December 12, 2013
Coupmongering in Argentine politics
A not-so-real threat for CFK that was floated by lawmaker Elisa Carrió
Historically, certain Argentine political games have proved lethal for democracy. For example, the coupmongering mania of some civilians, whose patient work has led more than once to the general unhappiness of the population, at least in the last 80 years of national life.
Of course, the classic coupmongering of yore no longer exists — as almost everybody agrees — but the contemporary version keeps cropping up with persistent patience. And each time it does, heads are shaken and furious denials made in the headlines while the coupmongering action continues underground.
Such was the fate of President Raúl Alfonsín, destabilized by carapintadas Army mutineers led by Aldo Rico or Mohamed Alí Seineldín, followed by the attack of a lunatic left on the La Tablada barracks before dozens of rightwing Peronist politicians and trade unionists at the service of sinister interests generated the social chaos in 1989 which prevented the first democratic government after the dictatorship from coming to a normal close.
It was more or less the same in 2001 when Fernando de la Rúa left the Casa Rosada in a helicopter, leaving behind over 30 people dead and a country in flames. This also befell caretaker president Eduardo Duhalde, whose dreams of a more permanent stay in office had to be abandoned after the slayings of the pickets Maximiliano Kosteki and Darío Santillán.
Although without accomplishing its aims, applying chaos as a contemporary form of the old civilian-military coupmongering has never ceased, as Néstor and Cristina Kirchner can bear witness. And the common denominator of all these cases, whether successful or not, have been the strident statements and the pushes to topple the democratically elected government and replace it with a transitional administration, always straining interpretations of the Constitution.
Of course, the coupmongers denied what they were doing at the same time as they did it — some with conviction, others stupidly and most irresponsibly.
Carlos Menem was the only president who did not suffer these attacks from the shadows of political power, perhaps because it was his buddies who dabbled so many times into coup-mongering against others. Too big a political issue for this article.
What is true is that every time a president has been or seemed weakened in Argentina, the pushing starts. Grinding away at the government’s power was never part of free democratic play, as it should have been, but rather its most perverse side. And for some (at times many) people the assault on power by indirect, oblique and unholy means is the only way of reaching the presidency of this republic.
That is why the big event of this week was the denunciation of Deputy Elisa Carrió, seconded by her colleague Ricardo Alfonsín.
You can say many things about them, especially the almost always apocalyptic Carrió. But when it comes to giving proof of her democratic vocation and attachment to the Constitution, she did not mince words: “There are sectors looking for an early exit” of the government, she denounced, adding (true to her forthright style) that Mauricio Macri “talks about the ‘Red Circle’ because he is annoyed at being left out of the game — he wanted to be part of Peronist infighting and they did not let him.” And she said more: “There are two ways in Argentina — one is the republican which wants Cristina Kirchner to finish her term whereas the others want a repetition of 2001. Sectors keen on a devaluation joining political sectors who want to elect a new president, all linked to Peronism.” And as if all that were not enough, she declared without euphemisms that “part of the opposition wants a civilian coup with Massa as the successor.” That same night she repeated on television: “They want a transition whereby an opposition congressman takes over and the candidate for that is Massa.”
That would explain perfectly why the results of the primary elections were and continue to be publicized with such exaggeration by the big media as if a narrow primary defeat necessarily doomed a government.
Naturally, Carrió was immediately contradicted by some of her old allies. José Ignacio de Mendi-guren, a former Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) president now running on Sergio Massa’s Renewal Front slate, considered it “very grave to talk of an institutional coup. If she really believes that, she should go to court.” Macri’s Lower House caucus leader Federico Pinedo also questioned her: “Carrió is pretty similar to Cristina in seeing everything in terms of friend or foe” while disqualifying her statements as “totally wild,” hastening to say: “That the ‘Red Circle’ consists of coupmongers is way off the mark. It has nothing to do with any coup — this fable about entering the Peronist fray to overthrow Cristina is delirious. I don’t know anybody with coupmongering ideas. Democracy is all about trying to get as much social representation as possible and winning elections — it would be insane to have coupmongering ideas.”
For his part, Massa, with his evasive style of never saying anything and instead doing what everybody else assumes he is thinking, proposes having his own caucus in Congress, headed by Roberto Mouillerón, Buenos Aires provincial Labour minister when Felipe Solá was governor. This grouping aspires to be the third-largest party in the Lower House although, with just nine deputies for now, it is a long way off. But it trusts in recruiting its centre-right PRO friends and anti-Kirchnerites responding to the Rodríguez Saá brothers in San Luis, and other provincial forces from Entre Ríos, Chubut and Santa Cruz. Not to mention the decided support since Thursday of the ex-carapintada Aldo Rico, who announced his complete alignment with the Renewal Front whose chief he described as a “good leader” while prophesying that the President “would not last the two years” which still remain in her term.
Of course, not all are shadows on the horizon. If, as we have already said, Argentina’s problem is ideological polarization and coupmongering mania, it must also be said that despite everything, the natural play of democracy has not ceased to function in the last 30 years. It is true that Alfonsín lost the midterm elections in 1987 and De la Rúa in 2001 and that in both cases the result was an institutional disaster. But Menem also lost in 1997, and Néstor Kirchner in 2009 without anybody being toppled by coupmongering chaos.
Don’t give up hope. We’ll see in October.