Injustice: Part 2 – Democracy, who gives a …? Well the Kirchners don’t!

The politics of the Kirchners fitted in nicely with previous Peronist governments and continued their legacy of corruption and cronyism[1]. Their scandals are well documented and I will not spend too much time on them as it is a tedious job and very frustrating. They enriched themselves and blamed others when having to justify their own failures in Argentina. Typical populism: everyone is after them and nothing is their fault[2]. They “empower” the people to shout their slogans – a reminder of the Orwellian sheep of Animal Farm. Argentina moved from an authoritarian military regime, to attempted democracy to an authoritarian like system by the Kirchners. They are not to blame for all failures but the development of Argentinian “democracy” towards failure is carried out on the backs of the prosecuted. They are the tokens of each government to justify their own failures. This is morally extremely wrong. Hopefully with the new government, democracy gets another chance and Argentina will not become the failed state as it has been described in previous decades under so-called democracy.

Through the Kirchners, democracy was weakened (for example, in 2010 it was labelled a flawed democracy by the Democracy Index) and a system resembling an authoritarian regime was created, where the rule of law was ignored. The men put on trial were used by the Kirchners to strengthen their power and they influenced selected parts of civil society that supported their own ideology and became very powerful. A democracy needs to be run by a government and not only by selected civil society organisations. Civil society and a government should of course work together but here in Argentina, the chosen parts of civil society have more power than is good and they are above the law! An example is the Schoklender case. Corruption is a crime but that does not extend to the associated parts of civil society. And if one questions it, then the crimes of the Junta are mentioned to shut anyone up – as said before, they are just tokens in this “game”[3].

The past has become very convenient for selected parts of society and politics, but has the danger of a politically naïve and uneducated “mob” to have more power than is good for democracy in Argentina. Through their specific sponsoring of selected organisations during their time in power, they established an Orwellian sheep legacy in Argentina. Of course, trials of the Junta crimes are important, but Alfonsín dealt with these crimes pro-actively, constitutionally and thought of the democratic future of the country, also by weakening the political influence of the armed forces. Instead of undoing his achievements for Argentina, the unpardoning and jailing the leaders of the Junta would have been sufficient, along with equal treatment for the former guerrilla leaders.

Power Through Show Trials?

The politicising of Junta crimes leads to the question: are the men political prisoners and hence themselves victims of an ideology? They have been unconstitutionally put on trial (see Part 1); and the trials resemble show trials as the guilt of the men has already been determined by politics and judiciary prior to the trial. They are clearly not fair towards the accused. They were “performed” to show the power of the Kirchners.

Another indicator that the Kirchners were trying to gain a political advantage of the human rights (HR) trials is the fact that they specifically only helped certain organisations, generally related to their own cause or friends of them. Their entire presidencies have this tendency running through them. It is all about who they like and who they do not like. One side gets help and the other is shut up. The trials were a perfect opportunity for them, using the vulnerable position of the army, to deflect from their own failures and corruption. I would go as far as, the only reason they started them was a form of distraction and the entire process appears a perfect set up[4].

Through their populist approach to politics in Argentina, everything became politicised and radicalised – the country is again polarised. It is all about the views of the Kirchneristas and, by doing so, the Kirchners only allow their truth to be acceptable in Argentina. Any other perspective is not welcome or accepted. It is an unfortunate immediate reaction to everything you do not like – just ban it. You could argue against it or point out its wrong or listen to it or but no, just ban it[5]. The room for listening is replaced by the blind desire to revengefully punish. For me this is a clear indication that the trials were politically motivated and hence yes, they are political prisoners of the Kirchner era.

Another aspect is that without the HR trials, which is important to always bear in mind, Argentina would have been isolated in international society due to the aggressive politics of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Her political approach and refusal to integrate into existing international systems led to the economic isolation of Argentina. The problem with this, and by blaming the “free West for its problems”, is that one must deal with states that are not up to the same standards on several issues, including HR. For example, trade with China was increased. Whilst the Kirchners received praise for their HR policies, they were not as fussy when it came to other countries’ HR records. China is one of the worst HR violators in the world. Disappearances, torture, murder, clandestine centres etc. sound familiar to Argentinians and they are normal in China[6]. Do the Kirchners not care about other people’s rights or human rights, unless they help them to stay in power?

Money for nothing…

Some of the crimes of the Kirchner era, that may well have required distractions, will be detailed a bit further. Argentina can be described as “a chronically unstable, endemically corrupt polity with a rich history of dictatorship, economic mismanagement and the occasional political lunacy[7]” or even harsher, a nation fluctuating between captive and failed state[8]. Just to list some of the (alleged) crimes:

  • In 2008 the Kirchner government seized $30 billion in private pension accounts belonging to Argentinians[9].
  • Manipulation of official government statistics to hide the actual inflation rate (the true figure was estimated at 25-30 percent)[10].
  • Price-controlled electricity, water, retail-level gas distribution, urban transport, and local telephone services and pressured companies to artificially hold down prices and wages to deal with inflation[11].
  • Foreign exchange rates were manipulated[12].
  • Financial freedom in Argentina was constrained by government influence, political interference with an inefficient judiciary that hindered foreign investment etc. Whereas nothing new in Argentina, the Kirchners added new dimensions[13].
  • Charges of embezzlement and forgery of public documents (e.g. Los Sauces S.A., a real estate company owned by the Kirchner family)[14].
  • Money laundering (e.g. the “K Money Trail” also known as the Lázaro Báez Case)[15].

