April 18, 2014
Saturday, December 14, 2013

A power unto itself?

The chaos of the past 10 days has led to a widespread impression of a more generalized power vacuum (and not just the opposition media either because Uruguayan President José Mujica has used exactly that phrase of a “power vacuum”) and yet the government’s ability to pursue its own agenda seems to survive intact. Even before the looting, there was a scenario of a lame-duck presidency ever since the August primaries foretold inevitable midterm defeat while the economy was adrift — today, quite apart from the all the direct damage caused by looting (not least to incomes policy after the police pay hikes), the upheavals have severely dented the revamped Cabinet’s credibility, bringing its honeymoon to a brutally premature end, while the presidential response to the crisis has largely taken the form of conspiracy theories and autistic frivolity at the climax of Tuesday’s 30th anniversary of democracy (after a suitably solemn start). And yet the government machinery has smoothly advanced with two highly controversial moves — Senate committee approval of Army Chief-of-Staff César Milani’s promotion and the suspension of prosecutor José María Campagnoli — as if Kirchnerism were still in its heyday.

Up to this point Milani’s promotion and Campagnoli’s suspension belong in the same bag but there are important differences. From a political standpoint it looks as if Campagnoli is being punished for probing the crony capitalist Lázaro Báez but that was not the reason given for his suspension — the full legal grounds and the wider context of this case merit an editorial of their own later this weekend. Milani’s promotion is also unattractive at first sight with the difference that upon deeper examination, it remains so. If the credibility of the new Cabinet has been hit by this month’s looting crisis, the credibility of the government’s long-standing image as a human rights champion could suffer much deeper damage from Milani’s promotion and for much better cause. For one reason or another, having this intelligence officer at the Army helm seems to outweigh in government eyes the persistent testimony as to Milani’s participation in disappearances and abductions in the “dirty war” while a junior officer.

But why these priorities in the midst of police blackmail and social crisis? The new Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich reportedly justified his decision to hold daily press conferences by saying that the agenda of the government, the media and the general public were in three separate circles which should be made to intersect — what would he say now?

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