought to dismantle, and "vulture" fund capitalists who sued Argentina over its defaulted debt.

- Sidelined? -

Kirchner took office in 2007, vowing to continue the work started by her husband and predecessor.

Nestor Kirchner (2003-2007) had inherited an economy in shambles after what was then the largest sovereign debt default in history.

But he turned it around thanks to booming demand for Argentine agricultural exports and his tough negotiations to restructure most of the country's $100 billion in privately held debt.

He and his wife were widely expected to continue their term-for-term tango, but he died of a heart attack in 2010.

Cristina Kirchner, a former senator and experienced politician in her own right, defended his legacy all the more combatively and won re-election in 2011.

She stood down in 2015 -- when term limits barred her from running again -- with an approval rating of more than 50 percent. But she failed to get her chosen successor elected.

Argentines voted for the center-right businessman Mauricio Macri instead.

Kirchner now accuses his camp of trumping up charges against her to sideline her from the political scene.

- Power couple -

Born in La Plata, near Buenos Aires, Kirchner met Nestor as a 20-year-old student and married him six months later.

They got their start in national politics in Santa Cruz province in Patagonia, where Nestor became governor and Cristina a senator.

Kirchner has sought to channel the legacy of Eva Peron, the adored first lady of the populist president Juan Peron in the 1940s and 50s.

But while many Argentines worship Evita, Kirchner's legacy is darker.

She also stands accused of ordering the central bank to sell dollar futures at artificially low prices, causing Argentina to lose hundreds of millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, some supporters already tout Kirchner as a presidential candidate for 2019.

Asked last year how he thought she would spend her post-presidential life, her former chief of staff Anibal Fernandez said she "won't just stay home picking roses or taking care of the grandkids."

Kirchner has two children: Maximo, a congressman, and Florencia, who are co-defendants in one of her corruption trials.