Cristina Fernández de Kirchner: a profile of the Argentinian president

“Las Malvinas son Argentinas”

When Cristina Fernández de Kirchner won the Argentinian presidency by a landslide in 2007, her campaign may have benefited from the popularity of the outgoing president - her husband, Néstor. But the current President Kirchner is a veteran politician in her own right, long established as an independent Argentinian voice.

Kirchner was born in La Plata, near Buenos Aires. As a student, she gravitated towards the left wing of the Justicialist Party, founded by Juan and Eva Perón. She quickly became active in the Perónist Youth group (which was affiliated with the militant Montoneros guerrillas); but as the country fell to military rule in 1976, she dropped out of politics, moving to Patagonia to practise law. It was under the military junta that Argentina went to war with Britain over the Falklands, or Las Malvinas. And it was the junta that "disappeared" many of Kirchner's former comrades. She did not return to political life until after the regime collapsed in 1983, following military defeat.

A provincial, and then a national, deputy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kirchner had become an outspoken senator by 1995. In 2003, while holding the seat for Santa Cruz, she also acted as the backbone of her husband's successful presidential campaign. By that time, both Kirchners had moved to the centre left - and she has since rejected the militant left-wing "elitism" of the revolutionary 1970s.

As first lady, Kirchner gained the reputation she retains as president for being as well-dressed as she is politically strident. She makes no apologies for her glamorous, carefully constructed - some suggest surgically altered - appearance, on one occasion asking: "Would I have to dress like I was poor in order to be a good political leader?" Her powerful speeches have brought comparisons with Eva Perón, and as president, her fierce responses to any affront to national sovereignty have been tougher than those of her husband. She has said that the US acts as if it "wants countries as employees and subordinates" rather than friends, and elicited an embarrassed apology from the head of the CIA after he questioned Argentina's stability. Yet she maintains relatively good relations with Washington.

Kirchner's poll ratings have dropped since taking office - they were hit particularly hard by a failed attempt to extract more tax revenues from agriculture for the cash-strapped state - but she remains a respected and skilful player in Latin American politics. She works successfully with moderates and conservatives, as well as left-wing leaders. When, after a dispute in 2008, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela apologised to Germany's Angela Merkel, he said: "I'm doing this in front of Cristina, because every time I behave badly, she's the one who pulls my ears."

On her views about the Falklands, Kirchner has been typically direct. In London last year for the G20 summit, she gave a speech announcing her wish to "reaffirm once again our sovereign right over the Malvinas Islands". For Argentinians, this rallying cry is uncontroversial. Kirchner's view that "Las Malvinas son Argentinas" is common to those of virtually every political persuasion. And with support from a Latin America more united than ever, she is determined to gain leverage over the UK: even if the war for the islands three decades ago was waged by a dictatorship that kidnapped her friends.

This article first appeared in the 15 March 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Falklands II

Biteback and James Wharton
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“It was the most traumatic chapter of my life”: ex-soldier James Wharton on his chemsex addiction

One of the British Army’s first openly gay soldiers reveals how he became trapped in a weekend world of drug and sex parties.

“Five days disappeared.” James Wharton, a 30-year-old former soldier, recalls returning to his flat in south London at 11pm on a Sunday night in early March. He hadn’t eaten or slept since Wednesday. In the five intervening days, he had visited numerous different apartments, checked in and out of a hotel room, partied with dozens of people, had sex, and smoked crystal meth “religiously”.

One man he met during this five-day blur had been doing the same for double the time. “He won’t have been exaggerating,” Wharton tells me now. “He looked like he’d been up for ten days.”

On Monday, Wharton went straight to his GP. He had suffered a “massive relapse” while recovering from his addiction to chemsex: group sex parties enhanced by drugs.

“Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army term”

I meet Wharton on a very different Monday morning six months after that lost long weekend. Sipping a flat white in a sleek café workspace in Holborn, he’s a stroll away from his office in the city, where he works as a PR. He left the Army in 2013 after ten years, having left school and home at 16.

Wharton left school at 16 to join the Army. Photo: Biteback

With his stubble, white t-shirt and tortoise shell glasses, he now looks like any other young media professional. But he’s surfacing from two years in the chemsex world, where he disappeared to every weekend – sometimes for 72 hours straight.

Back then, this time on a Monday would have been “like a double-decker bus smashing through” his life – and that’s if he made it into work at all. Sometimes he’d still be partying into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. The drugs allow your body to go without sleep. “Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army expression,” Wharton says, wryly.

