March 11, 2014
Tornado in uniform
Not a happy week for the province of Córdoba — at least three deaths in the tornado ravaging much of central Argentina was quickly followed by the far more manmade disaster of widespread looting in the provincial capital amid a local police strike. The violent scenes shocked the nation but the problems did not begin this week. Or even a couple of months ago when Peronist Governor José Manuel de la Sota was finally forced to purge the provincial police helm after evidence of complicity with drug-trafficking became overwhelming — a scandal which helps explain why de la Sota’s list slumped from an already lowly PASO primary performance of under a third of the vote in August to less than a quarter in the October midterm elections. Not that this purge seems to have snapped the links between the police and organized crime because reports persist that the police mutiny was deliberately timed to leave the capital “open country” for crime when de la Sota was flying abroad, thus preventing an immediate reaction to the crisis.
Needless to say, this problem is not unique to Córdoba any more than to this week — a couple of decades ago the problems of two-term Buenos Aires province governor Eduardo Duhalde with the “best police force in the world” were legendary while far more recently (i.e. earlier this year) the gunshots fired at the home of Santa Fe Socialist Governor Antonio Bonfatti were heavily suspected to stem from similar collusion between the police and drug-trafficking even if Bonfatti and even more his mentor Hermes Binner hesitated an eternity before voicing these suspicions. The fact that Duhalde and Bonfatti come from opposite ends of the political divide between Peronism and non-Peronism shows that this problem is entirely across party. And while in no way letting de la Sota off the hook, the national government is not exempt from responsibility — why were Border Guards not ordered into Córdoba before yesterday when the police pay dispute was almost resolved? There is, after all, a national Security Ministry (which has just changed its helm) and drug-trafficking among other crimes is a federal offence.
Talking of the police pay dispute, its outcome is highly unsatisfactory because it was the result of virtual blackmail and because it sets a dangerous precedent for future wage bargaining by upping the basic salary by around a third against the national guidelines of 15-20 percent. But this is far from being the only disturbing aspect of an episode which should in no way be confused with last year’s more socially rooted pre-Christmas looting.