- Associated Press - Monday, November 26, 2012

BUENOS AIRES — President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has sought tirelessly to secure her late husband’s place in Argentina’s pantheon alongside popular leader Juan Domingo Peron and his glamorous wife Evita, the country’s most influential politicians of the 20th century.

Streets, hospitals, tunnels and even a soccer tournament have been named after Nestor Kirchner in the two years since his death. Statues and school improvement campaigns evoke his legacy. Activists proudly wear T-shirts saying “Nestor Lives.”

Now Argentines have yet another tool in their myth-making kit: “Nestor Kirchner, the Movie,” a documentary that just opened at 120 theaters around the country, an unusually wide distribution equal to that of movies expected to become box-office hits.

The movie also is being shown at a film festival in the resort city of Mar del Plata, where Ms. Fernandez encouraged the crowd Friday to find strength in her late husband’s legacy.

“He came to lift up the Argentines who were humiliated, submerged and forgotten,” the president said, her voice breaking, as it often does, when she talks of “him.” “So if you won’t give up, I won’t either.”

The movie, like Ms. Fernandez’s political discourse, is aimed at more than just rallying supporters for a president whose ratings have slipped.

Analyst Roberto Bacman said Ms. Fernandez is claiming a place for herself and her husband on the same pedestal where the Perons still stand as the transformative figures of modern Argentina.

For most Argentines, “Kirchner is not Peron,” said analyst Rosendo Fraga, who directs the Center for the New Majority think tank in Buenos Aires. “Kirchner is being used to undo Peron.”

Posthumous popularity

Peron left his mark on every aspect of Argentine politics during three presidential terms. With his charismatic wife, he built a movement that united even extremists on the left and right into a grand project so dysfunctional that even today the various branches of the Peronist party include politicians who wouldn’t be caught dead sharing a photo op together.

“Peronism has a tendency to find myths, figures of great force; it is a characteristic of populism. Kirchner also made a strong mark as president and after his death his figure grew,” Mr. Bacman noted.

Kirchner was unquestionably popular during his 2003 to 2007 mandate, presiding over the early years of an extended recovery from Argentina’s disastrous 2001 economic crisis and reasserting his nation’s place in the world.

But his approval ratings soared after his fatal heart attack in October 2010 at the age of 60.

“In Argentina, death has a greater social significance than in the rest of the world,” said Mr. Fraga, recalling how the death of Evita Peron at the age of 33 prompted massive outpourings of grief in 1952.

Ms. Fernandez‘ standing also shot up in the polls after her husband’s death. She has worn only black since she was widowed, and was re-elected with 54 percent of the votes a year later.

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