Argentina’s Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was recently indicted on corruption charges. The prosecutor, Diego Luciani, charged her with being the head of an illegal association that benefitted from kickbacks from the government’s public works contracts. The accused include Ms. Kirchner, cabinet members linked to public works operations, and an individual who served as a front man for Kirchner. The prosecution asked for a 12-year jail sentence for the vice president and a lifetime ban on holding public office.
Kirchner’s reaction came quickly. In a matter of hours following the prosecutor’s announcement, she delivered a speech to the nation delegitimizing the process, claiming the indictment was a political witch hunt. She also added that it was an attack not only against her but also against everyone who supports her and the entire Peronist movement. “This is a trial against a popular and nationalist government, against those who fight for public works, better pensions, and better salaries,” she claimed.
Sooner after, her entourage began a mass mobilization. Large demonstrations in support of the vice president ensued. Five hundred city and county mayors signed a letter in support of Kirchner, claiming that the trial was a mechanism aimed at removing her forever from public life. The department of humanities (Filosofia y Letras) of the University of Buenos Aires denounced the “persecution against the vice president.” All echoed the same argument made by Ms. Kirchner.
Kirchner resorted to a popular appeal and public opinion to delegitimize the state institutions that are the embodiment of democracy and constitutionalism. The division of powers and the independence of the judiciary are crucial in any democratic regime. Kirchner called the legal system “the judiciary party” openly implying that the judiciary was another opposition political party, one as destabilizing and treasonous as the “military party” throughout Argentina’s troubled authoritarian past.
This was not the first time Kirchner has been concerned about the judiciary.
When Alberto Fernandez, the president of Argentina hand-picked by Ms. Kirchner, took the reins of the government in 2019, he proceeded to accuse the judiciary of persecuting Ms. Kirchner through lawfare. President Fernandez also attempted to pack the judiciary with loyalists and even proceeded to remove three judges that were involved in cases against Kirchner.
Indeed, the vice president was absolved in three cases before the procedures even began.
But events in Argentina are relevant beyond the country’s borders.
The international Reaction to the Argentinean Current Crisis
Several regional leaders issued a joint communique in support of Ms. Kirchner. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Fernandez issued a joint statement with the presidents of Mexico, Colombia, and Bolivia criticizing the indictment of Ms. Kirchner as an “unjustified persecution” against her and arguing that it was motivated by their desire “to remove Kirchner from the public, political and electoral life and bury the values and ideas that she represents in order to impose a neo-liberal regime. ” The letter also demanded to respect the report of the United Nations special rapporteur that questioned the independence of Argentina’s judges involved in the legal cases involving the vice president. This strange document seems to reaffirm the perennial doubt about the objectivity and honesty of this international body.
It is also astonishing that Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, who insists on not meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, particularly in Venezuela, has done exactly that. What concerns Lopez Obrador is that another left-wing populist leader is being challenged. Colombian President Gustavo Petro likely shared those concerns. Therefore, anybody who has been under the illusion that Petro was going to be a pragmatist and loyal to the democratic system that enabled his election, will surely be disappointed. Most likely Petro will play a negative role in the region against the spirit of the democratic charter of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Curiously enough, Kirchner also received the backing of the leader of the French extreme left, Jean Luc Melenchon. Melenchon advocates for France’s withdrawal from NATO, has accused the alliance of trying to annex Ukraine to the West, and holds it responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Pablo Iglesias, the founder of the Spanish extreme left party “Podemos” and a strong supporter of the Venezuelan and Iranian regimes, traveled to Argentina to express solidarity with the vice president.
It appears that Kirchner; the vice president of a relatively weak third-world country has become an international rallying symbol against liberal democracy.
Of course, Ms. Kirchner should be presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. However, attacks against the judiciary, mobilization of demonstrators, and the removal of investigating judges may encourage impunity and corruption. In addition, when these measures become role models or are supported by leaders of other countries, this becomes a dangerous security problem. Terrorists and drug traffickers are watching, and they certainly know how to take advantage of illegality and chaos.
Anarchy and disarray are intense in countries such as Venezuela, Mexico, and most of Central America. In the specific case of Argentina, it will only be a matter of time before it turns into a similar country where criminal groups control large territories at the expense of the state. In Argentina, a weak state legal structure failed to resolve two major terrorist attacks and the mysterious death of a prosecutor.
Argentina could face a major growth in organized crime. Large cartels don’t exist in Argentina yet, but organized crime is already present. Organized crime and violence advance as the state recedes in Latin America, as Paula Romo, a former Ecuadorian cabinet member, recently pointed out. Countries that suppress or politicize their judicial systems are more likely to fall into destabilizing situations. If the Argentinean system withdraws the charges against Kirchner before a fair trial is conducted by an independent judiciary, it would be a step forward in this perverse direction.
Originally published in palmbeachdemocracy.org/
Thursday September 1, 2022.