January 18, 2018
Saturday, May 3, 2014

Still hope for a better gov’t in 2015

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner takes part in a political rally alongside her husband and predecessor Néstor Kirchner in September 2010, one month before he died.

By Robert Cox

From Where I Stand

CHARLESTON, South Carolina — If asked to make a snap judgement on the Kirchner years, I would simply say, “It could have been worse.” Looking back over the four years since I resumed writing for the Herald while re-reading my columns have reminded me that it very nearly was much, much worse.

Returning in mid-2010 with my wife Maud to live in Argentina for a prolonged period after more than 30 years in exile, I was on a high. I wrote that it was “sheer joy” to be back in Buenos Aires.

I now see that it was clearly wishful thinking when I wrote in this column on Dec. 26, 2010: “I am convinced, for the first time in the half a century I have spent thinking about this extraordinary country that democracy is here to stay. At long last that fragile plant, for which I so often almost despaired, has finally taken root.”

I still believe that democracy will survive what remains of the 12 years of Kirchnerism, but our hard-won freedom from authoritarian rule was persistently endangered under Néstor and, even more specifically, during the two mandates of Cristina.

Personally, I was disappointed to see human rights abused by the government. I wrote about this in a column (Sept. 11, 2011) about Hebe de Bonafini, the president-cum-dictator of the Association of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, which should not be confused with the organization formed by the founding members of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, who distanced themselves from her.

I suggested that Bonafini “should step aside to let the two organizations become one. Let the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo become what they once were, a shining example for all who believe in human rights, human decency and human dignity. The restoration of the prestige of the Mothers would be completed by establishing independence from the government.”

I also wrote that “the decision to end impunity and bring to trial those responsible for massive human rights has earned the two Kirchner administrations a glorious place in history. It would be a pity, even a tragedy, if that achievement should have a tawdry conclusion.”

I chose to believe that President Néstor Kirchner acted out of conviction and principle when he decided to put his weight behind efforts by human rights organizations to end the military’s impunity and bring the unformed murderers to justice. I argued with friends who were probably better informed than I was who said that Néstor was not prompted by conscience but merely saw human rights as an issue to reinforce his power.

It was his widow, Cristina, who caused me to question the Kirchner human rights record. Her decision to promote and appoint Gen. César Milani as commander of the Army and to recruit Bonafini in the campaign to whitewash him makes me think that the president’s human rights credentials are in doubt.

The evidence that Milani, as lieutenant during the “Dirty War,” was involved in the murder of a young conscript is strong. But more powerful still is the fact that Milani told CELS, the country’s leading human rights organization, that he knew nothing about the kidnapping, torture and murder that were routine during the military regime until after the dictatorship was over. Such a blatant disavowal is creepy. This looks exactly like a “tawdry conclusion” to a sham human rights policy.

It took me some time to realize that the problem wasn’t that the government was lax in upholding democracy: As I see now, the problem was that Kirchnerism, by nature, is anti-democratic.

The crystallization of this realization came in the wake of the president’s resounding re-election when she announced that she would “go for everything.” We soon found out what that meant. The government went for the Supreme Court, moved to control the judiciary and tried to crush the opposition media. It was the Kirchner version of Chavism.

Many factors combined to protect a vulnerable democracy. The opposition media proved to be tougher and more popular than the anti-democrats expected. Jorge Lanata’s Sunday night extravaganza, Journalism for Everyone, which was a response to the government’s propagandistic Soccer for Everyone, gave substance to middle-class discontent by mixing satire with documented cases of outrageous corruption. Lanata’s top-rated programme proved to be far more effective than the street protests, the cacerolazos, in raising public awareness and sending a message to the government.

Finally, the president’s illness also took the steam out of the assault from the Casa Rosada, while the lunacy of choosing Amado Boudou as vice-president and allowing the deranged Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno free rein to ruin the economy also took their toll.

Power cuts, floods, accidents, increasingly violent crime and poverty so visible that denial through dubious statistics became impossible piled on the misery of living with a dysfunctional government.

The government’s response was el relato. There is no word in English that defines el relato. It is the official version of events. It is, to use an ancient colloquial English expression, a “cock and bull story.” The campaign to mark the first 10 years under the Kirchners was given the awkward title, La década ganada. It is so awkward that it cannot be translated into English in a way that makes sense. “The Gained Decade” or “The Won Decade” are equally fatuous. As it happened, el relato of the achievements of the first decade of the two Kirchner administrations had the opposite effect to that sought by the government’s propagandists. People who hadn’t bothered much about what the government was doing began to question exactly what the government was doing and had done.

Then el relato collided with the stone wall of economic reality. The “unorthodox” policies that had caused the peso to plunge and scared away investments were ditched. The Kirchner government appears to have decided that its most important priority is to get to the end of its mandate before the ship of state sinks. The worst is over.

In recalculating my feelings about the Kirchners, I think I should admit that I was guilty of wishful thinking and, as a consequence, I was particularly disappointed to learn that Kirchnerism is dishonest at the core.

In the years before the murderous military dictatorship when the democratic process was repeatedly interrupted by military coups, there was an Argentine equivalent of “Murphy’s Law” that held that each successive government would be worse than the one that went before. I think there is some comfort in the thought that it is unlikely that the government that will be elected in November 2015 could possibly be worse than this one. I hope this is not, again, wishful thinking.

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