Following President Cristina Kirchner’s purportedly “apolitical” meeting with Pope Francis, many Argentine politicians are condemning what they see as a targeted political move on the Executive’s part, designed to ramp up voter support for the upcoming election.
Cristina flew to the Vatican — every politician’s favorite destination — to meet with the Pope for the fifth time since he was inaugurated in March 2013. The encounter was held in the context of the Pope’s Latin American agenda, which has included meetings with other current and former state leaders such as Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet and Brazil’s Lula Da Silva, and will conclude with a tour of Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay in mid July. Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, who last week predicted “death and massacre” if his revolution fails, canceled his appointment because of an ear infection and the flu.
After the encounter, Kirchner and the pontiff addressed the press and described the meeting as “very pleasant.”
“We talked about problems occurring around the world and within the region, the Pope’s visit to Sarajevo, his concerns about what he considers, in his words, a Third World War,” she said, referring to Francis’ recent speech condemning a worldwide conflict fought “in parts” and fueled by greed.
The head of state revealed that Argentina had not been a topic of discussion during the hour and 40 minutes she spent with the Pope.
“We don’t [talk about Argentine affairs] because today he has a global role and because, as you know, I’m very interested in international and regional politics,” she said.
When asked by the press if she’d discussed the upcoming primary elections, Cristina was adamant about having kept politics out of the mix.
“No, we didn’t talk about that. Think about it, with all of these current problems out there, with everything that’s happening — his participation in Cuba, his trip to Sarajevo, his fight for peace — why would we talk about the [Argentine] primaries. He doesn’t need that, and nor do I,” she said.
Despite her best efforts to qualify her meeting as apolitical, Cristina has come up on harsh criticism from members of the opposition who question her motives for meeting with such a high-profile personality mere weeks before a major election.
Wednesday marks the deadline for parties to present their final candidates and coalitions for the upcoming election, and many have tried to use the Pope’s undeniable political pull in order to garner voters’ support. The Pope has even stated he sometimes felt “used” for this kind of purpose and didn’t want politicians, especially presidential hopefuls, to use his image in their campaigns.
And he may have a point. Ever since he became “God’s representative on earth,” Argentine politicians and celebrities have flocked to Vatican City just to get a picture with him, one of the most important people the country has ever given the world. After Maradona, obviously.
Coalición Cívica presidential hopeful Elisa Carrió, who will be running against Mauricio Macri next August, stated on her Facebook page, “Don’t let me down Francis! Please stay out of Argentine politics. I want you to be a universal priest. I don’t want you involved in a Partido Justicialista [Peronist] primary election, to see which candidate you can dominate.”
In an interview with Radio La Red, Vatican spokesperson Guillermo Karcher said Cristina’s meeting the Pope could not be seen as a political move since she was not viewed as a “political figure” within the Holy See.
“I’ve read a few comments in the media but they haven’t been well interpreted. A head of state is not a political figure, a distinction needs to be made,” he said.
“Nothing strange happened [during the meeting], nothing that could make people believe that partisan politics were discussed,” he added.
There were no party candidates within the 53-people committee the President took to Rome.
This probably won’t be the last time the two Argentines share a room before Cristina leaves office in December. Several news sources confirmed two more meetings between Sept. 19 and 22, in the context of the Pope’s tour of Cuba and the US. According to Infobae, Cristina was invited by Raúl Castro and Barack Obama to be present during the pontiff’s historic visit, which comes on the heels of his involvement in the reinstatement of bilateral relations between the two American countries.