“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Voltaire, as quoted by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in "The Friends of Voltaire" (1906, pub. S. G. Tallentyre)
Note: All of the journalists pictured here are staunch critics of the non-democratic tactics of the current Argentine government. Only by defending their right to dissent, no matter what our own political or philosophical positions might be, can we defend and protect our own democratic, civil and human rights.
As I reflected on the subject of this editorial essay, researching and poring over the events of the past several weeks, I reached the conclusion that perhaps the most succinct truth at which one could arrive is that the time for fearing that Argentina might be headed for the de facto establishment of a “popular” dictatorship may be over. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, in recent weeks we have witnessed clear signs of the impending demise of democracy in the thirtieth anniversary year of its reestablishment by the hand of President Raúl Alfonsín, the first and, arguably, last genuine democrat to lead Argentina following more than seven years of murderous military rule from the mid-seventies through the early eighties.
|Jorge Lanata, shocking revelations.|
Clearly, democracy was undermined with the Constitutional Reform introduced by the government of Peronist Carlos Menem, which, despite any beneficial amendments introduced, was all about the illegitimate re-election of the former president, a move that allowed him to remain in power for a full decade—ten years steeped in corruption and marked by scandal, and by botched and fixed privatizations and sellouts that cost the country dearly. And it is clear too that a politically manipulated popular coup that toppled his successor—Radical Party leader and former Buenos Aires Mayor Fernando de la Rúa—further undermined democracy by demonstrating that even a leader from a normally ultra-democratic Radical Party was capable of confiscating the private property (and life savings) of the country’s population, that certain sectors of Peronism weren’t above exploiting and encouraging chaos and insurrection in order to keep any other legitimately elected party from remaining in office and that the vast majority of Argentines were still willing to stand by and do nothing when violence and de facto tactics were employed to wrest power from the hands of a legally elected administration.
Democracy also trembled and quaked to its foundations in the chaotic game of musical chairs that followed the De la Rúa government’s fall. Since in the midst of the political and financial crisis with which the Radical administration was faced Vice President Carlos “Chacho” Alvarez had resigned before the final break-up, once ousted, De la Rúa was first repla
ced by Senate
President and opposition Peronist politician Ramón Puerta, on December 20,
2001. Just three days later, in circumstances that were less than clear to the
public at large, San Luis Governor and Peronist politician Adolfo Rodríguez Saá
was appointed by Congress to replace Puerta. But that ill-fated presidency only
lasted a week, with Rodríguez Saá citing “lack of political support” for his
resignation, which he tendered on December 30. Puerta was asked to step in
temporarily once again, but this time refused. So, Rodríguez Saá was ultimately
replaced by Lower House President (and Peronist politician) Eduardo Camaño, who
convened a special session of Congress to elect a new president. It was thus
that, on January 2, 2002, the presidential sash was placed over the shoulder of
Peronist leader and former Buenos Aires Governor Eduardo Duhalde—the self-same
Peronist candidate who had lost the presidential elections to De la Rúa in
|Nelson Castro, criticism with class.|
Duhalde served out the rest of what should have been De la Rúa’s term—a little over fifteen months—and called early elections in September of 2003. He himself was not in the running but remained a heavyweight figure in the Peronist Party and his backing was bound to give a major boost to whomever he chose as his favorite to win the elections. Well-known and popular former race-driver and long-time Santa Fe Governor Carlos Reutemann was Duhalde’s first choice, but turned his Peronist colleague down. In the midst of a still confusing and hostile political climate following the 2001 political debacle, Duhalde was looking for someone either highly popular or largely unknown as his heir. After Reutemann said no, his choice fell to Néstor Kirchner, whose less than savory reputation was a matter of record in the deep Patagonian south, but who, as the obscure governor of the sparsely-populated Santa Cruz Province was a political unknown in much of the rest of the country.
|Luis Majul, tireless investigator of the man he |
called "The Owner"
Of the five candidates—in addition to Kirchner, former President Carlos Menem, economist Ricardo López Murphy, former President-for-a-week Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, and anti-corruption crusader and Congresswoman Elisa Carrió—Kirchner came in second to Menem with a scant 22 percent of the vote compared with Menem’s 24 percent. Neither of the leading candidates had enough votes to win without second-round voting, but fearing defeat in the run-off, Menem dropped out of the race, thus permitting Kirchner to win by default and by the skin of his teeth, as perhaps the least voted-for president in the country’s history. And so began what has become known as the Kirchner era.
While Néstor Kirchner sought, in his four-year term, to give at least the impression of serious government, maintaining renowned and internationally respected technocrats like Roberto Lavagna and Martín Redrado in key economic cabinet positions, and tending to respect their advice, international experience and authority, as well as winning liberal praise at home and abroad by rescinding laws introduced by Alfonsín and Menem to protect all but the highest ranking officers of the military dictatorship from prosecution, it has since become fairly clear that his ulterior motive was to create a political empire in which he and his wife and current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner would attempt to pass the administration back and forth between them indefinitely, with the help of populist measures, an acquiescent opposition and an increasingly loyal following within the Peronist movement. It has also become fairly clear, through detailed investigations carried out by journalist Jorge Lanata and other reporters, that the Kirchners have sought to reconstruct the same corrupt boss-rule model of government on a national scale that made them all-powerful and untouchable in Santa Cruz Province. Lanata’s meticulous probe has shown just how deep-reaching this kind of corruption has been and the huge price the country’s citizens have paid—among other things, in vastly overpriced public works and the kickbacks that they have engendered, in currency-by-the-bale spirited out of the country in money laundering operations, in expropriation scams and fixed public tenders, in juggled statistics and outright prevarication to try and belie the economic devastation that such practices have wreaked, etc.
