Cristina Fernandez

Pope Francis speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is the first ever from the Americas, an austere Jesuit intellectual who modernized Argentina's conservative Catholic church.

Known until Wednesday as Jorge Bergoglio, the 76-year-old is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He came close to becoming pope last time, reportedly gaining the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Groups of supporters waved Argentine flags in St. Peter's Square as Francis, wearing simple white robes, made his first public appearance as pope.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening," he said before making a reference to his roots in Latin America, which accounts for about 40 percent of the world's Roman Catholics .

Bergoglio often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina's capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.

He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

"Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit," Bergoglio told Argentina's priests last year.

Bergoglio's legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina's murderous 1976-83 dictatorship. He also worked to recover the church's traditional political influence in society, but his outspoken criticism of President Cristina Kirchner couldn't stop her from imposing socially liberal measures that are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.

"In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptize the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage," Bergoglio told his priests. "These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!"

Bergoglio compared this concept of Catholicism, "this Church of 'come inside so we make decisions and announcements between ourselves and those who don't come in, don't belong," to the Pharisees of Christ's time — people who congratulate themselves while condemning all others.

This sort of pastoral work, aimed at capturing more souls and building the flock, was an essential skill for any religious leader in the modern era, said Bergoglio's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.

But Bergoglio himself felt most comfortable taking a very low profile, and his personal style was the antithesis of Vatican splendor. "It's a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome," Rubin said before the 2013 conclave to choose Benedict's successor.

Bergoglio's influence seemed to stop at the presidential palace door after Nestor Kirchner and then his wife, Cristina Fernandez, took over the Argentina's government. His outspoken criticism couldn't prevent Argentina from becoming the Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, or stop Fernandez from promoting free contraception and artificial insemination.

His church had no say when the Argentine Supreme Court expanded access to legal abortions in rape cases, and when Bergoglio argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children, Fernandez compared his tone to "medieval times and the Inquisition."

This kind of demonization is unfair, says Rubin, who obtained an extremely rare interview of Bergoglio for his biography, the "The Jesuit."

"Is Bergoglio a progressive — a liberation theologist even? No. He's no third-world priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes," Rubin said.

Bergoglio has stood out for his austerity. Even after he became Argentina's top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, heated by a small stove on frigid weekends. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals.

Bergoglio almost never granted media interviews, limiting himself to speeches from the pulpit, and was reluctant to contradict his critics, even when he knew their allegations against him were false, said Rubin.

That attitude was burnished as human rights activists tried to force him to answer uncomfortable questions about what church officials knew and did about the dictatorship's abuses after the 1976 coup.

Many Argentines remain angry over the church's acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements" in society. It's one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but fewer than 10 percent regularly attend mass.

Under Bergoglio's leadership, Argentina's bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church's failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era's violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

"Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas; he doesn't forget that side," Rubin said.

The bishops also said "we exhort those who have information about the location of stolen babies, or who know where bodies were secretly buried, that they realize they are morally obligated to inform the pertinent authorities."

That statement came far too late for some activists, who accused Bergoglio of being more concerned about the church's image than about aiding the many human rights investigations of the Kirchners' era.

Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court, and when he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman said.

At least two cases directly involved Bergoglio. One examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests — Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics — who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery.

Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them — including persuading dictator Jorge Videla's family priest to call in sick so that he could say Mass in the junta leader's home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until Rubin interviewed him for the 2010 biography.

Bergoglio — who ran Argentina's Jesuit order during the dictatorship — told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border. But all this was done in secret, at a time when church leaders publicly endorsed the junta and called on Catholics to restore their "love for country" despite the terror in the streets.

Rubin said failing to challenge the dictators was simply pragmatic at a time when so many people were getting killed, and attributed Bergoglio's later reluctance to share his side of the story as a reflection of his humility.

But Bregman said Bergoglio's own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was torturing and killing its citizens, and yet publicly endorsed the dictators. "The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support," she said.

Bergoglio also was accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was 5-months' pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977. The De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them; Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written note from a colonel: It revealed that the woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family "too important" for the adoption to be reversed.

Despite this written evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn't know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

"Bergoglio has a very cowardly attitude when it comes to something so terrible as the theft of babies. He says he didn't know anything about it until 1985," said the baby's aunt, Estela de la Cuadra, whose mother Alicia co-founded the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in 1977 in hopes of identifying these babies. "He doesn't face this reality and it doesn't bother him. The question is how to save his name, save himself. But he can't keep these allegations from reaching the public. The people know how he is."

Initially trained as a chemist, Bergoglio taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking over as Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998. He became cardinal in 2001, when the economy was collapsing, and won respect for blaming unrestrained capitalism for impoverishing millions of Argentines.

Later, there was little love lost between Bergoglio and Fernandez. Their relations became so frigid that the president stopped attending his annual "Te Deum" address, when church leaders traditionally tell political leaders what's wrong with society.

