September 1, 2014
University for scandal
The notion that a number of Argentina’s prestigious human rights organizations have been “co-opted” by the national government is widespread in the opposition. But the narrative should not be taken at face value precisely because the human rights groups, including the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, have a hard-earned prestige based on their years of struggle for the cause of the disappeared and the identification of victims. Yet at the same time those credentials will not erase the fact that the pro-government faction of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo headed by Hebe de Bonafini has been embroiled in alleged graft scandals involving national government funds for housing projects. The scandal has left the finances of Bonafini’s group, after undertaking ambitious endeavours, in tatters. The Mothers’ standing was also put at risk by Bonafini’s association with Sergio Schoklender, a man who notoriously served time for the killing of his parents and is now the main suspect in the housing project scandal.
Unlike other faltering independent projects, the national government has decided to come to the rescue of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo University, which as part of Bonafini’s foundations is said to have amassed a debt of approximately 200 million pesos. It is worth underlining here that Bonafini has argued that she was swindled by Schoklender and that the leader of the Mothers is personally not under suspicion. But this is still not reason enough to accept that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has decided to use the full weight of her political clout for the Senate to approve a bill nationalizing the Mothers’ ailing university, turning it into a human rights institute which will work under the wing of the Justice Ministry. The bill now moves to the Lower House. The approval comes at a time when the national government is pouring money into the education system, but when the performance of students in primary and high schools is not improving. Establishing more universities on a whim is not necessarily sending out the right message about the improvement of education and values or about public universities preserving their high reputation.
A number of opposition senators spoke out against the approval during the Upper House debate, even when the ruling party caucus insisted that the debts will not technically form part of the nationalization. Senators condemning the decision said that it sends out the wrong signals: it condones bad administration and, what is far worse, it turns a blind eye on suspicions of corruption. The opposition has a point.