A battery of corruption allegations and criminal charges against former President Cristina Fernandez hasn’t fazed a strong band of hard-core backers, who have helped make her a leading — if undeclared — contender to regain power in next year’s elections.

Hundreds of supporters, some waving signs saying, “Strength, Cristina!” thronged the street outside when investigators searched the former president’s apartment recently.

Cries of support for Fernandez rise from crowds during protests against the austerity policies of the conservative who replaced her as president, Mauricio Macri.

In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, Teresa Rollano, who is employed as a maid, holds up an a collage of former President Cristina Fernandez she keeps in a plastic protective sleeve, during a demonstration demanding improved conditions for disabled retirees, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Many women voted in the government of Mauricio Macri and now they regret it,” said Rollano, during the  demonstration where protesters chanted, “Stay strong, Cristina” and held signs saying, “Now more than ever, soldiers of Cristina.” (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, Teresa Rollano, who is employed as a maid, holds up an a collage of former President Cristina Fernandez she keeps in a plastic protective sleeve, during a demonstration demanding improved conditions for disabled retirees, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Many women voted in the government of Mauricio Macri and now they regret it,” said Rollano, during the demonstration where protesters chanted, “Stay strong, Cristina” and held signs saying, “Now more than ever, soldiers of Cristina.” (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

“Now more than ever, soldiers of Cristina” read a sign at a demonstration demanding improved conditions for disabled retirees.

“Many women voted for the government of Mauricio Macri and now they regret it,” Teresa Rollano said while walking arm-in-arm with a friend who carried that sign. “The people want Cristina because she represents the working class. She has given us all of our rights.”

A recent survey by local pollster Ricardo Rouvier & Associates said Fernandez is neck-and-neck with Macri in terms of support ahead of the October 2019 election.

In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, philosophy professor Juan Carlos Amarfil, 67, strikes a pose wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of former President Cristina Fernandez, as he holds a poster headlined,
In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, philosophy professor Juan Carlos Amarfil, 67, strikes a pose wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of former President Cristina Fernandez, as he holds a poster headlined, “Economic terrorist” next to an image of President Maurcio Macri, during a demonstration demanding improved conditions for disabled retirees, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cries of support for Fernandez, who is now serving as a senator, continue to rise from crowds during protests against the austerity policies of Macri, the conservative who replaced her as leader of Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

That’s remarkable backing for a politician who faces numerous formal investigations into alleged bribery, money laundering and criminal association during her own administration from 2007 to 2015 and that of her late husband Nestor Kirchner from 2003 to 2007.

Fernandez, now a senator, hasn’t been convicted of any crimes — a first trial is scheduled to start in February — and she fiercely denies any wrongdoing, accusing officials of persecuting her to distract from the current economic crisis.

But the Argentine press has been filled with picturesque scandals: bags of millions of dollars in cash tossed over a convent wall, the mysterious death of a prosecutor who accused Fernandez of a cover-up, the corruption conviction of her former vice president.

In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, philosophy professor Juan Carlos Amarfil, 67, poses with his backside to the camera to show the text on his T-shirt that reads in Spanish:
In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, philosophy professor Juan Carlos Amarfil, 67, poses with his backside to the camera to show the text on his T-shirt that reads in Spanish: “She stole my heart. Thank you for the most beautiful 12 years of my life, of my family’s and my people,” referring to former President Cristina Fernandez, during protests against the austerity policies of the current administration. Fernandez’s supporters credit her for nationalizing the pension system, keeping energy cheap through subsidies and redirecting revenue to the poor through handouts. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Part of her strength stems from disenchantment with Macri, whose budget-cutting efforts have forced thousands out of public jobs, raised electricity bills and hiked bus fares without managing to revive the economy or rein in soaring prices. His decision this year to seek IMF aid to help has roused fears among those who blame the international agency for a devastating economic crash in 2001, when Argentina’s government was forced into the largest debt default in history to that point and millions of Argentines were plunged into poverty.

Many credit Kirchner and Fernandez for leading the country out of that crisis, even if Macri’s backers blame Fernandez’s policies for eventually creating the country’s current woes.

Under Fernandez, “I was able to buy a new car, fix my house and travel on a plane for the first time,” said Gloria Buffarini, a hairdresser. “I used to pay 600 pesos a month (about $16) for electricity. Now, it’s 3,000 (about $80).

