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A country in mourning

Argentina loses its first man, Nestor Kirchner, and with him its political bearings. The markets didn't mind though, and soy is surging along with economic growth. Meanwhile, a dinosaur stands again and Argentina packs its nightlife in a box.

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It took the nation by surprise. Argentines were waiting at home for the census taker when they heard that Nestor Kirchner, former president of Argentina and husband of the current president, had died of a heart attack.

Three days of national mourning have been declared. Thousands of mourners carrying flowers, flags and posters have gathered at the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada in an emotional all night and all day vigil. 

Cristina Fernandez Kirchner and her children, Max and Florence, made their first public appearance Thursday, paying their final respects in silence along with country's leaders during the state funeral in the Patriots Hall of the Casa Rosada.

Kirchner's death, at 60, throws the country into political uncertainty. He and his wife had plans to succeed each other as presidents. Though Cristina is a powerful politician in her own right, Nestor was the leader of the Peronist Party. He was a talented strategist, particularly when it came to negotiating the country's labor unions, local politicians and finances.

As Argentina's politicians fall in line expressing sympathy and support for Fernandez, many believe a political power scramble lies ahead of next year's presidential elections. Fernandez will likely run again for a consecutive term but a shortlist of political names to watch in the coming year includes: Daniel Scioli, current governor of Buenos Aires province; Vice President Julio Cobos, who broke with the Kirchners after the farmers' dispute in 2009; and Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires.

In other news, Argentina will join the small group of uranium-enriching countries when it moves ahead with its nuclear power generation plans. Fernandez declared the country's nuclear power plants "strategic nuclear resources" though the government says the uranium will be used for strictly civilian purposes.

Over the past year, the Argentine government has been reviewing its military infrastructure as it advances its sovereignty claims for the British-ruled Falkland Islands. Still they say they will continue to use diplomatic channels to lessen tensions. Earlier this month, Argentina protested British military exercises around the islands by delivering letters of protest to the United Nations, delivering a statement by the 12-member Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and issuing a formal complaint to the International Maritime Organization this week. Fernendez even posted on Twitter about it, declaring the British military exercises as "typical 19th-century colonialism."

Twitter isn't the only new media outlet the Argentine president is experimenting with.  The Argentine government has launched a platform of free digital television channels to widen access to information. The television feed will be transmitted via state satellites and 47 antennas. Fernandez said the effort is in part response to rising pay TV costs, though some view it in the context of wider disputes she has with major Argentine media companies.

While the president is offering Argentines free television, banks are offering them free accounts.In an effort to stop the increasing number of stickups in the country, this week the central bank introduced regulations to encourage Argentines to use the banking system more often instead of using cash to purchase big-ticket items like real estate and cars. Banks must now offer free accounts and charge minimum fees for bank transfers. 

Argentina and Brazil are in negotiations with other top soy producing nations in South America to create a soybean alliance and stem Asia's influence on the market. A deal between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay would combine about half the world's soybean production. Earlier this year, China halted Argentina's soy imports because of trade disputes between the two countries. 

Money:

Financial markets didn't mourn Kirchner's death. Argentine trading surged on Wall Street: Argentine stocks saw their biggest rise in two years; debt insurance dropped half a percentage point.

With a history of public spending, price controls and export freezes, the Kirchners are seen as less than friendly if not outright alienating to investors. Many hope a change in Argentine politics could mean more favorable economic policies next year.

Yet the Argentine economy has surged this year, growing at its fastest pace since before the financial crisis of 2001 and with it the popularity of the Kirchners, it may well help usher in a second presidential term for Fernandez next year.

Much of Argentina's economic success is owed to the surging soy market, which is bolstering Argentina's central bank reserves and allowing the country to pay down its debts directly. A record 55-million metric ton soybean harvest pushed reserves up 8 percent this year.

The record soy harvest, the country's largest source of dollar inflows, is helping to boost the country's GDP growth to 8 percent. September primary budgets are surging as well as government tax revenues.

At home, Argentines are spending, but doing so to stem inflation. Argentina has the world’s third highest inflation at about 25 percent, behind Venezuela and Pakistan, making analysts worry Argentina won't be able to keep up its economic growth or pay off debts in 2012. But that's after the presidential election, so why worry now.

Elsewhere:

In northwestern Argentina, fossils of a newly discovered dinosaur species went on display. The "Sanjuansaurus" lived in the San Juan region of Argentina 228 million years ago. It ran very fast, walked on its hind legs and used it front legs to attack its enemies.

And in Northern Ireland, a special box filled with dance music and Irish pub favorites is being packed and sent to Argentina. In what is being called a "Nightlife Swap," Argentina and Northern Ireland are exchanging the best of their nightlife for a cultural exchange event scheduled for Nov. 27. Though, many proud Argentines might find it difficult to pack the best of Argentine nightlife into only one box.

http://www.globalpost.com/passport/argentina/101029/country-mourning