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September 17, 2014
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Foreigners under fire

Security Secretary Sergio Berni (centre) pictured in Rosario this week.
By Mempo Giardinelli
For the Herald

Considering Berni and Argentina’s justice system

At a Tuesday press conference Security Secretary Sergio Berni declared: “Last weekend we arrested over 60 foreigners who came to Argentina just to commit crimes.” He was talking about a supermarket shootout and five Chilean assailants whose nationality he emphasized, adding that five Colombians had been arrested that same morning. Throughout the week he said that anybody rejecting his statements “had no real interest in discussing crime.” He is wrong even if his words had the merit of introducing an enormously important and serious issue.

For Berni there is a “clear law providing for the expulsion” of all criminals and he insisted on the need for a debate: “Are foreigners the problem? No. Is the law the problem? No. The problem is that 95 percent of all the criminals we arrest in the street never reach trial and when they are tried, there is no sentence or conviction and without that you cannot apply the law.”

City Justice and Security Minister Guillermo Montenegro took advantage of this to question national immigration polices, proposing controls for the entry of immigrants.

“It is not xenophobic to ask why somebody is coming to the country,” he said.

For his part CTA opposition union grouping leader Pablo Micheli called Berni a “caveman” because he “feeds hatred towards those who are not Argentine.”

I myself have been a foreigner — thousands, perhaps millions of Argentines also have been and are. In the 1970s and 80s Mexico threatened to apply to us Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution whereby the government (in an arbitrary and xenophobic manner) could expel foreigners. We argued that this was just prejudice. And the problem was not what to do with the “foreigners” but what to do about crime.

That is the case now. My grandfather was a foreigner and so is Mauricio Macri’s father, the late Néstor Kirchner’s late mother and also the janitor in the Coghlan apartment where I have lived for years. And so what? If Berni thinks that the problem is that they are now descending on us in organized crime gangs, the problem is once again our accursed justice system — bad judges as well as bad cops and now is the time to say so.

What Berni should be thinking now is how to punish criminals effectively without regard to their nationality. It is super-obvious that all those who commit crimes should go to prison and that has nothing to do with their nationality.

The question is how to enforce the law fully and, above all, how to stop the Argentina justice system from being so schizophrenic — a habitual trait denied by at least half of those imparting justice, as well as almost all that rightwing opposition Argentina suffers today which is scandalized by criminals “going in one door and coming out the other” but only recommends ever harsher punishment for ever younger people as if Ramón Camps were their mentor.

The problem is justice because Argentina’s laws are generally not enforced and there is no system of punishment. Today justice is split down the middle and mostly ruled (as a constitutional branch of government) by the most retrograde elements in this country. Its textual system and its nepotism just go on and on, as do the selective delays with which it supposes that justice is imparted. Its few swift decisions always pick on the weakest or on ideological targets. There are some 4,000 members of the working-class serving different sentences while the indictments against Vice-President Amado Boudou pile up with media-driven velocity but Domingo Cavallo has stayed free for 13 years thanks to delaying manoeuvres..

The core problem of crime is that Argentine judges (whether federal or otherwise) do not lift a finger. Denounced on extremely serious charges, they always escape scot-free because of a system of favours, rewards, complicities and shady deals which they themselves know so well how to perfect. As the almost forgotten José Ingenieros said: “Vested interests obstruct justice,” and when the sense of justice deteriorates in the social conscience, the citizenry “refuses to work or to study on seeing how society showers privileges on the lazy and ignorant. And for want of justice the state becomes a tale told by favourites and charlatans.”

The serpent’s egg is there. There are thousands of criminal laws out there but the investigations drag out or grow stale, the loopholes are unlimited and the judges and prosecutors almost always tolerate them. Because their courtrooms are overflowing with cases or because they put a price on their actions.Which also happens because anybody who knows anything about justice in Argentina knows that corruption exists there too.

So putting the crime accent on “foreigners” is either very naive or very cretinous. And not because there are not foreigners who enter as immigrants and turn to crime, often of the organized variety. But in that case they should be arrested, tried and sentenced like any criminal — and deported, if that is what the law requires. But let us not condemn out of hand those immigrant communities who arrived under the protection of our Constitution and who in their immense majority came to enrich this very conservative nation.

Hundreds of thousands of people from dozens of nationalities, Latin Americans from all countries of the region, West Europeans and Slavs of different origins, Africans and Asians of the most diverse roots are, in their vast majority, honest immigrants who are only looking for the opportunities they could not find in their homelands. As happened with my great-grandfather and the immense majority of our ancestors. Perón, Frondizi, Illia, Alfonsín, Menem, De la Rúa and Kirchner are also immigrant surnames.

The problem as presented by Berni does not have the solution he would like to stop the “foreigners.” — not even in the legislation, or in politics. It is justice itself — the unfair, class-ridden system we have had for centuries — which is the real cause of crime and the vast majority of Argentine evils.

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