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The Era of La Presidenta

Female presidents shatter the glass ceiling in Brazil, Argentina and Costa Rica

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, 58, Argentina's president since 2007, has been called "the Hillary Clinton of Latin America."

Kirchner married her law school sweetheart, Néstor Kirchner, and helped him become the governor of a small southern province, and then president.

"But Cristina had an outstanding record of her own," says Franklin Knight, a professor of Latin American studies at The Johns Hopkins University. "Everyone said she was more capable than Néstor."

Cristina Kirchner served in Argentina's legislature from 1997 to 2007. As first lady, she served as her nation's itinerant ambassador, giving fiery populist speeches around the globe. She was so involved in running Argentina that local media said the Kirchners had a "presidential marriage."

The pair inherited a nation plunged into a severe economic crisis, with runs on banks and more than $90 billion in national loan defaults. Néstor Kirchner defied international bankers who wanted to put Argentina on an austerity program. Cristina Kirchner has also been a tough negotiator with those powerful banking interests and is close to settling the debts that made Argentina a fiscal pariah 10 years ago.

She continued her husband's persecution of the military officials who engineered Argentina's Dirty War more than 30 years ago, and she launched a campaign to reunite the orphans of the "disappeared" with their biological grandparents. Progressives hailed her support of a same-sex marriage bill. When she signed it into law, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to recognize same-sex marriage. But unlike her husband, Cristina Kirchner opposes abortion.

Cristina Kirchner has been stung by scandals about the source of some of her campaign cash and wealth. Yet her popularity rating surged after her husband's death last October, and she's the front-runner for the presidential election this October.

Next: Laura Chinchilla and Costa Rica's challenges. >>

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