LIMA, Peru — Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was due to undergo minor brain surgery Tuesday, an unexpected move that could change the course of her presidency.
The 60-year-old leader was diagnosed on Saturday with a hematoma, blood on the brain, and initially ordered to take a month off work.
But on Monday she was admitted to a hospital after feeling a tingling sensation in her arm and doctors decided to operate.
Although there has been no official confirmation, it's thought the problem may have been caused when she hit her head during a fall in August.
The development comes at a key time during her presidency. Fernandez de Kirchner had been expected to campaign hard ahead of legislative elections on Oct. 27.
Her popularity is just 34 percent at the moment — roughly half her record set in October 2011 — and her Peronist party stands to lose control of congress.
Fernandez de Kirchner is in her second term and Argentine law bars her from running for re-election. Without support from allies in the legislature, her hopes of changing the constitution to allow a third consecutive term would be in tatters.
Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court ruled on Monday that it would not hear an appeal from her government against a lower court judgment that Argentina must pay in full “vulture funds,” hedge funds that vacuumed up defaulted Argentine debt more than 10 years ago at bargain basement prices.
That ruling now leaves Argentina open to the possibility of another default. The country has already seen its credit rating downgraded over fears regarding the impact of the protracted legal battle in the US.
Fernandez de Kirchner was first elected after her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, termed out as president in 2007. He subsequently died of a heart attack in 2010.
Last year, Fernandez de Kirchner underwent surgery to remove a lymph gland over cancer fears. Tests after the operation revealed that a cancer diagnosis had been mistaken.
As she convalesces, Vice President Amado Boudou will stand in.
Although he's not expected to make any big decisions while at the helm, Boudou remains a controversial figure and is the subject of two ongoing corruption investigations, one for alleged influence peddling and the other for illicit enrichment.
In addition to Boudou’s and other government corruption scandals, the economy has been roiled by currency controls, double-digit inflation, protectionist policies and a series of nationalizations, sparking unrest at the government.
At least one supporter warned of trouble if her opponents attempted to "touch" her.
But another wished her a swift recovery "so as to be well when you are put on trial."
"[The hematoma] will probably generate some sympathy, which could help her candidates a bit, but is unlikely to materialize into a major change of electoral preferences," wrote Daniel Kerner, an analyst with the New York-based risk research and consulting firm Eurasia Group.
"The demand for change and discontent with low growth, high inflation and crime will likely be more important than [Fernandez's] health issues."