May 22, 2013
Mutiny on the Albatross II
Antonio Caló, the brand-new secretary-general of the CGT (or at least 100-odd trade unions), seems as confused as anybody by the security force mutinies overshadowing his big moment on Wednesday, first defending the pay claim and then the democratic right to be protected. And indeed the whole situation seems a rare case of everybody being equally perplexed — the government, the opposition, the media and the Border and Coast Guards themselves. Some government circles muttered darkly about destabilization (by which they were not only implying military coups in the traditional sense but also mischief-making by the media and Hugo Moyano heading a rival CGT to Caló) — from the other side it would also be possible to float an even more far-fetched conspiratorial theory whereby the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration would be manufacturing a “self-coup” as a way out of mounting difficulties (and perhaps as cover for such moves as dumping Auditor-General Leandro Despouy). Yet sheer administrative incompetence continues to seem the likelier explanation for this mess than any evil political genius.
The administrative muddle underlying this crisis is not entirely clear and not possible to explain in this space even insofar as it is comprehensible but basically the various fringe benefits and bonuses paid to Border and Coast Guards were regrouped into a quasi-full salary in such a way that August pay slips were delusively high thanks to arrears and one-off payments, only to be brought brutally down to earth by the September pay slips issued at the start of this month. Those 15 percent or so whose pay levels managed to survive the correction are hardly less disgruntled because of a rigidly low income tax floor. Yet the government’s wiggle room here is minimal because reversing the pay cuts or granting the 7,000-peso pay floor sought would create a precedent for public-sector pay which would drive a coach and horses through the most basic assumptions of the 2013 budget currently being raced through Congress. Purging the top brass of the Border and Coast Guards, the knee-jerk reaction on Wednesday, obviously does not even come close to resolving these grievances.
With no obvious solution in sight, this crisis thus shows every sign of growing worse before it gets any better with the rumblings reportedly spreading to the Navy. Even so the unrest does not seem terminal in any way but an overcentralized and overpoliticized government is looking structurally prone to blundering from one such crisis into another.