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OP-ED | 21-05-2022 06:00

Could opium be the opium of the masses?

In order to overcome the widespread perception that they are hopelessly abstract, institutions need to establish a connection with current problems and everyday life to become established again.

That eloquent change of venue of the Supreme Court from this capital to the drug mafia hotspot of Rosario has already been overtaken by other news in the succeeding nine days, both beyond the judicial sphere and even within it, but should continue serving as a wake-up call to the entire nation – and also this editorial space. Like other evils such as corruption or femicide, drug-trafficking gangs are so obviously wrong that it does not require hundreds of words to make the point and therefore these burning issues tend to be neglected on the editorial front – far easier to fill that space with all the complexities of political intrigue or economic analysis.

Yet quite apart from failing to comment on central problems, this approach could also be conceptually wrong because drugs are not an isolated evil to be dismissed in a couple of words but seep into any number of areas. Take last Wednesday’s apparently botched census, for instance. The Bible tells us that Yahweh cursed King David for ordering a census of Israel because he thus sought to define the chosen people by a number rather than as a mystical spiritual unit but there were more immediate problems, among which was the difficult access to certain no-go areas in Greater Buenos Aires and elsewhere. And why were they no-go areas?

Recent opinion polls show an increasing disenchantment with the government, showing 60 percent disapproval of President Alberto Fernández with his approval ratings now below 30 percent, and indeed with almost all politicians, a dissatisfaction widely explained by their pursuit of an agenda remote from the everyday problems of most people such as inflation or crime (drug-related and otherwise). Yet this agenda is not so far removed from the mass problems as might appear although the connection is rarely made. Thus the government drive for judicial reform and all the jockeying around the Council of Magistrates are invariably seen as seeking impunity in the corruption triaIs against Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other officials of her former governments while the cluster of illegal espionage cases is viewed in terms of the consequences for ex-president Mauricio Macri. Yet that Supreme Court session in Rosario flagged the fact that the fight against drug crimes is crippled by half-empty judicial benches and criminal prosecutors at half strength in Santa Fe Province – crucial vacancies which can be directly attributed to the deadlock in the Council of Magistrates. Meanwhile the illegal espionage cases have brought intelligence activities as a whole into discredit, thus taking much of the point away from sending drug lords to jail if they can continue running their operations there free from surveillance. These abstract judicial issues which bore most people to death thus have real consequences.

Rosario’s plight shows that the fight against drug-trafficking must be bolstered – if it is to be continued at all. There is a global school of thought which compares drug prevention to the prohibition of alcohol a century ago with organised crime the only real winners in both cases. Recent municipal flyers in Morón urging youngsters to go easy on drugs sparked backlash against permissive attitudes but there is a need for a far more mature debate with some people seeing the congressional approval of medical cannabis earlier this month as the thin end of the wedge towards a change in attitudes.

Institutions were established by definition until this century with no need for self-justification as a battle already won but permanence no longer carries much value in the liquid world of today’s technology. In order to overcome the widespread perception that they are hopelessly abstract, institutions need to establish a connection with current problems and everyday life to become established again – by no means a mission impossible as the above examples with the Council of Magistrates and the illegal espionage trials try to show. The citizenry needs to be offered something more than a self-destructive anti-system politics which feeds from crises rather than presenting any exit from them. ​

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