Buenos Aires Times

The great protection racket

Unless Pichetto and other Peronists come to the conclusion that their movement would be better off without her, CFK will continue to remain free to do whatever she likes.

Saturday 11 August, 2018
CFK as an economist.
CFK as an economist. Foto:PABLO TEMES

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The former vice-president, and would-be rock star, Amado Boudou fully deserves to spend the next few years behind bars. While the going was good, he grabbed whatever stray cash came his way and, after Nestor Kirchner passed on, came close to achieving what every crook dreams of by getting his hands on Ciccone Calcografica, an enterprise that would have given him the means to print money. Even so, his case, which saw him sentenced to a relatively lenient jail term of five years and 10 months, does raise some questions.

Like other members of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s inner circle, Amado imagined he would remain above the law for decades to come. That was foolish of him. He should have understood that, despite all his strenuous efforts, he would never convince the Peronists that he was really one of them. So when the time came they treated him as they had that other “neoliberal” outsider, María Julia Alsogaray, when Carlos Menem’s government became the target of public indignation, by letting him be put on trial for his misdeeds in the hope that the spectacle would placate the growing number of people who want to see sleazy politicians pay dearly for their crimes.

This is how things have worked in Argentina for a great many years. As the Peronists are fond of reminding us, for them loyalty is the prince of virtues. They look after their own. When the time comes to sacrifice a politician, the victim will be someone who lacks the appropriate credentials and is therefore expendable. With the backing of his fellows, the top Peronist senator, Miguel Angel Pichetto, refuses to hand over Cristina not because he is keen on parliamentary immunity from prosecution but because he knows full well that, were he to do so, he would be seen as a turncoat. That would put a speedy end to his political career. Over the years, Peronists and Radicals have filled the Judiciary with men and women who share their opinions. That is the main reason why so few leading politicians end up in clink like poor Maria Julia and Amado, both of whom started off in the free-enterprise party that was put together by the former’s father, Álvaro Alsogaray. Those currently inside, among them Julio De Vido, Ricardo Jaime and Lázaro Báez, were mere hangers-on.

For this to change, enough judges and public prosecutors would have to be convinced that it would be in their own personal interest to break with their political godfathers and start taking seriously the notion that all sentient beings – no matter how powerful and influential they may be – should be considered equal before the law and treated accordingly. Perhaps something like this is beginning to happen, what with judges like Claudio Bonadio busily snapping at Cristina’s heels, but there is still some way to go before the full-scale anti-corruption campaign moralists are calling for finally gets under way.

Cristina certainly has a great deal to answer for, but unless Pichetto and other Peronists come to the conclusion that their movement would be better off without her, she will continue to remain free to do whatever she likes. She can even dream of returning to power. For sound practical reasons, those Peronist bosses who for the last couple of years have been trying to curry favour with the electorate by saying that they too are convinced that the Kirchnerite dispensation greatly harmed the country and Mauricio Macri is on the right track, would be willing to support her if they felt she could make a comeback. After all, she remains more popular than any of them and in recent months has tried to reconcile herself with Peronists she once delighted in offending because she wants to keep them on her side.

Until little more than a week ago, Cristina’s overtures seemed to be having the desired effect. No Peronist believed she had changed her mind about anything, but all were aware that she still enjoyed the support of an apparently rocksolid bloc of thirty percent or so of the electorate, much of it located in Buenos Aires Province, and that, combined with what other more “orthodox” Peronist candidates could garner, would be more than enough to let them defeat Macri in next year’s presidential elections. Were the millions who continue to back Cristina to put their money on someone else, the former president would either have to flee the country or face many years in jail.

Over the years, the politicians, jurists, investigative journalists and others who think Cristina should be jailed alongside Amado and the rest of them have piled up plenty of evidence that, had she been a lesser mortal, would have been more than enough to seal her fate. But for some reason the people who could decide whether or not she should be put on trial refused to take it literally. However, more details about the way she and her late husband, along with their cronies, systematically looted the country, were recently made available by a La Nación journalist, Diego Cabot, who had been given the notebooks of the chauffeur who, for years, had done the bagman’s job of collecting large amounts of money from businessmen and handing them over to top Kirchnerites, among them Néstor, a man whose relationship with hundred-dollar bills and the like was distinctly erotic.

The information provided by the chauffeur, who day after day meticulously recorded the names and addresses of the businessmen and government officials involved, could tip the balance against Cristina. Until then, everybody knew that members of the Kirchner family and their retainers had raked in the equivalent of hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars by demanding kickbacks from firms eager to win public works contracts, but it was harder to find out just who paid what and when, let alone discover where all that money had been salted away.

Thanks to the content of those notebooks, prominent businessmen are now getting grilled alongside politicians. Some swear they were only making campaign contributions, others say that, given the circumstances, they had little choice but to pay protection money to the Kirchnerite mafia. To many, such excuses will ring hollow, but a few years ago it was widely assumed that corruption was here to stay and one might as well get used to it.

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