President Alberto Fernández finally chose deputy Martín Ignacio Soria, 45, as his new Justice minister last Monday, fully a week after announcing the exit of Marcela Losardo – a switch regarded as a key change for a government betting on judicial reform in an electoral year.
"Today I lunched with Martín Soria and told him what my expectations were and he accepted taking charge. He needs to take his time resigning as a deputy but [the minister] is going to be Martín Soria," Fernández told Channel 9 in a television interview, breaking the news.
"I have been following what Martín has been doing for several months, he is someone who worked in the courts and understands what is happening," added the president. “"I have told him with total clarity that the only thing I want is the rule of law and to have a justice system that corresponds to that rule of law.”
Fernández even went as far as to say that he held “the same view” as the incoming minister on judicial issues, before claiming his decision was made without consultation with other senior coalition figures, such as Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa.
Alongside fellow-deputy Rodolfo Tailhade, Soria (Frente de Todos-Río Negro Province) has been pushing the investigation of alleged political pressures on judges by the Mauricio Macri government (2015-2019) via the so-called "judicial panel" (a case being tried by Judge María Eugenia Capuchetti with Soria as a co-plaintiff, who has accused the judge as being part of the “judicial panel” herself).
As recently as February 8, Soria was lambasting alleged judicial malpractice on social networks.
"Can you imagine a judge meeting with @alferdez [Alberto Fernández] in @CasaRosada before ruling in a trial against Macri? That would be a scandal, wouldn’t it? But judge Gustavo Hornos [Criminal Cassation Court] visited Macri before trying @CFKArgentina [Fernández de Kirchner] and nobody found out. #LawfareAlPalo [“Pure lawfare”]," tweeted the incoming minister last month.
Another blast read: "Macri commands and Hornos executes. In the second week of Macri’s government the Criminal Cassation Court judge visits Macri in the [Casa] Rosada. Two days later his ruling restores [late federal judge Claudio] Bonadio in a case launched by Clarín. Yes, you read correctly: Macri, Clarín, Bonadío and Hornos, the dream team of #Lawfare."
Another pet target has been federal prosecutor Carlos Stornelli: "Lawfare à la carte: the espionage cases against Macri are on the point of remaining in the hands of Stornelli, on trial for … espionage. Incredible but real. In three tweets it is becoming clear how the accused and their henchmen were constructing this new judicial absurdity."
Stornelli’s colleague Carlos Rivolo has also come under fire. When he described the government advances against the Judiciary as a “firing-squad,” Soria replied: "The only ‘firing-squad’ was that during four years in the Casa Rosada. What was his friend Stornelli doing on October 1, 2018 meeting with Treasury officials and former lawyers of the Clarín Group in the office of the Legal and Technical Secretary? #LawfareAlPalo.'"
Also via Twitter, the deputy alleged: "Some other day I’ll tell you how the Casa Rosada was not only where the persecution of political opponents was planned but also the company branch for all the dirty business of the Macri clan."
Scion of a political family and a lawyer by profession, Soria has been mayor, provincial legislator and is currently national deputy and chairman of the Partido Justicialista (PJ or Peronism) of Río Negro.
The 45-year-old lawmaker is the son of Carlos Soria, who was briefly the Peronist governor of Río Negro in the last three weeks of 2011, before being shot dead by his wife in a dramatic New Year party.
When the trial of his mother – who was convicted of murder but granted house arrest early this year – began in October, 2012, Martín Soria reflected in an interview with La Nación: “It was my fate to grow up in an abnormal family. My old man’s passion for politics was not normal. (...) He put all his soul into it and it sickened him and those around him.”
Soria reached Congress in 2019 after two terms as mayor of General Roca (where he was accused at one point of embezzlement) following an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2017, when he was resoundingly defeated, polling 35 percent of the vote as against 52 percent for current Río Negro Governor Arabela Carreras.
Losardo expressed her desire to step down following the stiff presidential criticism of the judicial branch and the Supreme Court in his state-of-the-nation speech on March 1 opening Congress.
"Judicial reform in its broadest dimension is also the demand of society in its entirety which cannot be postponed," maintained Fernández, who already last year had presented a reform bill, still awaiting debate in the Chamber of Deputies.
Fernández de Kirchner, who governed Argentina between 2007 and 2015, was also harsh against the judicial branch, accusing it of "behaving like a corporation" and participating in "lawfare" (judicial persecution) against her when testifying recently in a fraud case where she is indicted.
The name of Losardo’s replacement triggered a welter of rumours throughout the previous week. The outgoing minister, a lawyer who enjoyed the total confidence of President Fernández but who lacked any contacts with party politics, finally presented her resignation on March 12 and will move to Paris as the Argentine representative to UNESCO.
Both the exit of Losardo and the entry of Soria are generally seen as political gains for Fernández de Kirchner, who already has Deputy Justice Minister Juan Martín Mena under her wing. Her drive to intensify judicial reform and her confrontation with the “hegemonic media” seem to be key reasons for Soria’s entry into the Alberto Fernández’s Cabinet since the deputy has constantly highlighted the importance of the “communicational machinery” within the “political, judicial y media prosecution” allegedly mounted against Kirchnerism.
The incoming minister has been strident in his criticism of the Judiciary, recently warning: "It’s deplorable that the judicial branch repeats the well-oiled machinery of the four previous years, jumping quickly onto the circus of false denunciations while it continues systematically shelving the investigation of the crimes committed together with those who huddled secretly in the Casa Rosada."
When the bill to slash judicial and diplomatic pensions was debated in Congress in early 2020, Soria called the judicial branch “rancid, corrupt and lacking all independence.” The new minister repeatedly dubs the Comodoro Py federal courthouse as “Comodoro Pro,” a reference to Macri’s political party.
As a member of both the Justice and Impeachment Committees in the Chamber of Deputies, Soria has had ample opportunity to criticise the federal judges. This month he has defended the presidential proposal to
create a Bicameral Commission in Congress to control judges and prosecutors, as “meeting all the constitutional requirements.”
However, not everyone is happy with the president’s decision. Former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido again blasted the choice this week, declaring that naming somebody whose sister María Emilia was one of just six Peronist deputies to vote to unseat him in 2017 (while the Victory Front caucus boycotted the proceedings as “political persecution”) shows “what a miserable creature Alberto Fernández is.”