December 6, 2013
‘Scioli will not be K’s presidential candidate’
Horacio Verbitsky is one of Argentina’s most famous and controversial journalists. He writes a weekly column for newspaper Página/12 and has authored more than a dozen books on everything from the military dictatorship to corruption in President Carlos Menem’s administration. For the past decade he has headed the Centre for Legal and Social Studies human rights organization. Verbitsky is a polarizing figure some praise his human rights activism, while others criticize his closeness with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration.
In an interview with the Herald last week at his Recoleta home, Verbitsky talked about the country’s political situation and discussed his new book, “Cuentas Pendientes,” which analyzes the economic and civil complicity during the last military dictatorship.
How did you come up with the idea for your latest book?
We’ve been working on the issue for many years and we thought it was time to publish a book to put all the information together in one place. We analyze different forms of complicity with the dictatorship, from direct participation in disappearances, to helping to hide a crime.
In your book you suggest that signs should be placed outside companies that were complicit with the last military dictatorship. Could you elaborate?
We’re suggesting putting up signs outside all entities that supported the dictatorship in spite of knowing the crimes that were taking place. For example, when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights came to Argentina, there were a series of declarations by companies that announced their rejection of the Commission’s visit and defended the dictatorship. It would be great to make a placard that reads “In 1979, when the Inter-American commission on Human Rights came and investigated human rights violations this company rejected this saying it was an anti-Argentine campaign.” This is a real proposal; it’s not a joke.
But don’t you think this proposal could seem vengeful? Unlike a placard for the disappeared that serves more as a tomb for a body that can’t be found, this seems more like a badge of shame.
No, it is an act of truth and justice. Every act of justice, memory, and truth, where there was injustice is a correction of that injustice. There are still many business leaders who became rich and consolidated their power thanks to the last military dictatorship. And over the past 30 years they have used that power to pressure political authorities to implement policies that will support them and destabilize governments that try something different.
So, for example, with Techint, how does this book propose to do justice?
In the Techint case it is clear that the company was directly complicit with acts of repression — this is something that should be investigated.
Is it fair that innocent descendants of people accused of complicity with the military dictatorship may have to pay for their crimes?
From a judicial point of view, the children and grandchildren are not guilty of anything. From a civil point of view of reparations, the responsibility lies with the entity and not the person. This happened after World War II, when banks have been forced to pay reparations to victims of the Nazis, even though they are not led by the same people as in 1943.
So, for example, if the late former Economic Minister Martínez de Hoz, who was complicit during the last dictatorship, was found guilty of committing economic crimes, would his descendants have to pay reparations?
If there is a responsibility on the part of Martínez de Hoz, there could be reparations that the descendants of Martínez de Hoz would potentially have to pay. If a victim filed a civil suit demanding reparations, and the judges interpret that suit to be valid because it involves a crimes against humanity charge, then yes the descendants of Martínez de Hoz would have to face the consequences.
Why doesn’t the country’s judicial system incorporate the use of the “plea bargain” to break the military’s pact of silence?
It’s not simple to introduce a mechanism that comes from a different judicial system. There would have to be a general reform. And the possibility of knowing the truth in exchange for not being penalized is not an acceptable tradeoff. Also the US system of plea bargain has generally been negative for its justice system. The accused accept responsibility for crimes they have not committed to escape a worse punishment. So I don’t think it’s worth incorporating a law that would ultimately hurt our justice system. However, if you were to tell me that you could reduce the penalty of a secondary person, if they were given evidence to implicate the primary person responsible, it could be acceptable.
You’re proposing a truth commission?
We want to create a truth commission that will be backed by Congress. It would be like the CONADEP except it would focus on the civil and economic crimes and be given the funds to carry out a serious investigation. In a way it is a much more complicated task, because of the intricate issues of understanding how the profits were distributed and made.
What do you think of Venezuela’s conflict with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights?
I think it is very bad that Venezuela is leaving the Court even though it will remain subject to existing rulings, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will still be able to receive complaints from Venezuelan citizens.
Do you think Kirchnerism can exist without Cristina?