During the dictatorship era, other church leaders only feebly mentioned a need to respect human rights. When Bergoglio spoke to the powerful, he was much more forceful. In his 2012 address, he said Argentina was being harmed by demagoguery, totalitarianism, corruption and efforts to secure unlimited power. The message resonated in a country whose president was ruling by decree, where political scandals rarely were punished and where top ministers openly lobbied for Fernandez to rule indefinitely.

People wait in line to refuel their vehicles at YPF gas station in Buenas Aires, Argentina on Monday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MADRID — Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez is attempting to quell increasing unrest at home and boost her popularity with an “unlawful” bid to nationalize YPF, the Argentine oil unit of Spanish energy firm Repsol, the company’s president claimed Tuesday as the group’s shares plunged more than 7 percent.

As Spain’s government prepared retaliatory measures against Argentina, the European Commission added to the two nations’ rapidly rising economic and diplomatic tensions by indefinitely postponing a meeting with Argentine officials over a bilateral trade and economic treaty between the European Union and Argentina.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he was “seriously disappointed” by Argentina’s decision and warned that “this creates an uncertainty which is not helpful to our economic relations and to the economy as a whole.”

Fernandez sparked the firestorm between Spain and Argentina on Monday when she sent a bill to her country’s congress to put a majority stake of YPF in state hands, effectively nationalizing the oil company. Argentina has in the past accused Repsol of failing to invest enough in YPF and its oil sector.

Repsol president Antonio Brufau told reporters that the company demands just compensation and will fight Fernandez’ plan, adding that she “carried out an unlawful act and made unlawful charges after a campaign aimed at knocking down YPF shares and allowing expropriation at a bargain price.”

The decision by Fernandez “is only a way of covering up the social and economic crisis Argentina is facing” amid high inflation and energy prices, Brufau added.

Repsol shares were down 7.1 percent to €16.25 ($21.34) each in early afternoon trading in Madrid, far underperforming the benchmark Ibex index, which was up 1 percent. Analysts were concerned that Argentina has not stated any compensation terms for the nationalization of YPF, which has 42 percent of Repsol’s global reserves.

Brufau told reporters that YPF is worth $18.3 billion, and he valued Repsol’s 57 percent stake in the unit at $10.5 billion. Argentina wants to take over Repsol shares representing 51 percent of YPF, meaning Repsol would be left with 6 percent and shareholders including a rich Argentine family would not be affected.

In a sign of the rising tensions between Spain and Argentina over the nationalization plan, the Spanish foreign ministry summoned Argentina’s ambassador to Madrid for the second time in five days to mount another formal protest.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon said Argentina’s plan to nationalize YPF “represents an extraordinary political error in the medium and long term.”

Gallardon and other officials suggested Spain would retaliate, but did not say how. Energy Minister Jose Manuel Soria said the government could take action within days and cited possible lines of diplomatic or commercial retaliation against Argentina but did not provide specifics.

YPF is Argentina’s largest company and vital for its energy future, especially after a recent find of huge unconventional oil and natural gas reserves — a discovery that Brufau stressed came from his company’s
exploration efforts.

Spain’s government is seeking to line up allies to contest the nationalization and possibly isolate Argentina economically. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is expected to try to drum up support this week during a trip to Mexico and Colombia.

Brufau encouraged shareholders to take part in the upcoming legal battle, and accused Fernandez of being “an expert manipulator” in her accusations that Repsol underfunded its YPF unit. He said Repsol has invested $20 billion in Argentina since it bought its stake in YPF in 1999.

As Fernandez was announcing the takeover on national television, Argentine authorities went to YPF headquarters in Buenos Aires and expelled Spanish executives, Brufau said.

Their “behavior with our managers and employees was pathetic and embarrassing,” he said. Bilateral accords between Spain and Argentina will allow Repsol to take its case to the United Nations and the World Bank after Argentine lawmakers allied with Fernandez approve the plan, as is expected.

“It will be a long (legal) battle,” Brufau warned.

Spain is the largest foreign investor in Argentina, ahead of the United States. Spanish bank and telecommunications companies have a heavy presence in Argentina, where they have earned strong profits to offset deep losses in recent years at home due to the financial crisis.

Spain’s Telefonica SA operates six companies in Argentina, where it is the leading telecom provider, with revenue last year of €3.17 billion, up from €3 billion in 2010, according to its annual report.

The YPF nationalization has made the business climate in Argentina more uncertain for foreign companies, but experts doubted Fernandez would announce nationalizations affecting others.

“There’s going to be a lot of mounting pressure on Argentina not to do more of this,” said Antonio Moreno, an economics professor at the University of Navarra. “I don’t think they’re going to be able to go on a nationalization spree."

Argentina's President Cristina Fernadez tosses carnations into the Beagle Channel at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of hte start of the Falkland conflict near the war memorial in Ushuaia Argentina on Monday

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

USHUAIA, Argentina — Argentina’s president said Monday that she’s asked the International Red Cross to persuade Britain to let its DNA experts identify unknown soldiers buried in the Falkland Islands.

Thirty years after Argentina and Britain went to war over the remote South Atlantic archipelago, Cristina Fernandez says universal human rights demand that both countries work together to give those remains back to their families.

