Argentina, the smooth-talking Jorge “Coqui” Capitanich may be your next president.
But first he has to find a lady that can top his one helluvan ex-wife.
As Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s new Cabinet Chief, Capitanich has the highly visible, hardly enviable position of fielding hardball questions on everything from looting to inflation to blackouts. Cristina, now a lame duck and with her popularity suffering, has taken the backseat and began grooming the Chaqueño to inherit the land in 2015. When he was promoted to the position a few months back – along with a wave of other new Cabinet members – Capitanich promised to take a more open approach, a promise upon which he has largely delivered.
These days Capitanich can be found holding daily press conferences and even meeting with *gasp* Buenos Aires mayor and political rival Mauricio Macri. But while his gift for gab and deft political maneuvers have supporters fawning, his checkered past has others wary that the rumored heir to Cristina’s throne might be more trouble than he’s worth.
Shakespeare said that some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. In Capitanich’s case, he married into greatness. In 1985, “Coqui” was studying economics in the northern province of Chaco when he fell for fellow student activist Sandra Marcela Mendoza.
As the couple headed down the road to holy matrimony, Capitanich would find his first political post as the private secretary for Chaco’s governor, a post that by all accounts was due to the governor’s relationship with an important ex-judge and respected Peronist who, coincidentally, was also Señora Mendoza’s father.
To hear Mendoza tell it, “No 23-year-old gets a job as the governor’s private secretary unless it is by the request of someone very special, like my father. Coqui didn’t even know how to drive, except for tractors, because his family made their living as cotton farmers.” If that sounds vaguely insulting, you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
Capitanich’s meteoric rise through government ranks – becoming a national senator in 2001 and governor of Chaco in 2007 – was rivaled only by his marital problems. As governor of Chaco, Capitanich appointed Mendoza to provincial Minister of Health (nepotism much?).
During her time in office, she had to deal with breast cancer and chemotherapy. Her meds, according to her, caused her to have outburst like these:
Things went south in 2009 when Sandra tried to downplay the province’s dengue epidemic, which had infected over 10,000 of her constituents. If you use expired pesticides against mosquitoes, you may be surprised to find out they aren’t very effective.
Capitanich, in what must have been a power-couple moment of Clinton-like proportions, asked his wife to resign. She took it personally, went all DEFCON 1, jumped into her Toyota truck and proceeded to use it as a battering ram, destroying six parked cars and an entire section of the government building’s wall, all the while proffering a rich potpourri of Argentine profanity. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
After this little conniption, Mendoza campaigned to represent Chaco in Congress, won, and then delivered the last straw to her already debilitated marriage’s back. Shortly after her electoral victory, a group of demonstrators were winding down a day of protests outside Capitanich’s office, the Chaco statehouse, when Mendoza showed up.
Perhaps still a little bitter about the whole resignation thing, Mendoza began inciting the demonstrators and started yelling “oppressors!” at the statehouse police. The night ended with 30 people detained, one journalist injured and a very, very public petition for divorce. The Capitanich power-couple was no more.
They may have been apart ever since, but the big C-word (that’s right, corruption) has also caused Capitanich headaches throughout his political career. In the late 1990s, Capitanich invested with and was involved in business with one Aldo Ducler. In 2001, Ducler was investigated by the United States government for money laundering; over $13 million Mexican narco-dollars were frozen in his New York bank accounts. Capitanich quickly sold his part of the relevant business, and declared he had nothing to do with Ducler.
Allegations of corruption also swirled with the arrival of the construction company Schoklender to Chaco in 2010. Schoklender allegedly embezzled funds from the Madres de Plaza de Mayo charity for social housing, Sueños Compartidos (shared dreams), amongst other illegal activities.
Capitanich and other community leaders had signed contracts with Schoklender to build approximately 1200 homes in Chaco, but after complaints of labor violations and overcharges of between 200 and 500 percent, the project ended with only 350 built. Furthermore, Capitanich worked for President Carlos Menem for four years and served as Cabinet Chief under Eduardo Duhalde in 2002. Need I continue?
To cap it all off, the man is against gays’ right to marry and a woman’s right to an abortion. It’s almost 2014 dude! Get with the times or we might have to call Señora Mendoza in to shape you up.
If Coqui wants to run for president, he will need a woman by his side. Whoever that is, she has some large shoes to fill.