In this Oct. 6, 2018 photo, political scientist Maria Victoria Munne, 26, holds a ceramic doll depicting former President Cristina Fernandez, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In this Oct. 6, 2018 photo, political scientist Maria Victoria Munne, 26, holds a ceramic doll depicting former President Cristina Fernandez, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “She granted many rights to all of society.” says Munne about Fernandez. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Fernandez’s supporters credit her for nationalizing the pension system, keeping energy cheap through subsidies and redirecting revenue to the poor through handouts, and see her as a trailblazer for women’s advancement.

The former president’s appeal also flows from her leadership of a powerful — if often fragmented — populist tide in Argentine politics that originated with strongman Juan Domingo Peron in the 1940s and from progressive social policies she passed in the face of opposition from powerful business interests.

In this Oct. 6, 2018 photo, retiree Clara Schapiro, 75, poses for a picture backdropped by a wall emblazoned with a message that reads in Spanish:
In this Oct. 6, 2018 photo, retiree Clara Schapiro, 75, poses for a picture backdropped by a wall emblazoned with a message that reads in Spanish: “With Cristina, you don’t mess around,” in reference to former President Cristina Fernandez, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “She helps the people, helps everyone, so you’re touched by a person like that,” says Schapiro. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

But she also inspires deep animosity. Detractors blame her for endemic corruption and the deterioration of Argentina’s economy, which was choked by restrictions on imports, exports and foreign currency exchanges in the latter part of her administration.

“Not since Peron has there been another leader who has generated such a situation of love and hate,” said Mariel Fornoni of the Management & Fit consultancy. She said Fernandez has a “hard core of followers who are going to vote for her no matter what she does.”

Fernandez infuriates people like Patricio Canbelari, a language teacher, who said, “Most want to see her arrested,” and called her a “white-gloved thief.”

In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, Lidia Benavidez poses wearing a crocheted headband in Argentina's national colors and embedded with the name
In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, Lidia Benavidez poses wearing a crocheted headband in Argentina’s national colors and embedded with the name “Cristina” in reference to former President Cristina Fernandez, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Cristina means everything to me.” says Benavides. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Fernandez’s former public works secretary was arrested in 2016 when he was caught tossing bags containing more than $9 million over the walls of a convent. He later agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, joining other witnesses in accusing Fernandez and her son of overseeing a plan to skim millions of dollars from public works projects.

Judges also are investigating allegations published by the newspaper La Nacion that a senior official’s chauffeur kept detailed diaries of millions of dollars in cash payments, including some delivered to the presidential offices and to Fernandez’s private home.

Fernandez, along with other former officials, also faces trial on charges that she covered up the role of Iranians in a 1994 terrorist bombing at a Jewish center in Argentina’s capital. The prosecutor who first recommended charges against her, Alberto Nisman, died mysteriously of a gunshot wound four days later — a case that is still under investigation.

In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, Hector Franco poses holding two protest signs with messages that read in Spanish:
In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, Hector Franco poses holding two protest signs with messages that read in Spanish: “Stop the brutal cuts”, left, and “Come back Cristina!” during a demonstration against the cut of disability payments, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “I’m in love with her!” says Franco. Part of her strength stems from disenchantment with President Mauricio Macri, whose budget-cutting efforts have forced thousands out of public jobs, raised electricity bills and hiked bus fares without managing to revive the economy or rein in soaring prices. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Fernandez’s former vice president, Amado Boudou, is in prison, appealing a sentence for bribery and business incompatible with his public office. He was accused of using shell companies and middlemen to take over the only company with contracts to print Argentina’s currency.

Fernandez’s Senate seat grants her immunity from arrest but not from prosecution. That immunity could be lifted only by an unlikely vote of two-thirds of the country’s senators. While a conviction might theoretically bar her from running for office, that would only occur after appeals were exhausted — a process that would take many years.

Fornoni said some Argentines believe that although corruption was rife during Fernandez’s term, it exists in Macri’s government as well.

In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, cosmetics vendor Monica Lagagna, 54, strikes a pose holding an Argentina national flag designed with an image of former President Cristina Fernandez, during a demonstration in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, cosmetics vendor Monica Lagagna, 54, strikes a pose holding an Argentina national flag designed with an image of former President Cristina Fernandez, during a demonstration in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “For me, she is all that is love.” says Lagagna who’s arm is adorned with a tattoo of Fernandez and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner. Fernandez has remarkable backing for a politician who faces numerous formal investigations into alleged bribery, money laundering and criminal association during her own administration from 2007 to 2015 and that of her late husband’s, from 2003 to 2007. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

“They say: ‘They were probably corrupt, but I lived better,'” Fornoni said.

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Source: The Associated Press

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