“Vamos por todo...¡por todo!
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
Dark humor from a Facebook
Authentic democracy filled the streets of major cities all over Argentina on the evening of Thursday, April 18, while tyranny stalked the halls of the national Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers. The A18 protest was, like its 8N predecessor, a spontaneous civic demonstration organized from computer to computer through the social media and without partisan links. A number of opposition politicians respectfully joined the protesters but from the uncomfortable low-profile position of tolerated guests rather than organizers, since demonstrators have made it abundantly clear ever since the first of three progressively stronger protests less than a year ago that they are as disappointed with the lukewarm opposition as they are furious with the rabidly self-absorbed ruling political movement.
In an outpouring of genuine democratic zeal, millions of people of all political colors poured into the country’s streets—over a million participating protesters in the nation’s capital alone—to reject what their supposed political representatives were ostensibly doing in their name and in the name of “democratization”: seeking to introduce “reforms” that would give an already autocratic Executive Branch even greater discretionary power, to the detriment of the Judiciary, the rule of law, the rights of the individual and those of the “fourth power” (the media and their role as the guardians of free expression in representation of the people). But that wasn’t all—as if that were not enough—that the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets were protesting. They were also decrying encroaching corruption that, in the last decade, has become so shockingly flagrant that it can no longer be hidden from view. In that sense, the revelations aired the previous Sunday night—and that continued last night—by investigative
In Buenos Aires alone, over a million people turned out
for the A18 protest.
broadcast journalist Jorge Lanata proved a major catalyst for the 18A protests and clearly marked a “before and after” in terms of any doubts anyone might have had about links between blatant criminal activities and the powers that be.
If opposition politicians were relegated to a secondary role in the A18 event, however, they were indeed showing greater activism than usual with regard to the “reforms” that a now embattled administration was seeking to ram through its rubber-stamp majority in Congress with the pace and power of an express train. Two days before the mass protest, members of opposition political movements gathered before court buildings in Buenos Aires to protest the government-sponsored judicial “reform” bills, by holding up a sky-blue and white national banner bearing the inscription “Sin justicia, no hay futuro” (without justice, there is no future)—a noble thought and slogan, but not strictly true. Without Justice there could indeed be a future for a despotic government bent on ruling in perpetuity and on protecting its circle of influences—just not for democracy, representative governance or civil rights.
The protesting politicians also certified their opposition by signing a document rejecting what they unequivocally termed as the government’s “attempt to control Justice.” Among the opposition politicians involved in the pre-A18 protests were representatives of the centrist Radical Party and Peronist Opposition Front, the center-left Civic Coalition and the conservative PRO movement. Joining them were also numerous attorneys, former prosecutors, constitutional law experts and other jurists.
The President, for her part, remained true to form and acted as if she had never heard the revelations of crime and corruption within her inner circle that Lanata reported in chilling detail and with documented evidence to back up his claims. The task of defending her ivory tower walls she left to her surrogates in the press, like Mauro Viale and a once serious investigative reporter, Rodolfo Graña, who, of late, has become an unabashed cheerleader for the K regime and a pitbull sent to attack its enemies. In all cases, pro-K mouthpieces limited themselves to hammering the messenger rather than presenting any sound evidence to refute the Lanata team’s impeccable two-year investigation.
One usual spokesman for the Kirchners, however, did break ranks when it came to the Judicial "reform" bills. As head of the Center for Legal Studies (CELS), writer and former Montonero urban guerrilla Horacio Verbitzky, who not only usually follows the government's script but also often writes it, surprised many observers by sharply criticizing the bills for restricting the civil rights and legal recourse of citizens.
Federico Elaskar, former owner of SGI -
a.k.a. "La Rosadita"
Meanwhile, the public got a taste of what the proposed government-sponsored “reforms” will mean to Argentine civil rights when the corroded wheels of justice failed to creak into action on the heels of Lanata’s investigation. Despite the fact that his televised reports provided compelling information linking a Puerto Madero finance firm called SGI—and nicknamed “La Rosadita” due to its geographic proximity and alleged connection with the Casa Rosada (Government House)—and its former owner, Federico Elaskar, to massive money laundering, the first part of the week passed without a single judge’s daring to invoke his/her own authority to order the premises searched. This, despite the fact that neighbors of Madero Center—the building where the company has its office, and where not only Vice President Amado Boudou but also President Kirchner reportedly own property—went onto Facebook and Twitter to report boxes apparently containing documentation being carried from the building. It wasn’t until Thursday, in the very midst of the A18 mass protests, that police descended on the finance firm’s offices, making a great show of the raid, despite the fact that if they’d found anything of relevance to the Lanata investigation, it would have been a miracle, since those implicated in corruption in high places, had been given all week to make sure anything incriminating—more incriminating, that is, than the documentation Lanata had already made public—was long gone.
Two generations: The Kirchners, mother and son, Cristina and Maxi; the
Báezes, father and son, Lázaro and Martín. Close ties.
Perhaps one of the principal virtues of Lanata’s investigation is that it has taken corruption out of the realm of generality and put names and faces with events, as well as specifying the connections between political and economic powers in the Kirchner era. He has introduced us to Santa Cruz strongman Lázaro Báez, who over two decades and on the strength of his relationship with former governor and president Néstor Kirchner—as attested even by Kirchner’s former lieutenant governor, Eduardo Arnold—went from being an obscure provincial bank teller to, first, running the bank, and then, acquiring a bankrupt construction company and turning it into a major State contractor, as well as accruing interests in oil, media, aeronautics and land (some 250,000 hectares, most of which he bought with cash).
Leonardo Fariña, a compulsive talker.
