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October 2, 2014
Thursday, May 15, 2014

Oil probe leaky

Whatever the substance of the probe into President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s handling of the Chevron oil agreement (upheld by the Federal Appeals Court this week even though a prosecutor had previously dismissed the case), it sets a very dubious legal precedent as prosecuting a serving head of government for what is basically a policy decision. CFK is not being accused of any corruption scandal or direct violation of human rights (in which case an impeachment would be in order, not a standard trial) — the malfeasance and abuse of authority charges mounted against her last year by the leftist City legislator Alejandro Bodart are based on giving preferential treatment to a foreign investor and risking “irreparable” environmental damage due to fracking. Many sectors of the opposition would welcome this initiative as re-opening Argentina to the outside world and mobilizing international capital in order to accelerate exploitation of the vast Vaca Muerta shale potential although evidently not the far left on the basis of Bodart’s litigation — no administration can win if policy differences can be expressed in lawsuits and no country in the world proceeds on the basis of allowing serving heads of government to be subjected to legal action on these grounds.

Having said this, CFK would be on firmer ground against such cases if it were not for two chronic flaws in her style of governance. One is the lack of transparency in public access to information, of which the obsessive secrecy surrounding last July’s Chevron agreement is a typical example. And the other is the extreme disinterest in the environment and drafting clear ecological legislation. It would be interesting to hold a street poll and see how many people could name the current Environment Secretary (one Omar Judis, whose name would surely only be recognized by a fraction of those familiar with Fabián Rinaudo or the most obscure of the 30 soccer players listed by Alejandro Sabella for next month’s World Cup) — the fact that Judis is hardly a household word only underlines the rock-bottom priority given to the environment. The CFK administration is much keener on luring energy and mining investors yet their investments (including Vaca Muerta) would be much better protected against future legal obstacles if there were clear legislation covering environmental risk.

This case against CFK is thus extremely dubious from a narrowly legal viewpoint — and yet not wholly unfair in a broader sense.

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