A tale of two rulings
It would be all too easy to trace a pattern with the Federal Appeals Court issuing two rulings in the same week against international agreements of the government (with Chevron oil giant and with Iran) and yet there are substantial differences between the two rulings — both in terms of merit and impact. The Chevron ruling was so sloppy that it upheld malfeasance and abuse of authority charges against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner when the offending agreement was signed by YPF, not CFK — rather more fundamentally than this error of detail, the ruling went against the basic principle that sitting governments cannot be tried for the policy decisions which they are elected to make (the converse would be an absurdity on a par with taking the results of soccer matches to court). But Thursday’s ruling to declare last year’s memorandum of understanding with Iran unconstitutional pursued a rather more logical line of jurisprudence — it argues that the MOU both ignores and conditions Argentine justice by establishing a “truth commission” for the AMIA Jewish community centre terrorist bombing nearly 20 years ago with testimony in Tehran. The logic is not incontrovertible (the judiciary is seeking to quash a treaty backed by the other two branches of government since it was approved in Congress) but it is respectable.
There is also a significant difference in the impact of the two rulings. The Chevron ruling with its nationalistic and anti-fracking overtones directly defies one of the government’s core objectives — to reverse a decade of growing energy deficit by developing the vast potential of Vaca Muerta shale with the help of international investment. But even if the government has pledged to appeal the ruling against the Iran agreement and even if opposition voices celebrate the ruling as a setback for the CFK administration, the court might well be doing the government a favour by assisting its exit from a controversial and unpopular agreement long dead in the water (with CFK herself virtually admitting failure in her state-of-the-nation speech last March).
If Thursday’s ruling faults the Iran agreement for ignoring Argentine justice, then perhaps it places the onus on that Argentine justice to do a much better job of probing the AMIA terrorist atrocity — with particular attention to the local connection if Iran is so unco-operative. The countdown for the 20th anniversary of the AMIA massacre is almost as close as for the World Cup and thus far the legal investigations are sadly ironic evidence for the tango: “20 years are nothing.”