We also met the flamboyant and singularly indiscreet Leonardo Fariña, who distributed vast amounts of cash that the alleged Báez-Kirchner partnership flew out of Santa Cruz in amounts weighty enough to be considered air cargo. We met Federico Elaskar, who admitted to helping Fariña set up as many as 50 offshore phantom companies through which to launder vast sums of money, before being forced out of business by another nefarious face in the chain, that of Daniel Pérez Gadín. And we also met Fabián Rossi, whose business contacts, allegedly gained through his relationship with Argentine Ambassador Jorge Arguindegui in Panama, allowed him to help Báez set up ghost operations in foreign tax havens.
As Lanata was revealing how in a country where foreign exchange regulations are so tight that Argentine tourists aren’t permitted to legally change enough pesos into dollars or euros to take a business trip or brief vacation abroad, friends of the ruling family have been moving foreign currency out of the country by the bale, another story was being told: that of Santa Cruz Province under the 12-year governorship of Néstor Kirchner. A province so remote and sparsely populated that for the vast majority of Argentines it might as well be another country, it would have been a good case study to have analyzed before the election of Kirchner to the presidency in 2003, when he was an unknown politician who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Had observers seen how the Kirchners had their own province sewn up so tight that nothing happened without their say so, it would have been easy to see what was in store for the nation under their power structure model. In fact, many of the key players who have accompanied them in Santa Cruz have remained with them throughout their decade at the head of the national administration. And the President’s latest moves to tie the hands of the Judiciary are simply part of the Santa Cruz model of total control. With 125 seats in the Lower House of Congress belonging to ever faithful rubber-stamp Kirchnerist deputies, the effort to keep this affront to democratic rule from passing has boiled down to bringing as much opposition pressure as possible to bear on just 12 deputies whose past performance has marked them as swing voters. The “reform” bills would give the Executive virtual control over the naming and removal of judges, and, among other things, would also make it virtually immune to any legal recourse that citizens could take against it to protect their rights. Until now the Kirchner government has had to find ad hoc ways of shoving a stick into the wheels of justice, such as allegedly naming temporary judges and prosecutors to replace ones it fears might rule against it. If its bills pass into law, it would be able to handle such manipulation of the Judiciary pretty much as it pleases and within a “legal”—if morally illegitimate—framework.
The 12 mavericks on whom an independent Judiciary depends.
A little over a year ago, on February 27, 2012, at a rally in Rosario commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the first raising of the Argentine flag, Cristina Kirchner stated, in a nutshell, the essence of her government’s plan: “Vamos por todo...¡por todo!” (“We’re going for it all...for all of it!”) she shouted, gesticulating to a clump of her FPV (Frente para la Victoria) political movement gathered in the crowd before the reviewing stand in Argentina’s third largest city. It wasn’t part of her own speech. It was, instead, a sort of battle cry that she issued, without a microphone, in the middle of Socialist Mayor Mónica Fein’s speech, obviously startling the mayor, as the president’s fans drowned Fein out with their shouts of approval for their jefa’s words and gestures. It was a show of power and disrespect. It was Cristina trying to demonstrate to the mayor that she, not Fein, owned the street, that even if Fein was at the mike, the crowd belonged to the Kirchner regime and so did the country—but in ways that clearly have had little to do with democracy or constitutional administration.
As political news commentator Joaquín Morales Solá pointed out this past week, Jorge Lanata’s investigation has brought to the fore what everybody in politics and serious journalism already knew: basically, that Argentina currently reeks of corruption as it never has before—which, after the era of Carlos Menem in the nineties, is saying a mouthful—and that the deeper meaning of “going for it all” carries with it a barely veiled and underlying threat and project of perpetuity in government, the creation of a popular dictatorship capable of protecting the burgeoning Kirchner estate and its friends and partners in power.
As Morales Solá tangentially points out, Lanata’s investigation has been a mere catalyst, a wake-up call, a way of whacking people—including a somnolent opposition—over the head with what, in voluntary blindness, they’ve been tripping over on a daily basis for the past ten years. If most people living in Argentina were honest with themselves, they would have to admit that they have long since seen the signs of advancing tyranny and crippling corruption within the power structures that are seeking to control every aspect of life in this country. But why did it take the unique head-on style of a Jorge Lanata to wake people from their lethargy even as their democracy, their freedom and their well-being are being wrested from their hands? The late Argentine physician and world-renowned heart specialist René Favaloro once said, “After so often seeing incompetence triumph and dishonor prosper, after so often seeing injustice grow, after so often seeing power in the hands of bad people burgeon, Man eventually becomes disheartened with virtue, laughs at honor, and is embarrassed to be honest.” Perhaps the answer to my question lies within this wise man’s simple yet crystal-clear observation.
Some people still cling to the idea that Néstor and Cristina Kirchner’s original plan of passing the presidency back and forth between them ad infinitum died along with the late former president, and they cling as well to the hope that the presidential elections of 2015 will no longer contain a Kirchner as a candidate, since it is—currently at least—unconstitutional for any president to serve three consecutive terms. But astute and highly respected political analyst Nelson Castro said it all when he reminded the country this past week that for Cristina Kirchner and her entourage, “a ‘re-reelection’ is a matter of life and death.” Clearly, without a means of retaining their hold on power and the judicial immunity that goes with it, the President and her entourage would become common (if vastly wealthy) citizens, who could be called upon to answer for all charges and allegations against them.
The latest advances by the President and her rubber stamp majority in the Senate against the necessary checks and balances of any truly democratic society should have left no doubt in anyone’s mind about their intention to “go for all of it” by also controlling the Judiciary and thus sealing their future impunity. And if they manage to get away with it by also carrying the Lower House of Congress, then there should also be no doubt about what their next move will be: a rubber stamp constitutional “reform” aimed at “legalizing” the President’s illegitimate, totalitarian ambitions and perpetuating her administration in power.