The problems that Argentina faces today are a direct result of the Kirchnerista politics and the choices that government made and not the fault of the others, as especially Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, likes to tell. Again, it is simple populist manipulation by her. The international economic system is clearly not perfect and needs urgent and fair reform, but when a country struggles, it is sometimes best to compromise and find a solution with international society and she chose against it and lied about inflation and poverty in Argentina. But instead of righting the wrongs of previous governments and finding solutions, the Kirchners ended up just continuing with cronyism and corruption. The numbers regarding inflation and poverty statistics were faked and not recognised internationally anymore[16]. This does not help anyone and especially Argentina lost out on this. Only by conducting the trials, pressure was taken off Mrs Fernández de Kirchner – both nationally and internationally. The trials only existed to distract from the economic catastrophe that continued and was worsened under the Kirchners and their illegal dealings.

Some Final Words

To sum up, some final notes on the problems of so-called left-wing populism, the Kirchner and Latin American left. I will write more about this in the next part but hopefully this highlights why I personally can no longer identify nor support this movement at this time. I want to introduce this by describing the problems of the new populist left and Argentina.

Sadly, the so-called left, anti-liberal ideas do not provide solutions to the world’s problems and they are not the future of the left. A major problem of the left is that it does not deal with its own history as it only focuses on blaming the others. Through this constant denial and blame culture, it is no longer constructive and becomes even less attractive. Populism ‘works’ short time as shouting gets you heard, but over time people will notice that things get worse and that it is based on empty promises. For me, especially Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is an example this and she discredits the left. But she is not alone. The Latin American populist left has adopted classic right-wing populist ideas and protect their supporters against the rest of the country. They create an ‘us and them’ scenario on all levels, including economy and judiciary – one law for us, and another one for them.

One problem is the betrayal of its own supporters as it pointed out in an interesting huffingtonpost.com article[17]. It highlights that populism does not liberate and that it polarises society. The perfect example is Venezuela which has become so polarised that a solution to the current chaos seems impossible. I want to argue that Argentina was going to head down this route in the 1970s and again during the Kirchner administration and it is not the solution. In extreme cases like Venezuela, that has a weak leader who lacks the charisma of Chavez, it has to resort more and more to violence – and the same for the opposition that resulted from the polarisation of populism. It is a warning to all countries.

Interestingly, the old inequalities remain in the so-called left countries and sometimes these inequalities are reversed. It is of course important to solve poverty and to have equality of all in a country but these regimes reverse these and now give power to people who at times are revengeful against the former elites. That is not the way to solve problems and it confirms old prejudice. The new left populism is very authoritarian and oppressive against anyone they see as potential opposition. They are no longer different to the right-wing regimes of the past.

From the same post, an interesting comparison is made by highlighting and comparing “the moment of deep break when the very Mussolini that promised to “hang the last Pope with the guts of the last King” once in power cuts a deal with the former and embraces the latter. Or when Argentine President Kirchner, always eager to highlight in the socially responsible policies of her administration, dresses in Louis Vuitton and the family of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro travels in private planes. The political tale and its underlying philosophy is revealed as vacuous when confronted with reality. Faced with the challenge of populism, let us then defend the imperfect liberalism that allows for questions, for compromises, one that refuses to demonize the enemy or allow for indefinite re-elections. Faced with the choice, let us choose more humanism and more democracy. Theory aside, in politics messiahs of populism belong in the dustbin of history.”

Another article from standpintmag.com[18] provides a good account and it is a bit more favourable on Nestor Kirchner’s presidency but highlights the problems with Cristina de Fernández de Kirchner. It discusses the typical blame culture and the hypocrisy of her presidency and again highlights the problems of Venezuela and how they were allies of Argentina during the Kirchner years “for the same reasons: a bloated and wasteful public sector, mismanaged publicly-owned enterprises, and deep-seated government corruption and cronyism. Mrs Kirchner artfully cast herself as Evita’s successor when she started out in politics while denying anything of the sort, and to this day she trades on her femininity and her own personal tragedy, only recently addressing the nation on television to inveigh against the “vultures” while invoking the memory of her late husband as the man who had taken them on in the first place.  But her constant attacks on her enemies, real and imagined, may not be as effective as she imagines.  She will not lack for creature comforts: the Kirchners are believed to have amassed a tidy fortune by shrewd property dealing in Santa Cruz. The saddest aspect of her legacy, however, is a charge that can be levelled at every Argentine political leader since Juan Domingo Perón: that they have squandered the assets that should have consolidated Argentina, blessed with rich natural and human resources, as the most stable and prosperous country in Latin America instead of an international basket case.  But for the administration led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner the vultures have spread their wings much farther than Wall Street: they consist of anyone who dares to oppose the government.”

