July 29, 2014
Boring but necessary
Hardly at the top of the news (and least of all yesterday with the abrupt bus strike and torrential downpours) but Congress has been experiencing an unusual protagonism in recent days. On Wednesday Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich occupied fully half the day in fielding questions from senators while on Thursday the government defended the Repsol compensation settlement before a plenary Senate committee session with the Upper House also the recipient of the Auditor-General’s report on this century’s railway transport, including a special focus on the 2012 Once tragedy (whose trial begins on Tuesday). The Repsol session even drew a sometimes emotional Presidential Legal and Technical Secretary Carlos Zannini, that key kitchen cabinet member hardly ever seen in public. At the start of this month President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s state-of-the-nation address was very much addressed to the nation via nationwide broadcast with its Congress audience almost incidental and hardly any legislative agenda announced. But at Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s inauguration last Tuesday CFK showed a cordial respect towards the opposition members accompanying her while a couple of days later the Lower House committee chairs were a pleasant surprise for the opposition — with a slightly larger majority than two years ago the government laid claim to slightly fewer chairmanships. Could Argentina’s ultra-presidential democracy be turning just a little bit parliamentary?
Since the above parliamentary proceedings did not even seem to interest all those present, why should they draw any attention from the average citizen, who might well ask why they should care a hoot about Capitanich rambling away forever in Congress when they cannot even catch a bus home (not to mention the crime sparking the stoppage)? Yet in Argentina the urgent forever crowds out the important. The Capitanich marathon in Congress was extremely boring while UNEN’s Fernando “Pino” Solanas was about the only senator taking much interest in the Repsol session but if parliamentarians and people do not make the most of these moments of institutional daylight, allowing government to remain unaccountable, then consequences like the Once tragedy are always latent.
Meanwhile a different atmosphere seems to govern politics. Last March’s emergence of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis led to hopes on both sides of the political divide that he could become a co-opted ally or an opposition leader but could it be that he has triumphed over polarization instead?