After the resignation of Uruguayan Vice-President Raúl Sendic Jr. in the face of corruption allegations, “Watch your back with the veep” should become a constant premise in Latin America – as much for voters as for politicians. Especially when it comes to defining the tickets for presidential elections when spin doctors and experts in political engineering think up twosomes in order to counter the chief rival’s slate. Thus in Argentina in 2007 Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made Julio Cobos her running-mate in order to show that a Radical could guarantee transparency and a more centre-left stance against the “clean morality” of the Elisa Carrió-Rubén Giustiniani ticket.
She won but the following June Cobos flipflopped and voted in favour of one of her biggest enemies, the farming sector, backed by the Clarín Group in what was already the axis of evil for the Ks. In 2011, Cristina sought to freshen up her image with a cool new look, recruiting for her ticket Amado Boudou, who had been a neoconservative in the 1980s and 1990s and was then her economy minister, as well as a rebel against the coming of middle age who strummed in a rock band and hung out with the glitterati. But the music died soon enough in the Pink House – apart from motor-cycles, Boudou came to collect almost 50 courtroom cases against him. Cristina and Kirchnerism minimised those corruption charges, thus carrying the burden of a stream of accusations against a controversial vice-president until the end of her term. He was never allowed to resign.
The case of Brazil is too well-known to need much detail –more than one conspiracy theory singles out the current president Michel Temer as the xecutioner of Dilma Rousseff, her running-mate in the top half of the presidential ticket in the elections of 2010 and 2014. Meanwhile in Ecuador, Jorge Glas, President Lenín Moreno’s veep and the “guarantee of continuity” for outgoing president Rafael Correa, was airbrushed from he government via an executive order accusing him of disloyalty, following the emergence of some audio recordings involving him in unsavoury conversations with Odebrecht. Glas opted for the lesser evil, relinquishing the vice-presidency rather than submit to a slow death in opinion poll ratings due to the suspicions of his government’s corruption. Lessons from the leading case of Boudou, no doubt. That is why this week’s resignation of Sendic, Tabaré Vázquez’s vice-president, fits into the premise of “Watch your back with the veep,” the trend now sweeping South America. Uruguayan pundits say that Vázquez, an oncologist deep down, opted to extirpate the tumour before it metastasised.
Raúl Sendic was an imposition on Tabaré’s ticket after confronting him in the primaries as the candidate with a revolutionary surname (as the son of Tupamaros guerrilla movement founder Raúl Sendic), who brought youth (being then 52 years old as against 75 for Tabaré) and a track record of running ANCAP state oil company to the table. Furthermore, Sendic Junior not only joined the ticket as the political godson of outgoing president José “Pepe” Mujica, he also guaranteed the parliamentary backing of the Movement of Popular Participation (MPP), the heavyweight faction within the Broad Front coalition, headed by Senator Lucia Topolansky, who apart from being Mujica’s wife has now become the replacement for Sendic as vice-president as from Wednesday.
“Here in Uruguay, everything – even corruption – is on a lower scale than the rest of the continent,” political analyst Alvaro Amoretti informed the uenos Aires Times from Montevideo. The catalyst detonating Sendic’s exit was proof that he had used his ANCAP corporate credit card for personal expenses. Lingerie, a pair of bermudas, a mattress and various duty-free shop merchandise could not be justified as corporate investments on the basis of a journalistic investigation which ended up in the courtroom for organised crime (small potatoes compared to the US$16.4 million in cash found stashed in an apartment linked to an ex-minister of Michel Temer’s government or the Ciccone money-printing case where Boudou faces trial).
But the credit card abuse case comes on top of prior discredit, the scandal arising almost immediately after his inauguration as vice-president due to a “cooked” CV where he awarded himself a human genetics degree from Havana University. Not only did he have to explain that he had no such degree but it was also established that this course had never even existed at the Cuban university. He never got over the blooper, even when his successor Lucia Topolansky went so far as to say that she had seen the degree in question in Havana. Double fault. Other factors doubtless weighed on Tabaré’s scalpel at the time of Sendic Junior’s resignation. Above all, a major drop in approval of his presidency, which today stands at around 30 percent, which also measures the voting intentions for the Broad Front. According to the polls, if presidential elections were held today the opposition would win. And who might have been the candidate for 2019? One of the youngest Broad Front politicians, Raúl Sendic, with party internal politics weighted heavily in his favour.
The other factor is still dangerously latent. It involves ANCAP, its liabilities and the agreements signed with Venezuela in the framework of the Artigas-Bolívar Fund. A classic of this continent, signed during the presidency of Hugo Chávez and the first term of Tabaré and continuing during he Mujica presidency with Raúl Sendic at the helm of the company, bartering PDVSA oil for Uruguayan agricultural produce. In the middle, ANCAP. In this case, also taken by the opposition before the courtroom for organised crime, public opinion feels the weight of refinancing US$800 million, the debt left by Sendic’s ANCAP stewardship. Javier Vázquez, the president’s son, also appears to be mentioned in the deals with Venezuela. Another double fault.
“All these factors weaken the Uruguayan left,” says Guillermo Lussich, a Uruguayan journalist and pundit. “Uruguay already stands at the threshold of elections and the Broad Front knows that it cannot leave any flanks exposed for public questioning.” Bearing in mind a fiscal deficit of 3.5 percent of GDP and the biggest indebtedness in its history, some US$ 40 billion, there is little or no margin for error in electoral tickets.
* Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald. (2010-2013)