Tuesday, August 11, 2020
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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 04-07-2020 08:06

The curse of power in Argentina

Several of the major corruption cases of the K decade could end up being dropped due to procedural abuses, aiding the newfound lack of political motivation of most magistrates.

In Gabriel García Márquez’s oeuvre, an alternating narrative structure fuses past, present and future, reinforcing the concept of the circularity of time. Without relying on the cliché attribution of “magical realism” to the goings on in Latin America, in Argentina we should at least say that it seems like we are stuck in a parallel dimension in which time works as in one of the Colombian great’s novels.

A blockbuster case of illegal espionage during the 2015-2019 administration of Mauricio Macri that targeted allies and enemies alike was pushing the former president’s back against the ropes, while judicial investigations targeting Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had begun to stall. A mirror image of the horror show of the early days of the Macri presidency, where corrupt former Kirchnerite officials were falling like flies and CFK lived constantly on the verge of imprisonment. Then, like now, the arbitrary and asymmetrical use of the Judiciary against the leaders of the opposition presaged a continuation of the worst that Argentine democracy has to offer, despite lofty speeches by newly minted presidents promising deep reform and the eradication of an incestuous relationship with feared and uncontrollable intelligence agencies. It is also clearly referential of the way Néstor and Cristina Kirchner used and abused the intelligence agencies and the judiciary for illegal espionage and extortion. And all of this, unfortunately, falls into the echo chamber where Argentine society lives in a perpetual filter bubble pitting Kirchnerites against anti-Peronists and deepening artificial rifts that promise to keep us in the eternal path of decrepitude.

It is intellectually insulting to hear someone like Fernández de Kirchner speak of political persecution, turning the state against the opposition. As mentioned in these columns time and time again, one of the characteristics of the Kirchner era was the consistent surveillance of the socio-political field of play, much of it under the supervision of our local super agent, Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso. It wasn’t just the spying, but also intense economic pressure targeted through different state and parallel entities that completed the ploy. The Judiciary, of course, was absolutely subservient, failing to investigate any and all cases of corruption, while tax hounds were unleashed against the economic interests of anyone opposed. The Kirchners also waged a cultural war against anyone who thought differently (or investigated their abuses of power and acts of grafts, such as Editorial Perfil) using official advertising budgets to reward or punish the media, while pushing friendly “businessmen” to build media empires to defend the “cause” against designated enemies — think of Sergio Szpolski and Matías Garfunkel’s Grupo Veintitrés and Cristobal López’s acquisition of C5N — financed with everyone’s (“todos y todas”) tax money. After years of extremely fruitful collaboration, the Kirchners had a falling apart with the country’s largest media group, Grupo Clarín, passing a major media reform law aimed at dismembering the firm. Clarín prevailed, but the Ks won the “cultural revolution.”

This by no means justifies the directed use of the state’s resources to persecute Kirchnerite corruption. Despite widespread evidence of malfeasance, judges like the late Claudio Bonadio and his teammate, prosecutor Carlos Stornelli, used and abused the penal code, relying on potentially extortive plea bargains with the sole purpose of putting Cristina behind bars. The use of preventive prison against Kirchnerite officials – arrested in major operations with a large media presence every time – worked as bread and circus, showing a bloodthirsty population tired of more than a decade of authoritarianism trophies such as former federal planning minister Julio de Vido and ex-legal and technical secretary to the president (i.e. the one who writes the laws) Carlos “Chino” Zannini in chains and behind bars.

Several of the major cases of the K decade, including the 'cuadernos' corruption notebooks case, the Hotesur/Los Sauces case, and Vialidad (“highways”) case could end up being dropped due to procedural abuses, aiding the newfound lack of political motivation of most magistrates. Macri and his judicial team clearly pushed the Judiciary to go after the Ks while the mainstream media had a feast stuffing the 24-hour news cycle with near pornographic images of corruption and detainment. Yet, the arbitrary use of the state’s force ended up backfiring with the infamous case of fake spy Marcelo D’Alessio, tainting Bonadio and Stornelli’s tactics in the cuadernos case and revealing the complicit nature of partial judges and a ragtag of organic and inorganic agents, extorters and criminals all somehow related to the AFI spy agency.

Néstor and Cristina used the SIDE spy agency to collect information on their political enemies, which CFK finally disbanded when she fell out with Stiuso, replacing it with the current AFI and turning to military intelligence at the hands of César Milani. Macri and his government relied on illegal espionage coming from the spy agencies and the courts to persecute its political opposition. And now, it seems, Alberto Fernández’s early days in office indicate his government is following in their footsteps. A plethora of cases have mushroomed around illicit espionage targeting politicians and journalists during the M years, with federal judge Federico Villena ordering the arrest of 22 people this week including Macri’s personal secretary Darío Nieto and an apparent second-level secretary named Susana Martinengo. Villena, though, appeared to be chasing his own tail, as he’s been accused by some of the detained spies of having ordered the intelligence operations he is now arresting them for. He was also the judge behind the court orders to tap phones in the Ezeiza prison in a drug-dealing case that resulted in leaked conversations between jailed ex Kirchnerite officials. Villena, it seems, is no Judge Alejo Ramos Padilla, who led a serious investigation into the D’Alessio ring, suffered the political pressure of the day, and was found to have a spotless record. Villena was removed from the case on Friday.

Unfortunately it all smells like more of the same. A vicious cycle in which promises of reform are followed by judicial persecution of the political opposition with the help of the intelligence agencies.  As time goes forward, it feels as if it’s the same story but the roles are reversed, accusers becoming the accused, a déjà vu of decrepitude.

Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia

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