Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).
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In some countries, among them the United Kingdom, a
minor financial misdemeanour can be more than
enough to put an abrupt end to a promising political
career. In other nations, such as Argentina, getting
caught stealing millions, even billions of dollars from
the public purse may, at most, have an adverse effect
on one’s poll rating. Despite being plausibly accused of
turning the government she, along with her husband
until his premature death, led into a highly successful mafialike organisation which, while in business, managed to rake
in a huge amount of money, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
remains one of the country’s most influential politicians.
Just why between a quarter and a third of the electorate would
like to see her return to her old haunt is not that
easy to understand. Did most of them feel better
off back then and think her mere presence in the
Pink House would make their lives easier? In
some cases, it could be. Do they miss all those
televised lectures she delivered when she was in
the mood? That seems improbable. So too does
the notion that, unlike other politicians, she is
blessed with plenty of charisma. Or is it that,
while few people really like her, a great many feel
they have the same enemies? Whatever it is, so
far it has kept her out of jail, so it must be something important.
To justify their continued support for Cristina, loyal Kirchnerites must either brush aside the charges that have been levelled
against her by attributing them to a malignant campaign of lies
or “fake news,” concocted by her political foes and the journalistic hacks who are in their pay, or insist that, while she and her
husband may have been a bit light-fingered on occasion, so too
have been most of their enemies including, needless to say, Mauricio Macri.
The majority prefer the second approach. They are doing what
they can to blacken the names of those out to get her because
they know that the hard evidence against Cristina is so overwhelming no sane person could possibly believe it was all cooked up
by a sinister cabal.
In other parts of the world in which large-scale corruption has
always been endemic, people who, not that long ago, were every
bit as powerful and popular as Cristina are already behind bars
or soon will be. Though the charges made against Brazil’s former
president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva were laughable in comparison with those she faces, it would seem that in his country
both the judges and the politicians are made of sterner stuff
than happens to be the case here. The same can be said
of Malaysia, where the former prime minister, Najib
Razak, looks likely to spend the rest of his days in
jail for his role in a banking scandal in which a
cool US$10 billion or so went missing.
The mere fact that Cristina is not only still at
large but can also dream of returning to the Pink
House (it may be a long shot, but it is at least
conceivable and is having a negative effect on the
economy) raises questions that most people would rather overlook. Among other things, it suggests that Argentina is a country
in which the rule of law is no more than a misty ideal because
key members of the political class, who eagerly tell us how much
honesty and stuff like that matter to them, have no intention of
taking their own pronouncements literally.
By refusing to strip the former president of her parliamentary
privileges so she can be handed over to her would-be jailors,
people like Senator Miguel Ángel Pichetto are making it clear
that, as far as they are concerned, the interests of the corporation
they belong to outweigh everything else. They must also fear
that if someone as influential as Cristina can be deprived of her
freedom because she broke the law, many others could soon
suffer a similar fate. After all, in societies in which
corruption has long been ubiquitous, even politicians who never stole a paper clip can be accused
of turning a blind eye to the behaviour of less
scrupulous fellow party members.
The part being played in this unedifying drama
by Cristina’s successor, President Macri, is widely
seen as ambiguous. Many assume he is determined to keep her politically alive because it suits
him to run against a rival whose image has become, shall we say, slightly shop-soiled, even if it
is still considerably brighter than those of other
Peronists who, were one of them to get the support of most of the
movement’s warring factions, could cause him a great deal of
trouble in the coming months.
To defend his hands-off approach, Macri swears that he sincerely believes the Judiciary should not be subjected to political
pressures, but, the country’s traditions in this area being what
they are, hardly anyone takes such protestations seriously. As
Macri himself must be well aware, the judicial fraternity is notorious for taking into account the direction in which the political
winds are blowing. This is why for long periods cases involving
corruption get shelved until the skies finally clear, but if the
signals coming from the Pink House seem encouraging, judges
suddenly become hyperactive and start competing with their
fellows to see which of them can nail a high-profile villain.
The main beneficiaries of the resulting scepticism are the many
politicians and their cronies who over the years have supplemented the by no means despicable income they were entitled to with
the little extras that somehow or other came their way. Few can
have gone so far in this respect as Mr and Mrs Kirchner and their
retainers, but in their trade honesty is so unusual that politicians
who do not get rich while in office are remembered with alleged
affection as saintly characters who were an example to us all.
The frequency with which the name of the late Arturo Illia,
who died in 1983 and was president in the mid-1960s, continues
to crop up when people try to name at least one honest politician,
tells us all we need to know about this. No doubt there have been
many who were just as law-abiding and self-sacrificing as Illia,
but the consensus is that most top Argentines would find it desperately hard to survive unscathed a thoroughgoing investigation of their financial affairs.