Monday, April 22, 2024

OP-ED | 30-03-2024 05:15

The forces of Earth

All the suffering of Good Friday was followed by Resurrection Sunday but can we be sure of the same sequence for Argentina?

Tomorrow marks both Easter Sunday and the close of the first quarter of this year – perhaps already time to draw a new balance of the Javier Milei administration only a fortnight after its first milestone of the 100 days. Various factors have remained constant since then – Milei’s popularity in defiance of the economic crunch and double-digit inflation (even if retreating fast in the face of a recession which has more in common with Good Friday than any resurrection thus far), among others, but one front worth highlighting is the recent presidential interest in the Supreme Court.

Here the libertarian lion has advanced two nominations, a tiny number in most contexts but enough to swing the balance in the top judicial quintet – federal judge Ariel Lijo, questioned by not only critics for being the shadiest member of what many would call a dirty dozen at the Comodoro Py courthouse, and the academic Manuel García Mansilla, a constitutional law specialist of unchallenged integrity but whose extreme conservative bent would make him more at home on a Donald Trump Supreme Court in the United States than in this Latin American country.

Of these two nominations, Lijo is the name to follow. To be strictly fair to him, his reputation suffers somewhat from sharing the same initials and surname as his brother Alfredo ‘Freddy’ Lijo, a totally unscrupulous judicial operator, so that some of the scandals being dug up by muckraking journalists turn out upon closer examination to be the fault of his younger brother. But having said that, we are not talking about Abel and Cain here. A flexible judge offers Milei a potential green light for his deregulatory reforms from the judicial branch which he is finding so hard to squeeze out of the legislative branch but simultaneously also perhaps the only way of obtaining the requisite two-thirds Senate majority from the obdurate Kirchnerite caucus occupying almost half the seats – namely an image which oozes impunity for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. None of the potential participants are admitting to any pact but the mutual benefits are striking.

The first questions arising from any such pact are obviously ethical but it is also worth asking whether it is feasible in the first place. If Milei’s nostrums are really the key to rescuing Argentine from decades of a downward slide and turning it into a successful or even normal country, then perhaps an “the end justifies the means” argument could be advanced to justify nixing the numerous corruption trials against the former two-term president. But others would argue that no sustainable economic success can be constructed without firm institutional foundations.

Yet even the huge temptations of impunity might not be enough to seal a pact with Fernández de Kirchner. Two male nominations could be too much for the banners of gender equality which her administrations have always waved while placing the ultra-Kirchnerism and the feminism of some of her staunchest supporters in conflict. And how could a firebrand of the populist left justify lending any green light to Milei’s austerity policies at precisely a time when negative economic trends seem to be proving her right and him wrong?

The biggest casualty of any such pact might well be public works, which would suffer the worst of both worlds – Milei’s fiscal surplus is partly built on the almost total suspension of the best side of public works, which is the expansion and modernisation of infrastructure, while impunity for Fernández de Kirchner would be a supreme vindication of their worst side, the multi-billion graft.

Cutting the public funding from infrastructural projects without any guarantee of private-sector investment to replace it would seem to be flying in the face of the growth and modernisation of the economy. This in turn brings into question the quality of Economy Minister Luis Caputo’s fiscal surplus as opposed to the impressive numbers when drawing a balance of the first quarter of this year. When not recessive, Caputo’s cuts are of dubious political sustainability (such as the evaporation of pensions now halted or the updating of public service pricing where there is a slowdown to keep inflation on a downward path) with excessive contraction of public spending instead of more proactive tax policies (leaning on the worst Kirchnerite levies such as PAIS and export duties as substitutes for a progressive income tax).

All the suffering of Good Friday was followed by Resurrection Sunday but can we be sure of the same sequence for Argentina?


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