June 19, 2013
For those in peril off the sea
When John Fowles published his semi-autobiographical novel Daniel Martin 35 years ago, he could not possibly have known that he was anticipating the name of the new Argentine naval chief-of-staff to emerge from the blame game surrounding the cadet training frigate Libertad impounded in Ghana for the last fortnight. This blame game has only just begun but as things now stand, the tendency is to shift responsibility away from civilian branches of the government, whether the Foreign or Defence Ministries, and pin it firmly on the military — something which comes naturally enough to any Kirchner presidency. Admiral Carlos Paz, Martin’s predecessor, and two other members of the naval top brass are the first victims of this exotic twist to Argentina’s ongoing foreign debt problem but there is no guarantee that they will be the last. As the third naval chief in the last 10 months of the force expressing the most open sympathies with the Coast and Border Guard pay mutiny earlier this month, Martin (a 1982 South Atlantic war veteran aboard the scuttled submarine ARA Santa Fe) has scant chances of a smooth voyage, especially if rash enough to break surface. As for the civilian side, the interministerial intrigues are far too byzantine for the space of this editorial but a Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Cabinet far more prone to turning ministers into puppets than has-beens will have its work cut out to survive this crisis intact.
Not that the blame game absorbs all interpretations on either side of the divide. On the government side, opinions are not only divided between the conspiracy theorists and those who prefer to view the Libertad’s plight as a mere blunder (not that this reduces in any way the quest for scapegoats even if virtually everybody is deploring the bungle with the virtue of hindsight — Third World countries and “vulture funds” were a priori considered mutually exclusive). Many find the “vulture funds” an even more inviting target than military top brass and prefer to bristle over sovereignty against the outside world, stressing the underlying debt conflict. As also do various critics — they point out that the Ghanaian court was far from being the first to rule in favour of the “vulture funds” with its injunction against the Libertad (thus the hyperactive New York judge Thomas Griesa seems to spend half his time with such rulings) and nor do they see the blame so comfortably compartmentalized on the military side.
But just as a marooned Libertad remains stuck in its West African moorings (with CFK resisting any “bail”), so are we far from seeing the last ripples of this crisis.