With Alberto Fernández finally becoming the head of state, attention is now focused on how his government will look. Different actors with different interests are already measuring him up. Will he be a puppet, controlled by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, his vice-president who couldn’t help but read his inaugural speech over his shoulder? Will he be able to live up to his promises of being “the president of the unity of the Argentine people,” as he was presented time and time again in Congress? Will he look more like Raúl Alfonsín, the first president after the brutal 1976- 1983 military dictatorship, or will he have to metaphorically kill the former president that stands by his side in order to demonstrate he is truly in power? Finally, will he allow the courts – who are quick to smell a drop of blood in the ocean – to go after Mauricio Macri and his officials, much like they did with the Kirchnerites during the previous presidency?
This latter point is, of course, of the utmost importance for a series of reasons. In his speech, in which President Alberto laid out what he would like to be the pillars of his government, he paid particular attention to an institutional clean-up of the state, in particular of namely the much maligned Judiciary. It is well-known that the federal justice system, which has its headquarters in the Comodoro Py courthouse in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Retiro, is a cesspool. That same institution, which nearly three-fourths of Argentines consider morally bankrupt, was absolutely subservient to the Kirchners during their glory days, relying of course on the nefarious “intelligence services” for para-espionage of its political opponents.
This is well known to President Fernández, who worked closely with Néstor Kirchner and knew of the late ex-president’s taste for information from the “services,” to the point where Gustavo Béliz — now in charge of the influential Strategic Planning secretariat — was pushed out of his role as justice minister, and eventually forced into exile, by none other than that famed superspy Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso. The same Situso that worked closely with late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman for years — and who famously “didn’t hear” his phone ringing ont he fateful night when Nisman called him frantically before being found dead in his Puerto Madero apartment. Situso was probably the most visible face of the SIDE spy agency, which Cristina ended up disbanding to create the Federal Intelligence Agency, or AFI, which Alberto now “intervened” into, as part of an attempt to gain some real control.
To clean up the Judiciary, Alberto — who is a lawyer and a law professor at the Buenos Aires University (UBA) — first needs to sort out the formal and informal intelligence apparatus that works internally, colluding with judges, journalists, and other interests. Most readers will be aware of the supposed spy Marcelo D’Alessio and the whole Carlos Stornelli affair, illustrating said collusion. Yet, for President Fernández to actually put things in their place, it is imperative he accepts that this system was not just used to persecute the Kirchnerites, but that it is a rotten portion of the whole structure, all the way to the top. This would also mean that the system would be disbanded before it is used to investigate, and even extort, the Macristas.
Which takes us to the Judiciary. In his speech, the newly minted president indicated he would move forward with a complete restructuring of the justice system, which, according to reports, could include the federalisation of the Buenos Aires City’s jurisdiction over federal criminal crimes. This same reform was part of a plan proposed back in 2004 by Béliz, before his head was chopped off. The plan would potentially also move toward an accusatory system, where judges wouldn’t be allowed to arbitrarily decide whether they “instruct” or lead the investigation, or delegate onto prosecutors, which would take full responsibility of the accusations.
Using the emotionally charged phrase “nunca más” (“never again”), Alberto pledged he would eradicate the political use of the Judiciary, that arbitrary preventive prisons would be eliminated, that no citizens would be above the law, and that those who gave and received bribes needed to receive justice. This, of course, was what Macri promised as well, yet what the federal justice the leader of the PRO party leaves behind is clearly tainted, particularly given what appeared to be an absolute intention to go after Kirchnerite corruption while avoiding to pursue anything close to Mauricio. It was also rife with illegal espionage, extortion, and all sorts of jibber jabber.
But, for Alberto to truly reform the Judiciary, which is absolutely necessary, he will have to face the difficult task of having to deal with Cristina. Under the “lawfare” doctrine the ex-president has diligently worked on to build her defence, Fernández de Kirchner has indicated she considers herself a politically persecuted citizen because of her ideals and progressive/populist leadership. She told the oral tribunal currently investigating the supposed allocation of national public works budgets to family friend Lázaro Báez, known as the “Vialidad” or “Transport” case, that she is above and beyond it. Claiming she did not care about their ruling, she exclaimed: “I’ve been absolved by history.”
In her first major speech in the iconic Plaza de Mayo, on the day of the inauguration, Cristina once again relied on emotionally charged imagery tied to the 1976-1983 dictatorship, noting that some wanted her to literally “disappear,” once again trying to position herself outside of the reach of these tribunals which, together with hegemonic media, are part of a conspiracy by elites to eradicate the leadership of Latin America’s leftist populists, according to her attorney. There are many more cases with Cristina among the accused, some where the crimes are quite plausible, particularly ‘Hotesur’ and ‘Los Sauces’ where the ex-president and her family’s hotels and properties appear improperly rented in order to launder kickbacks from Báez and Cristobal López.
If no-one is above the law, then Cristina should prove her innocence, rather than disobey and discredit the tribunals. Of course, she counts with immunity given her role as vice-president, as does her son, Máximo, leading the Peronist bloc in the Chamber of Deputies. Daughter Florencia, sick, remains in Cuba, which doesn’t have extradition treaties.
Yet, without either some level of “amnesty” that leaves CFK and her family out of jail, and Macri and his people outside of the judicial onslaught, it will be difficult for Alberto to build consensus on key issues which require both legislative and popular support. If Alberto gets this right, then the building blocks of a society much less prone to corruption would be put in place, which of course would help in constructing credibility, governability, and prosperity.
Unfortunately, I remain skeptical.