March 7, 2014
For the last five months we have been fully informed as to the various reasons making Army Chief-of-Staff César Milani’s promotion to lieutenant-general controversial — what was missing from Wednesday’s five-hour Senate debate was any solid argument to justify a move which jeopardizes the crown jewels of the government’s positive image, the defence of human rights. After almost four decades it would be hard work to find a serving officer with even the minor role of a very young Milani in “dirty war” repression but somehow the government managed to find him. Why does the government then persist with this gratuitous choice at the risk of alienating staunch human rights allies — what makes Milani so important? Is it his long experience at the helm of military intelligence (if only because perhaps he knows too much)? Milani’s rise to the Army helm in midyear preceded this month’s police unrest and looting but perhaps no Bolivarian governing style is complete without its military wing. Not to mention the lack of response regarding the erratic security policies, both with the law and order national star Sergio Berni (an Army officer on leave) and his Buenos Aires provincial counterpart Alejandro Granados, emblematic of the worst kind of Peronism, including its pacts with the “dammed police.” Yet we can only speculate because ruling party senators failed to offer any arguments beyond lamely asserting the principle of innocent until proven guilty (when the burden of proof should be on Milani) and “due obedience” to presidential wishes. We know that the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration is democratic because it has fought and lost two electoral contests this year, accepting the result, but it does not feel that it owes any explanation to anybody. Why?
Yet despite the strong human rights objections presented by the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and others (not to mention embezzlement accusations), the reality is that Milani’s promotion cleared the Senate with a relatively smooth 39-30 vote — no less than seven allies joined 32 Victory Front senators. Such a controversial case as Milani should be considered an acid test of loyalty on a par with failed judicial reform — in these terms the government’s continuing control of the new Congress is impressive.
But little to celebrate with one link from the chains of the 1976-83 military dictatorship now confirmed at the head of the Army.