October 21, 2014
Necessary but impossible
Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti wants the fight against drug-trafficking to be placed on the front-burner at exactly the same time when opposition parties are pooling their efforts to take the Penal and Commercial Code reforms off the fast track but one strategy need not rule out the other. Although some articles have been singled out as soft on crime, most politicians are reluctant to reject the reforms directly because the government was careful to co-opt all then existing opposition parties into the bicameral commission to reform the codes when it was created in 2006 — their line is rather that now is not the time to focus on the approval of these controversial reforms clearly lacking consensus when other priorities are far more urgent. Most people would see these priorities as lying in the socio-economic sphere but why not concentrate on the war against drugs — why would this need to hinge on reform of the legal system as a whole?
While something of a philosophy of convenience, the opposition decision to soft-pedal these reforms is probably justified. Under normal circumstances this would be an excellent time to approve such reforms with elections still more than 20 months away but the lame-duck nature of the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration has prematurely politicized the atmosphere, favouring in particular the demagogic opportunism of Sergio Massa’s Renewal Front (too new to form part of the commission) in pandering to the opinion polls. The need to modernize the legal system has only grown more urgent since 2006 and the stiffer sentences brandished by hard-line law and order advocates are not the solution they are promised to be while prisons so clearly continue to be factories of crime but too many people seem to agree that the time is not right — the ease with which the likes of Massa set the tone appears to confirm that a serious debate is impossible. It only remains to be seen if the ruling party majorities in both Houses can push the code reforms through alone — given some of the proposals of Deputy Martín Insaurralde (who topped the Victory Front list in Buenos Aires province last October) during the midterm campaign and given Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli’s recent choice of extreme hard-liner Alejandro Granados as his security minister, the CFK administration might be rash even to try.
Yet retreating from these legal reforms is no excuse for not taking Lorenzetti’s diagnosis of drug-trafficking very much to heart and giving it every urgency.