Argentine president's secret weapon?

Moments after Argentina_s Congress passed a historic bill in April to nationalize the Spanish majority-owned oil company... Moments after Argentina_s Congress passed a historic bill in April to nationalize the Spanish majority-owned oil company, YPF, a banner taking up half of the Congressional chamber was unfurled from the balcony. It depicted former President N__stor Kirchner with his fist raised in the air victoriously.

The same banner was on view just a week earlier during a rally attended by 100,000 activists in support of _the project_ _ a left-wing political ideology implemented by Mr. Kirchner before his 2010 death, and continued today by his wife, Argentina_s current president, Cristina Fern__ndez de Kirchner.

Both scenes were the work of La C__mpora, a political youth movement _ 30,000-strong and mostly under the age of 30 _ whose support for the president is unwavering.

A continuation of the Peronist Youth to which Cristina and N__stor belonged in the 1970s, La C__mpora emphasizes Juan Domingo Per__n_s fight for the poor and the Kirchners_ policies of social inclusion and state intervention.

But the group stands out for more than just its forthright display of solidarity: members are appointed high-ranking government positions, it is spearheaded by the Kirchners_ son, M__ximo, and it is viewed as one of Ms. Fern__ndez_s most significant political tools _ one she desperately needs right now.

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_Soldiers of Cristina_

Fern__ndez won a second term last October with 54 percent of the vote, but her approval rating has dropped to 39 percent, according to polls.

Argentina_s middle classes took to the streets in June to protest against alleged corruption _ including a scandal involving the vice president _ the soaring inflation rate, and new restrictions on buying dollars. The head of umbrella union CGT, Hugo Moyano _ once a loyal supporter of the Kirchners _ also formalized his split with Fern__ndez during a rally last week, accusing her of _overwhelming arrogance._

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Today, Fern__ndez_s bedrock of support is represented by la juventud or _the youth_ and, specifically, by La C__mpora.

The support the group drums up represents a _theatrical fanaticism_ which a _disjointed_ opposition cannot replicate, says Lucho Bugallo, founder of the website Argentina contra K, Argentina against Kirchner.

Unlike the Young Republicans in America, a grassroots organization that backs the Republican Party, La C__mpora is personalist. Just as the Peronist Youth fought for Per__n_s return from exile, La C__mpora activists call themselves _soldiers of Cristina._

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_A pillar_ of Kirchnerism

La C__mpora is named after former President H__ctor C__mpora, who resigned after just 49 days in 1973 to facilitate Per__n_s return to power. Its birth can be traced back to the economic crisis of 2001 where the saying Que se vayan todos _ Away with them all _ was employed by protesters who wanted to purge Argentine politics of its corrupt old-blood.

When N__stor Kirchner became president in 2003, he committed to building a _generational bridge_ between the government and young people, delegating the task to his only son, M__ximo.

Under Fern__ndez, Kirchnerism _ as her and N__stor_s governing philosophy is called _ has institutionalized that bridge and made youth one of the pillars of its political model.

Fern__ndez_s alignment with the youth has altered the traditional foundation of Peronist support _ the trade unions. Her running battle with Mr. Moyano had intensified in June with a national strike by truckers, which called on Fern__ndez to raise the income tax floor.

The rupture with Moyano came after the death of N__stor, under whose presidency his political influence had increased. But Fern__ndez saw his power as excessive and cut his ties with Kirchnerism.

_The president has distanced herself from the unions in favor of a new loyal base whose ideas are entirely allied with the government,_ Leandro Bullor, an economic historian at the University of Buenos Aires, says.

_To think differently [than] Cristina is scorned upon,_ Julio B__rbaro, a leading Peronist figure and former culture secretary, said in a television debate.

La C__mpora aspires to be an extension of the left-wing political movements of the '70s, such as the Montoneros, a Peronist guerrilla group obliterated by the military dictatorship, says Dr. Bullor. During Fern__ndez_s speeches at the presidential palace, she often has to pause as activists who fill the back of the room declare themselves _soldiers of Cristina_ and break into song about surviving the military_s executions _ representative of their repudiation of the junta_s Dirty War against the left.

Two members of La C__mpora_s inner circle are children of _disappeared_ parents and Hijos, an organization for young people with the same background, is strongly linked to the group.

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Government presence

Critics accuse Fern__ndez of choosing members of La C__mpora for government posts, an _anti-democratic_ process that contradicts the movement_s values, says __Bullor.

Axel Kicillof, for example, was appointed economy vice-minister in December and is today viewed as Kirchnerism_s _golden boy._ Mr. Kicillof, a neo-Keynesian economist, led the YPF intervention and was named by Fern__ndez as the government_s main representative on its board. He was close to the president_s side once again as she announced a state mortgage credit plan last month.

Other leading members of La C__mpora who hold legislative and government positions include the justice secretary; the CEO of Argentine Airlines, nationalized in 2008; two members of the lower house of Congress; and a deputy in the Buenos Aires government.

_Many people join the La C__mpora as they see it as a route to public office,_ Mr. Bugallo says.

Fern__ndez has defended the presence of La C__mpora in her government. _They have just 29 posts out of nearly 30,000 in the whole country,_ she said in a recent speech.

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A family affair

Despite having little experience in politics, the Kirchners_ son, M__ximo, is widely believed to influence his mother. He does not hold elected office.

M__ximo is a diffident figure and rarely heard in public. But in her recent book, La C__mpora, author Laura Di Marco emphasizes the power he exerts. He told Fern__ndez which members of the movement to put at the top of her Justicialist Party_s list of candidates before last October_s presidential and provincial elections, writes Ms. Di Marco.

However, Daniel Miguez, a former political editor at Clar__n, a leading newspaper in Argentina, believes M__ximo_s role is overstated by the anti-Kirchner media. _I think the relationship is given more relevance than it ought to,_ Mr. Miguez says.

Today, La C__mpora has turned N__stor Kirchner into a mythical figure, accentuated by Fern__ndez who refers to him simply as ___l_ or _he." He is lauded by some for turning Argentina away from neoliberalism in favor of a model of social equality, and brought to justice the military dictators that _disappeared_ 30,000 people in the 1970s.

_N__stor began the reconstruction of Argentina after it had been decimated by the dictatorship and by [former President] Carlos Menem_s privatizations in the 1990s,_ says a La C__mpora member in Buenos Aires. He asked to remain anonymous because of restrictions on speaking to the media imposed by the group, renowned for its secrecy. _He gave birth to this project and we believe in his fight against inequality._

La C__mpora_s unrelenting poster campaigns cast N__stor as Argentina_s savior _ he appears as the Eternauta, a 1950s science fiction character who fought against aliens that invaded the capital.

Fern__ndez reaches her term limit in 2015 and her search for an heir to continue _the project_ her husband started will most likely end in a member of the group, according to Bullor.

Midterm elections take place next year and it is widely reported that M__ximo will run for the Justicialist Party as a candidate for Buenos Aires Province.

_Cristina will use the midterms to test the water,_ for a successor Bullor says. _And it_s probable that the Kirchnerist candidate for 2015 will come from La C__mpora._

By Jonathan Gilbert

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