Far from reining the government in and forcing it to conform to the dictates of democratic government and the rule of law, revelations of corruption in high places and ever more vocal criticism in the press and through massive anti-government demonstrations seem only to have emboldened President Cristina Kirchner, her zealously accommodating ministers and secretaries and members of the quasi-fascist-model youth movement called “La Cámpora”—led by the Kirchners’ son, Máximo—whose members the President is reported to refer to as “my little soldiers” and which has infiltrated every level of government bureaucracy. It is as if, faced with the revelations of corruption and abuse of power demonstrated by some of the country’s top reporters, Mrs. Kirchner and her cohorts have been somehow liberated, and are bent on demonstrating that they have no sense of shame whatsoever.
|Alfredo Leuco, blunt critical analysis|
On the contrary, it would appear that, now that the jig is up, in terms of the scandalous revelations of private investigations that have emerged in recent weeks, the Kirchner government as a whole and President Kirchner in particular, are set on showing just how autocratic and uncompromising they can be. Nor is this surprising, since the President and her circle are born of a bastardized political philosophy that emerges from a volatile mix of the callous disregard for democratic principles often demonstrated by her party’s founder, General Juan Domingo Perón, and the terrorist gang philosophy of the 1970s neo-fascist Montoneros guerrilla organization—to which Cristina Kirchner has claimed to have belonged, despite this claim’s having proven more wishful thinking and fantasy than fact.
|Joaquín Morales Solás, meticulous editorial logic.|
In regard to this last, more “Monto-never” than Montonera, back in those days, Cristina and her husband are widely and convincingly reported to have already been busy building their power base and fortune as intermediaries in foreclosure operations handled through their Santa Cruz law offices, in connection with the now infamous Central Bank Circular 1050. This measure was introduced by the military government that overthrew President Isabel Perón in 1976, and pegged mortgage loans to the dollar-peso exchange rate, which, following a sharp peso devaluation in the latter years of the regime, resulted in such soaring increases in loan payments that people all over the country were forced to hand their homes over to key banks and realtors. In other words, far from fighting the military—despite their alleged Peronist Youth membership—it would appear that the Kirchners knew precisely how to make peace with the regime and their consciences, exploit that dark era and use the dictatorship to stunning advantage in accumulating a sound base for their eventually vast fortune.
Perhaps this early bent for “ethical flexibility,” accommodation in benefit of personal gain and hypocrisy for the purposes of political and economic expediency explains a great deal about how a ten-year-long administration that has founded its now waning popularity on relatively meager social handouts and a reputation for being the paladin of Argentine human rights stands accused of some of the worst and most all-pervasive corruption and abuse of power since the fall of the former ‘Proceso’ dictatorship. The extent of the de facto power that this government has gained was patent this past week in ever stronger rumors of plans by Kirchnerists to stage a hostile takeover of the major multimedia group (Clarín) that is currently partnering with Lanata. And more telling still is Lanata’s apparent fear that the government has so manipulated the law that it could actually get away with such a takeover, thus silencing the principal medium against advancing Kirchnerism and gagging the journalists whose investigations have established proof of corruption and abuse of power at the highest levels. Lanata’s worst fears were clear in a plea he made to his enormous viewing audience at the end of his show, Periodismo para Todos a week ago: "I want to ask a favor of all of you,” he said. “I want to ask you to do something. If this happens [the silencing of Clarín], if they wipe us out with a signature from one day to the next, do something! Don’t just let it happen. And I’m not asking that you do something for me. I’m asking you to do it for yourselves!”
I couldn’t agree more and add a request of my own to anyone who reads this. Don’t just keep accepting corruption and abuse in Argentina as inevitable. Don’t keep considering uncompromising professionals like Lanata (Nelson Castro, Joaquín Morales Solá, Alfredo Leuco, Luis Majul, et al) to be naïve, self-interested, crazy or all three. Don’t keep thinking there’s nothing you can do, that it’ll all go away on its own, or that whatever the government does doesn’t affect you personally (all you have to do is go to the supermarket and witness week to week inflation or try to buy dollars to save a little of your purchasing power from devastation in order to know that’s not true). Remember that the ruling party feels empowered by your apathy, that the traditional opposition is as acquiescent as it is because it doesn’t feel your hot breath on the back of its neck, that new reformist movements don’t emerge to cleanse the political scene because they find no backing among a self-defeating people, that corruption is always eventually found out but that silence is what allows it to continue, that a free press is only possible when a free-thinking people insists upon it, that freedom of expression isn’t a privilege but a right and that demanding it, exercising it and fighting for it is the only way to maintain it, and that without it, there can be no democracy.
Democracy is a state not unlike pregnancy or life itself. It exists or it doesn’t. There is no such thing as “somewhat democratic” and being democratic means playing within certain rules, not bending the law to fit whatever party or ruler happens to be in power, respecting and zealously upholding checks and balances and the three branches of government, honoring and defending the position of the minority even when it is diametrically opposed to your own, and defending freedom of expression and of the press as a means of safeguarding democracy from tyranny.
Tyranny and censorship are mutually self-sustaining and if enough people do nothing to take part in, protest for and defend by all means necessary the search for truth and justice, then they can only blame themselves for having the autocratic rulers and the power-fawning media that they deserve.