Her much-anticipated speech on the anniversary of Argentina’s April 2, 1982 invasion of the islands was focused on promoting dialogue and understanding. She said her government sets a global standard for protecting human rights and vowed to “respect the interests of the islanders” as Argentina seeks to peacefully regain control.

“We don’t have war drums, nor do we wear military helmets. Our only helmets are those of construction workers, working for the inclusion of all,” she said at the city’s Monument to the Fallen, honoring the 649 Argentines who died in the conflict.

Despite attention-grabbing images of protesters burning a Union Jack flag outside the British embassy, polls show zero appetite among Argentines for a military solution.

Prime Minister David Cameron said in London earlier Monday that Britain had to come to the islanders’ defense in 1982, and will do so again if anyone tries to deprive them of their liberty. The 74-day occupation ended when British troops routed the ill-prepared Argentines in hard-fought trench warfare. In all, 255 British soldiers and three islanders were killed.

Fernandez called Cameron’s statement absurd and ridiculous, noting that Argentines were also deprived of their liberty at the time, living under a 1976-1983 dictatorship, supported by outside powers, that had kidnapped and killed thousands of its own people.

“I am proud of having made promoting human rights one of the pillars of our state,” she said. For this reason, it’s impossible to consider that Argentina would not also protect the rights of the 3,000 islanders, she argued.

Britain has refused Argentina’s repeated calls to negotiate the islands’ sovereignty, saying it’s up to the islanders to decide. Before, during and after the 1982 conflict, the islanders have overwhelmingly said they want to maintain British protection.

For about a year now, Argentina has been intensifying its campaign to pressure Britain into sovereignty talks, a theme it pushes in every international forum. Argentina’s historical claim to the islands Latin America knows as Las Malvinas has support across the region, and got moral backing last week from a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners who scolded Britain for ignoring U.N. resolutions urging talks.

Argentina has closed off shipping routes and air space. Unions have refused to unload British cargo or accept British-flagged cruise ships. Fernandez’s ministers have sought to close off British imports, sue British investors and banks, and block oil development.

It adds up to an “economic war” that has made life difficult, but Argentina seems to be running out of leverage and is no closer to recovering the territory that fell under British control in 1833, said Dick Sawle, a member of Falkland Islands legislative assembly.

“I think that Brazil, Uruguay and Chile will see what they’re missing in the Falklands, and at that point it just becomes a lot of shouting across the water that can be ignored,” Sawle added.

As for identifying the war dead, Sawle said last month that his government would await a formal proposal before commenting.

While the president explicitly sought to reassure islanders several times in Monday’s speech, feelings on both sides have hardened.

“Penguin News” Editor Lisa Watson said she tries to find the right tone as she responds to hate mail through public Twitter messages. But it didn’t help when Argentines discovered that the newspaper’s photo of Fernandez had been saved under a crude insult.

“It never occurred to us that the filename would be so transparent. It was hugely embarrassing, particularly now as we were seemingly winning the image war,” Watson’s colleague John Fowler said. “Before that, Lisa had been pretty continuously receiving hundreds and hundreds of nasty sexually insulting messages a day.”

Argentina has variously tried to charm, occupy, negotiate and threaten its way back into the islands. In the 1970s, it established a direct air link with Buenos Aires, supplied them with gasoline and paid to educate island children. For Britain, the island had become a burden; it was pushing islanders to accept a Hong Kong-style handover before the junta decided to invade.

For many islanders and Argentines, those 74 days of armed occupation provided their only glimpse of each others’ lives.

Other attempts to build ties in the 1990s included agreements on shared fishing and oil rights, shipping and air links and other exchanges, but nearly all were abandoned under Fernandez and her late husband Nestor Kirchner, who have sought to isolate the islands instead.

“Thirty years and now we find it again, we are worried we are going to go through it all again, another invasion,” islander Mary Lou Agman said at a Sunday march by the small Falkland Islands Defense Force.

Islanders should relax, because another invasion will never happen, said James Peck, an islander with dual Falklands-Argentine nationality after marrying an Argentine and moving to Buenos Aires, said he saw the pre-anniversary war of words “fueling itself and becoming hysterical.”

“Someone has to speak out for common sense,” he said. “For me Argentina has real dignity these days, and I’m amazed that grown up politicians cannot sit down and talk civilly to each other. I think that’s really sad. Not everybody’s getting stoked up by all this.”

Riot police outside the British embassy fired tear gas and blue-painted water from a cannon at protesters wielding slingshots and throwing bottles of burning liquid. But outside this small group, Argentines from across the political spectrum endorsed the pacifist response.

“The soveriegnty campaign seems correct to me. I don’t think there’s any other road but the diplomatic one, although I don’t have confidence in anything this government does,” said Martin Dhers, who joined a solemn crowd outside the Buenos Aires war memorial.

Yearning for common ground, several veterans were holding a quiet ceremony at the Argentine war cemetery in the islands, on a lonely bluff near the scene of one of the most intense battles.

“To return to this little piece of land, which for me is a little bit of my country and apart from that, being here is so pleasing, to be among the people that were once our enemies, that which we can now live together with — it’s just really proof that we human beings are not like animals,” said Juan Carlos Lujan.