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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 20-03-2021 07:48

Declare me innocent, or else

Political power is now in the hands of individuals who are far more interested in the future of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her offspring than in the fate of the rest of the population.

In most countries, democratic politics used to be, and to a certain extent still is, a game played by left-leaning progressives out to change things and conservatives of one kind or another who advise caution and suspect their country is going to the dogs. 

In Argentina, this was never really the case. Soon after she broke away from Spain, it became a contest between people of authoritarian instincts who favoured either old-fashioned personal tyranny or, as the 20th century rolled on, corporatist arrangements, and those who for various reasons opposed them. Neither side won. After a promising beginning, Argentina, trapped for decades in the crossfire, stumbled from crisis to crisis and then, about 50 years ago, started going backwards.

This was bad enough, but still worse was to come. As a result of the inability of Mauricio Macri’s government to overcome Argentina’s monumental economic problems, many of them “structural,” political power is now in the hands of individuals who are far more interested in the future of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her offspring than in the fate of the rest of the population. What they have in mind could hardly be more straightforward. Unless all charges against her are dropped, they will do their considerable best to dismantle the Judiciary. And, to have a better chance of doing well in the upcoming parliamentary elections, they want the government to go on a spending spree even though there is hardly any money left in the kitty.

Unlike his predecessor Marcela Losardo, Argentina’s new Justice Minister Martin Soria makes no bones about his aims He says he is determined to make the entire country swallow what many think is an outright lie and at least pretend to believe that neither Cristina nor her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, had anything at all to do with what went on between 2003 and 2015 when first one and then the other occupied the presidency and huge sums of public money flowed into the pockets of crooked politicians and their cronies, some of who became multimillionaires overnight.

According to those who know him, Soria is a rambunctious character who knows little about the law and cares less but can be relied upon to give anyone he has it in for a very tough time. Will he be able to browbeat the Supreme Court into doing his bidding or, failing that, replace it with another more to his and Cristina’s liking? This is a question all those who are worried by what is happening in Argentina are asking. In the view of many, President Alberto Fernández, who says he shares Soria’s opinions, is a craven weakling who will do whatever it takes to get along with the famously vindictive lady who gave him his job and will therefore make no effort to defend the constitutional order.

Back in 2019, Alberto managed to add enough votes to the ones Cristina could deliver to let him beat Macri by a handsome (but not overwhelming) margin because many imagined that, after having criticised her with rare ferocity as an irresponsible nutcase for several years, once in office he would keep her in check. They should have realised that Cristina would never have given her support to anyone strong-minded enough to stand up to her.

From the word go, it was obvious that she had chosen him because she despised him as an opportunist who would quickly forget the many nasty things he had said about her when it had suited him in exchange for the most coveted post open to a politician. She also assumed that, as a law professor, he would be able to give the courts some plausible excuses to take seriously the notion that she is the innocent victim of a malicious campaign of “lawfare” waged against progressive leaders in Latin America by a gang of right-wing oligarchs, among them that loathsome neoliberal Macri, and their hirelings in the press.

The task Alberto, Soria, former Supreme Court justice Eugenio Zaffaroni and all the other Kirchnerite heavies have undertaken would be far easier if the evidence against Cristina were not so convincing. There is so much of it that dismissing it all as the product of a brilliantly successful campaign to blacken her name organised by Macri and the Clarín media group seems wildly unrealistic.

Does that mean they have no chance of getting away with it? It should, but history is full of examples of governments that succeeded in forcing the citizenry to pretend to believe wholeheartedly in obvious falsehoods. Indeed, as authoritarians are fully aware, humiliating people by ordering them to repeat several times a day that two plus two really makes five helps make them more docile as, indeed, does impoverishing them so they must beg for something to eat.

Election results, and dozens of opinion polls, tell us that almost half the country’s inhabitants support politicians who are notoriously corrupt. No doubt large numbers of them, especially those who are barely able to read or write, are simply ill-informed. But what about the politicians themselves, and the many bright men and women who are happy to overlook their little foibles and either work for them or give them their backing? Alberto and, for that matter, members of Cristina’s entourage, may be many things, but they are not stupid and they have access to as much information as anyone else. Nonetheless, they are all willing to go to almost any lengths to defend their leader’s hypothetical right to loot the country.

Such loyalty would be understandable if, despite her flaws, Cristina represented a cause which, in theory at any rate, would benefit most of the population, but she herself seems to have lost whatever interest she once had in policy-making. She makes no effort to disguise the fact that the only thing that matters to her is her own personal future and that of members of her immediate family, and that, unless she gets what she wants, she will take a wrecking ball not just to the country’s legal system but also to the economy and much else besides. Would buying her off with a free pardon help? Perhaps it would if, after getting it, she went into permanent retirement, but so many Kirchnerite activists depend on her hold over millions of voters in the Buenos Aires slum-belt that she would be most unlikely to slink off into the Patagonian sunset. Instead, she would probably make the political most of what she would rightly see as a famous victory over the forces lined up against her and, as well as continuing to make mischief either by bullying Alberto or by discarding him, intensify her own “lawfare” campaign against her many enemies.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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