May 22, 2013
Alongside various courtroom battles, yesterday’s suspension of Bariloche Mayor Omar Goye is yet another example of the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration’s authoritarian instincts eventually proceeding along institutional channels, a situation permitting two contrasting interpretations of Argentine democracy’s health. Almost within hours of the pre-Christmas looting in Bariloche, CFK was baying for Goye’s head — not so much out of any capricious personal dislike, one suspects, as because there are strong reasons to believe that the looting was the result of picket protégés of her own sister-in-law, Social Welfare Minister Alicia Kirchner, getting out of control with nobody feeling empowered to stop them, thus creating the need to find a scapegoat in a hurry. This presidential pressure was obediently echoed by Río Negro Governor Alberto Weretilneck and Senate Majority Leader Miguel Angel Pichetto (Río Negro Peronist provincial party chairman and Goye’s patron until then) but the mayor resisted over the past month until yesterday’s suspension by a 10-1 town council vote. In the meantime various flaws other than this scapegoat role had been uncovered (how many politicians in Argentina could survive magnifying-glass scrutiny?) and Goye’s exit was formally decided by Bariloche’s elected representatives rather than a downturn of the presidential thumb, thus making the whole process look less arbitrary.
The departure of the friendless Goye will hardly suffice to solve the social and political problems behind this crisis, however. The protection racket run by the “co-operative” suspected of ransacking the Bariloche supermarkets is unlikely to be limited to the 92,000 pesos which can be traced to the suspended mayor — if their funding also came from higher levels, this situation of the government subsidizing the very people accused of attempting to overthrow the established order is inherently unstable. If the supermarkets had been respected until last month, this could be symptomatic of the gravy train running dry and the picket groups resorting to looting to fill bare cupboards with subsidies faltering — a warning to a government which nevertheless seems to know no other way of dealing with problems than throwing money at them. Political problems seems almost trivial when measured against this social volcano but common cause against Goye will not necessarily end the infighting between Weretilneck and Pichetto.
If Bariloche is often compared to Switzerland, it would seem that there are problems in paradise.