The methods of the populists can be seen best understood by the ways and means of the Kirchner administration. “At home, Mrs. Kirchner’s turned a law intended to broadcast key announcements into a permanent political platform. These lies help cover up more pernicious government meddling. In March [2010], Mrs. Kirchner destroyed the Argentine central bank’s independence, rewriting its charter to allow the government unlimited use of the bank’s reserves to pay its debts—a sure-fire recipe for still more damaging inflation and a debased currency. Even worse, authoritarian controls have bred multiple exchange rates: If you are a friend of the government, a dollar costs 4.5 pesos. For anyone else, it is more than six. Instant arbitrage makes cronyism profitable. If the private system lacked proper oversight, the new system is unambiguously designed to raid funds for political ends. How else can one explain a plan unveiled last month to offer housing at 20% negative real interest rates—funded by social security and to be built by Kirchner cronies—when a majority of pensions are below subsistence levels? With a toxic mix of inflation, authoritarianism and corruption bringing the economy to a standstill, Mrs. Kirchner has been touring the world for new friends. For a government that focused on prosecuting the genocidal crimes of the 1970’s military junta, it is rather surprising that the latest trade missions have been to dictatorial Azerbaijan, where democracy advocates are regularly imprisoned, and Angola, where a corrupt ruling family has maintained power for 30 years by perpetrating violent crimes against dissenters. As the U.S. gears up for an important presidential election, Argentina is a sad reminder of how government takeovers and crony capitalism are the enemy of genuine development.[19]

I think these examples highlight the problems that the left needs to address. Is it just about selfish populism and hence short-term power games that undermine basic rights of people during the administration and criminalises automatically anyone opposing them? Or shall a fair society be built? Human rights organisations need to ask themselves the same questions – do they praise authoritarian regimes for punishing junior officers for crimes a state committed where they themselves had no say, or shall they fight for a just, constitutional future of the country without loopholes for anyone and therefore protecting future generations?

References and Footnotes

[1] The corruption is certainly linked to Peronistas, but it is not exclusively. It is part of Argentinian politics (and everyday life). A depressing account is written by Escudé, Carlos. “From Captive to Failed State: Argentina under Systemic Populism, 1975-2006.” Fletcher F. World Aff. 30 (2006): 125.

[2] A recent TV interview on C5N proved this again. Always the populists are innocent and the others are wrong. It is a shame as the current government is trying to be honest about statistics and admit therefore for failing to improve the living conditions. However, they provide a basis to work from. Giving false information might look better on the news but it ignores the problems and denies solutions

[3] Sometimes I wonder if the crimes of the Junta are “milked” by some previous governments to justify anything and to distract from their own wrong doing. The past can be convenient to manipulate the present.

[4] One can of course argue that this is normal in Argentinian politics since Peron’s return in 1973, however, the case of the Kirchners has taken everything to a new and different level and the entire country is more polarised than ever and reconciliation is simply not possible – it is not even encouraged.

[5] Ian Hislop HIGNFY Series 50 Episode 10

[6] The Chinese power to “buy” countries to stop HR protests is long and the Kirchners, amongst other left-wing ideologists praise them. A recent example is Greece vetoing the EU from challenging the Chinese HR record in the UN (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/18/greece-eu-criticism-un-china-human-rights-record). One could ponder about the uses of HR in today’s world…

[7] Charles Krautheimer, 2010, Washington Post

[8] Escudé, Carlos. “From Captive to Failed State: Argentina under Systemic Populism, 1975-2006.” Fletcher F. World Aff. 30 (2006): 125.

[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/world/americas/26argentina.html ; http://www.heritage.org/international-economies/report/cronyism-and-corruption-are-killing-economic-freedom-argentina#

[10] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-12822426

[11] http://www.businessinsider.fr/us/cristina-fernandez-is-destroying-the-argentinian-economy-2012-4/

[12] http://money.cnn.com/2016/05/14/news/economy/cristina-fernandez-de-kirchner-charged/

[13] http://www.heritage.org/international-economies/report/cronyism-and-corruption-are-killing-economic-freedom-argentina#

[14] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-36292010; http://www.thebubble.com/new-embezzlement-charge-cristina/

[15] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/09/argentina-cristina-fernandez-de-kirchner-money-laundering-investigation

[16] The IMF rejected the inflation statistics and the UCA had published much higher figures of poverty than the government claimed (e.g. http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=1861767970&Country=Argentina&topic=Economy) Interestingly, these figures fit in much better with the new numbers of the current government and show that poverty and inflation have been a problem for a very long time. It does not help to fake statistics as this does not allow to improve the situation of a country. Poverty figures by Escudé put them at 45% in 2006!

[17] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pierpaolo-barbieri/populism-ends-badly_b_6752576.html

[18] http://standpointmag.co.uk/overrated-october-14-president-cristina-kirchner-robert-low-argentina?page=0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C1

[19] http://www.belfercenter.org/publication/lesson-crony-capitalism

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