December 18, 2014
Shrug the drug problem
Security Secretary Sergio Berni’s appearance in Congress last Thursday raised rather more questions than it answered (including who actually runs that department since his nominal superior, Security Minister María Cecilia Rodríguez, was also present in a wholly secondary role). Despite his taste for protagonism, Berni seemed to be shrugging responsibility at various levels — at times he seemed to be implying that Justice Minister Julio Alak was responsible more than his own portfolio since he pointed in the direction of the judicial branch as the front line against drug-trafficking. But at other times he seemed to be defining drug-trafficking as a provincial problem even if its constitutional status as a federal offence is clear enough.
Otherwise the session tended to degenerate into semantics which only deepened the confusion over this murky area. Thus Berni speculated over a possible 500 clandestine runways, only to defend Cabinet Chief Jorge Capi-tanich’s denial of their existence by arguing that they would not be clandestine if Capitanich were aware of their detection. He also played down the importance of radars in spotting drug flights by pointing out that the ill-fated Malaysian MH 370 had evaded their monitoring in a part of the world where some countries take drug-trafficking seriously enough to impose the death penalty but he then had to backtrack when reminded by a deputy that the government seemed to find radars important enough to assign a quarter of the security budget to them — one of the shrewder interventions in a generally lacklustre parliamentary performance. Nevertheless, Berni stood by his tendency to downplay the radars when he insisted that drugs were penetrating Argentina not so much via its notoriously permeable frontiers as in shantytowns and low-income neighbourhoods (even if President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seems to prefer to define the problem sociologically as a “narco VIP” frivolity of the upper classes). At least here he is being consistent in switching Border Guards to Greater Buenos Aires from the frontiers where they are supposed to be posted.
Berni may seem to be shifting the blame onto the judiciary but it is also true that the exasperating lentitude of judicial procedure is a problem for many other spheres of life, not just here. After the worthy cause of judicial reform was sabotaged by excessive presidential ambition last year and by irresponsible opposition opportunism this year, perhaps the clearest message from Berni’s confusing Congress appearance is the need to attempt Penal Code and procedural reforms yet again.