Why without Cristina? Cristina will keep on existing. Cristina will exist in the Kirchnerist party. She just can’t be president.
What happens if she leaves office, will it become like the Peronist movement?
I don’t know if it will exist as a Kirchnerite movement. But too many things have happened for it to just vanish without leaving footprints, such as the Central Bank charter reform, the reincorporation of the state into the private sphere, the independent foreign policy, justice for crimes against humanity—all very important measures that could not simply be reverted if the Kirchner government ends.They are profound changes that will continue even if the government’s culture changes.
Do you think Buenos Aires Governor Scioli could push the party to the right?
Scioli will never be the Kirchnerite presidential candidate. There’s no possibility that he will be their candidate.
Depending on the season, the Kirchner government has sometimes had a good relationship with the economic groups from the dictatorship. Why do you think that is?
I think there’s always been tension. In the first years the tension was less because they had a cushion of money after the enormous devaluation and their profits from the neo-conservative administration. But they started to protest more when the cushion went away.
Do you think La Nación or Clarín will apologize as Brazil’s Globo did over their role in propping up the dictatorship?
I think they should accept responsibility at some point but it doesn’t seem like they will now. On the contrary, they have justified their actions. They deny being complicit. It could be true what La Nación journalist Morales Solá once wrote in a column that some journalists were victims of the dictatorship but that can’t be the case for the companies.
Why do you think CFK supports tough-on-crime policies while refusing to implement broad security-related reforms?
That isn’t CFK. It’s Scioli. The Buenos Aires governor has taken more of an independent path than before.
Why don’t they say something to Scioli then?
I’m sure they must have political reasons to not say anything. They have to walk a fine line.
Do you think Página/12, is as critical as it should be?
Who determines the critical line? Each newspaper has its editorial line. Página/12 was very critical of past governments and much less so of the present government because it coincides with many of the values that it has fought for throughout its history. It’s natural that the newspaper change its attitude when the government changes.
Do you think Página/12 is failing to investigate corruption?
The corruption investigations taking place now are very distorted. La Nación and Clarín are waging a war against the government. The theme of corruption is used as a weapon with very little seriousness and rigour. And their scandalous corruption charges are part of a defamation campaign against the government because of the (newsprint company) Papel Prensa case, which is one of the biggest corruption cases in history. This decreases their legitimacy. Furthermore, the way they do these accusations is ridiculous. Someone appears, says something on TV and then in court changes their statement. Página/12 has not stopped criticizing many things but I don’t think it should participate in the frenetic and wild accusations that are Clarín’s and La Nación’s line.
You also have been accused of being a political operator for the president. Do you think there is any merit to that?
No. I haven’t stopped criticizing what I thought was wrong and that is not what an operator does. I’m not like the opposition that rejects everything just to oppose the government—I’m not part of the opposition but I’m also not part of the government. What I can demonstrate in my work is coherence. I have held the same positions in all democratic governments — how many people in Argentina can say that?
Do you think Buenos Aires provincial Security Minister Alejandro Granados will remain in his post after the criticism many, including you, have levelled against him?
I can’t predict what will happen. I can only have an opinion over what happens and if something occurs that I think is wrong, I will say it as I have with Granados.
Will the Victory Front party win the October midterm elections?
I don’t think CFK’s party will lose these elections. She will win like she won the primaries. There’s also a distortion here. I don’t understand why everyone says the government lost the election when it actually won. Yes, it lost in a few districts, but it won nationally. Now it will either win by an even larger margin or maintain or lose a little of the advantage it had in the primaries. When comparing the 2009 elections with the primaries of 2013, the Victory Front party received one percent more of the vote. This is a real and objective piece of data from these elections.The idea that the government is at the end of an era is being pushed by those who have been asking for it from the beginning, including La Nación that said Néstor Kirchner’s government would only last one year when he first took office.
What do you think of Macri’s comments about the Red Circle?
I think they were very brave comments. I really did not expect that from him and even though I have criticized many of his actions in the past, this does not prevent me from praising this one. It’s very interesting for a right-wing politician to say something that goes against his own interests.