BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — President Cristina Fernandez spoke publicly for the first time in more than 40 days Wednesday, ending a long silence that had Argentines speculating about her health following head surgery.
In a nationally televised address, an energetic Fernandez announced the creation of a program to encourage young, unemployed Argentines to attend public school with an $80 subsidy.
She also criticized those who speculated about her condition during her absence.
"It's true that I've had some difficulties, but I'd like to see how others would fare if they had to deal with the things that I've gone through. I'd like to see them running this country," Fernandez told hundreds of supporters who filled the main patio at the Pink House presidential palace.
The 60-year-old president underwent surgery to remove a blood clot Oct. 8. She returned to work Nov. 18.
The normally loquacious leader with a love of Twitter last spoke publicly on Dec. 10 and last tweeted on Dec. 13. The uncharacteristic silence fed speculation in Argentina about her health, and some opponents even questioned who was really running the country.
Fernandez's Cabinet members have repeatedly said she is fully in command. But neither they nor Fernandez on Wednesday explained the reason behind the public silence at a time when Argentina is grappling with double-digit inflation, lower economic growth and a fall in foreign currency reserves.
Underscoring Argentina's economic issues, the peso plunged 3.5 percent against the U.S. dollar Wednesday, and the Central Bank didn't even try to spend more of its precious reserves to slow the devaluation.
Economic analysts expect inflation to hit 30 percent this year, heating up what already has been the second highest rate in Latin America after Venezuela.
Questions of who was governing are pertinent in Argentina, where Fernandez has the power to rule by decree over many areas of Argentina's economic and social life.
She nationalized private pension funds, renationalized the country's flagship airline and led Argentina's uncompensated seizure of the Spanish company Repsol's controlling, $10 billion stake in the state YPF oil company.
These measures have been popular with many Argentines who blame the privatizations of the 1990s and other free-market policies for the country's economic crisis and debt default in 2001-2002.
Along with her late husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner, she is credited for restoring the presidential power in a country where it had been gravely weakened by the 2001 economic collapse that drove a series of presidents from office
Her silence was a striking contrast to her past.
The first years of Fernandez's presidency were like a reality TV show with near daily television speeches, and later she became known for her constant tweets on topics ranging from politics to pictures with Pope Francis or her dogs. Sometimes she recounted casual conversations she had with Argentines on the road, the birth of her grandson and even her musings on the "Game of Thrones," her favorite TV show.
Fernandez, whose terms ends in 2015, accused opponents and the media of trying "to create the sensation that I had reached the end."
On Wednesday, she confirmed that she will travel to Cuba for a meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that begins Monday.
"God willing, we'll travel to Cuba on Friday for the CELAC summit," Fernandez said. "It was said that I had requested a postponement due to health problems. Some were just going around making fools out of people."