Wharton now works as a PR in London. Photo: James Wharton

Mainly experienced by gay and bisexual men, chemsex commonly involves snorting the stimulant mephodrone, taking “shots” (the euphoric drug GBL mixed with a soft drink), and smoking the amphetamine crystal meth.

These drugs make you “HnH” (high and horny) – a shorthand on dating apps that facilitate the scene. Ironically, they also inhibit erections, so Viagra is added to the mix. No one, sighs Wharton, orgasms. He describes it as a soulless and mechanical process. “Can you imagine having sex with somebody and then catching them texting at the same time?”

“This is the real consequence of Section 28”

Approximately 3,000 men who go to Soho’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic each month are using “chems”, though it’s hard to quantify how many people regularly have chemsex in the UK. Chemsex environments can be fun and controlled; they can also be unsafe and highly addictive.

Participants congregate in each other’s flats, chat, chill out, have sex and top up their drugs. GBL can only be taken in tiny doses without being fatal, so revellers set timers on their phones to space out the shots.

GBL is known as “the date rape drug”; it looks like water, and a small amount can wipe your memory. Like some of his peers, Wharton was raped while passed out from the drug. He had been asleep for six or so hours, and woke up to someone having sex with him. “That was the worst point, without a doubt – rock bottom,” he tells me. “[But] it didn’t stop me from returning to those activities again.”

There is a chemsex-related death every 12 days in London from usually accidental GBL overdoses; a problem that Wharton compares to the AIDS epidemic in a book he’s written about his experiences, Something for the Weekend.

Wharton has written a book about his experiences. Photo: Biteback

Wharton’s first encounter with the drug, at a gathering he was taken to by a date a couple of years ago, had him hooked.

“I loved it and I wanted more immediately,” he recalls. From then on, he would take it every weekend, and found doctors, teachers, lawyers, parliamentary researchers, journalists and city workers all doing the same thing. He describes regular participants as the “London gay elite”.

“Chemsex was the most traumatic chapter of my life” 

Topics of conversation “bounce from things like Lady Gaga’s current single to Donald Trump”, Wharton boggles. “You’d see people talking about the general election, to why is Britney Spears the worst diva of them all?”

Eventually, he found himself addicted to the whole chemsex culture. “It’s not one single person, it’s not one single drug, it’s just all of it,” he says.

Wharton was in the Household Cavalry alongside Prince Harry. Photos: Biteback and James Wharton

Wharton feels the stigma attached to chemsex is stopping people practising it safely, or being able to stop. He’s found a support network through gay community-led advice services, drop-ins and workshops. Not everyone has that access, or feels confident coming forward.

“This is the real consequence of Section 28,” says Wharton, who left school in 2003, the year this legislation against “promoting” homosexuality was repealed. “Who teaches gay men how to have sex? Because the birds and the bees chat your mum gives you is wholly irrelevant.”

Wharton was the first openly gay soldier to appear in the military in-house magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

Wharton only learned that condoms are needed in gay sex when he first went to a gay bar at 18. He was brought up in Wrexham, north Wales, by working-class parents, and described himself as a “somewhat geeky gay” prior to his chemsex days.

After four years together, he and his long-term partner had a civil partnership in 2010; they lived in a little cottage in Windsor with two dogs. Their break-up in 2014 launched him into London life as a single man.

As an openly gay soldier, Wharton was also an Army poster boy; he appeared in his uniform on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. He served in the Household Cavalry with Prince Harry, who once defended him from homophobic abuse, and spent seven months in Iraq.

In 2012, Wharton appeared with his then civil partner in Attitude magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

A large Union Jack shield tattoo covering his left bicep pokes out from his t-shirt – a physical reminder of his time at war on his now much leaner frame. He had it done the day he returned from Iraq.

Yet even including war, Wharton calls chemsex “the most traumatic chapter” of his life. “Iraq was absolutely Ronseal, it did exactly what it said on the tin,” he says. “It was going to be a bit shit, and then I was coming home. But with chemsex, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“When I did my divorce, I had support around me. When I did the Army, I had a lot of support. Chemsex was like a million miles an hour for 47 hours, then on the 48th hour it was me on my own, in the back of an Uber, thinking where did it all go wrong? And that’s traumatic.”

Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton is published by Biteback.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 March 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Falklands II