March 8, 2014
Married to the mob
For the Herald
Carlos Kunkel, a former Communist who is well known for his trenchant views, thinks Cristina should run for some kind of elective office in 2015 not just because his political fortunes depend on hers but also because he feels she could do with some parliamentary immunity in the years ahead. Though Cristina says she will call it quits when her term as president comes to an end, nobody would be in the least surprised were she to change her mind long before that dark day approaches. Much as she may dislike the idea of representing some local equivalent of a rotten borough in Congress, as one of her Peronist predecessors, Carlos Menem, is currently doing, it would surely be better than running the risk of spending her retirement years in jail.
Luckily for Cristina, Argentina’s political class protects its own. It has to. An honest politician is such an anomalous creature that, while still with us, the Radical president Arturo Illía was hailed as a civic saint for refusing to make the most of a chance to become enviably rich. In most people’s view, his lack of interest in lining his pockets was so extraordinary that it ensured him an honoured place in the national pantheon. It is their way of telling us they think all politicians are crooks.
Illía’s reputation has not been eroded by the passing of the years, but even he had to overlook the behaviour of some dodgy party stalwarts whose help he needed on his way to the Pink House. Corruption is so widespread that individuals who would never dream of liberating a paper clip feel obliged to cover up for their less scrupulous colleagues. Esprit de corps almost always trumps ethics. As Benjamin Franklin, the man whose face gazes benignly from their favourite banknote would have warned the political pros, they must all hang together or most assuredly they will all hang separately. In Italy, a “clean hands” campaign led by a judge who took corruption seriously devastated a political class that had much in common with Argentina’s. Were a similar purge to take place here, the results would be even more spectacular.
Though Cristina evidently likes being president because she enjoys bossing her underlings around and lecturing her foreign peers on their many failings, she has never shown much interest in the administrative side of her job. That is why so many assumed that, after recovering from the results of the mid-term elections in October and a head wound that kept her away from work for almost two months, she would let others, among them her cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich, take care of the day-to-day business of government, leaving her free to live her own life.
That would have been a sensible arrangement had it not meant allowing people to think her power was on the wane. That would never do. Cristina simply cannot afford to let herself be seen as a lame duck; were that to happen, she would soon be deserted by many of her supporters and her enemies, who are feeling less charitably disposed toward her by the day, would quickly close in for the kill. They have plenty of ammunition. As well as the presidency, her late husband left her in charge of a number of rackets involving their business cronies. She must also explain in detail what exactly happened to the billion or so dollars Santa Cruz province got when the state oil company, YPF, was flogged off; Nestor Kirchner stashed them away in foreign banks for future use, thereby saving them from the economic meltdown the country experienced in 2001 and 2002. According to some provincial officials, most did find their way back, but far too many questions remain unanswered.
For politicians who are accused of enriching themselves by illegitimate means, retirement is no more an option than it is for Mafia dons. They are too well known to get away with large-scale money laundering. To survive in the style to which they have grown accustomed, they need the protection that only their fellow politicians are in a position to give. While she still can, Cristina is trying to reshape the judiciary by promoting people who are happy to do her bidding and kicking out the ones who seem likely to cause her trouble, but her increasingly frantic manoeuvres are providing opportunists with an excuse to turn their backs on her, weakening her still further.
The acquittal of former president Fernando de la Rúa and his fellow defendants, who were charged with having bribed Peronist senators thirteen years ago to encourage them to vote for labour legislation that would meet with the approval of the IMF, has made some people assume that Cristina has nothing to fear, but the accusations that have been levelled against her are far more serious, and far more convincing, than the ones that were faced by the Radical whose greatest crime, in the eyes of many of his compatriots, was to flirt with what they call “neoliberalism”. De la Rúa may not have been anointed a civic saint like Illía, but nobody thinks he was anywhere near as willing to bend the rules as Carlos Menem, Mr and Mrs Kirchner, and their many accomplices. In comparison with the crimes the Patagonian couple stand accused of, handing cash instead of “pork” (as is routine in the US) to opposition senators in exchange for some much needed votes, as was claimed, would have been at most considered a minor misdemeanour.