December 8, 2013
Of ideologies and Supreme Courts
Polarization analyzed through Media Law, Rural Society’s economic stance
For many people Argentina’s big problem today is an ideological polarization which, they think, prevails everywhere in a confrontation which does not do anybody any good. The latter happens to be true — living in a state of permanent alert is as difficult as it is odious — but it remains to be seen how genuine is the confrontation because all too often it seems like a game where the opposition confronts the government saying that the government is confronting them while the latter says exactly the same about the opposition.
It would be much more serious — and interesting — to analyze the real content of the difference (irreparable in the eyes of some), which is supposed to be tearing Argentine society apart. To that end it suffices to review the ideological bases of the confrontation but also bearing in mind (as should never be forgotten) that in a democracy there is room for all ideas and that all differences should be contained before they break out into open battle.
A couple of weeks ago when the President of the Rural Society inaugurated the traditional annual farm show, his speech manifested that ideological polarization which is very much alive — if not in the real country, in the Argentine leadership. What Mr. Luis Miguel Etchevehere made clear was the political model to which an important part of the local leadership subscribes, at odds with the model promoted by the current national government.
Two completely different visions. Strangely enough, Etchevehere’s is much more familiar than the Kirchnerite. And what the Rural Society is pushing, indeed, is the same economic model which the dictatorship imposed in 1976 and was later perfected by Carlos Menem in the 1990s. The central aspects can be summed up as follows — an absolutely free market, an economic slowdown, the preponderant role of banking, returning the economy to private ownership and a reliance on raw materials, public spending cuts, wage reductions and dismissals in some cases, zero intervention by the state except to crush social protests.
Of course not everybody expresses these ideas with the same sincerity as Etchevehere, presumably because they would then not pick up enough votes to rule the republic. And here it is worth recalling what Menem said, once in power: “If I had said what I was going to do, they would not have voted for me.” But beyond that, whether you like it or not, these ideas have enormous spread throughout the social classes and the party spectrum without or without parliamentary representation.
Meanwhile the Kirchnerism now in power pushes the other way — to control markets, heat up the economy, moderate the role of banking, invest public funds heavily, increase wages and promote free collective bargaining, re-industrialized renationalize (e.g. the Aysa waterworks, the Post Office, Aerolíneas Argentinas and YPF), alongside measures of social inclusion such as the Universal Child Benefit, the heavy investment in education and the creation of public universities, alongside laws like same-sex marriage or assisted fertilization, the Broadcasting Law and the “memory, truth and justice” human rights policies. All of which affects real interests and thus necessarily entails conflict.
This week all the above pervaded the public hearings called by the Supreme Court, which even prepared a battery of questions for reply by the representatives of the state and Clarín Group (the only holdout against submission to the Broadcasting Law). Given the litigation between the two sides, the hearings were interesting because there the state defended “pluralism and an end to media concentration” while Clarín argued “business sustainability.” Among the most notable opinions were those of Frank William LaRue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Promotion and Protection of the Right to the Freedom of Opinion and Expression, openly in favour of the full application of the Law. And on the other side Eliseo Verón, the veteran academic in communication sciences who lobbied vigorously on behalf of Clarín Group.
Now it will be time for the ruling, which very probably will be submitted to the same ideological tussle. And that, in the opinion of this columnist, will be in the best of cases a judgement of Solomon. Because after the inexplicable delay (the Court let almost four years go by without a definition), it may be envisaged that now they will be bearing the current political cycle in mind more than ever, And that is not good, least of all for the Supreme Court, but it cannot be ruled out. Hence the speculation that the Court will be handing out six of one and half a dozen of the other.
The risk here is that nobody will be happy. For example, if the Court rules that Clarín must open up cable television and eliminate the limitations on all the other channels while overlooking the scaling down of business stipulated by the Law.
If it were to do this, the Court would be guaranteeing protection to the economic interests of one side. But above all and more seriously, as this columnist has already sustained in other media, the Court would be legislating rather than judging. Or, even worse, “re-legislating” to “correct” the laws of Congress.
And then, as if something were missing to spice up the week, word came from the United States giving details of the ruling in favour of the so-called “vulture funds.” The decision of the New York appeals court against Argentina now hinges on acceptance by the United States Supreme Court. The Argentine government responded quickly, announcing that the bond swap would be re-opened by a parliamentary bill, which was supported across the political spectrum, including the most recalcitrant opposition parties. Re-opening the bond swap without a deadline is a sign of goodwill towards the Supreme Court in a bid to assuage well-founded fears. That is why the reaction of the government was so swift — because it seeks to regain national jurisdiction for the payment of all bond obligations. And it seems to have worked because the “vulture funds” rapidly suspended the hearing they had requested before judge Thomas Griesa.
All is now under study. If Congress decides to repay debt on Argentine soil (as many deputies think should always have been the case), many things will change. In this game any result is possible.