Argentina’s Judiciary is in the middle of a firestorm and Justice Minister Germán Garavano fanned the flames a little further this week, when he hinted in an interview that he was tired of public office.
Having little to no political background prior to taking his post, he had discovered “pettiness,” a “lack of commitment” and “many lies,” he said. “Four years are really exhausting and it is a good period to lay the foundations for reforms,” he told the La990 radio station.
Some immediately speculated that the statements he made to Mauro Viale meant he wanted to leave the Mauricio Macri administration. Garavano, however, says that’s nonsense.
“If the president was re-elected and asked me to continue, I would do so with great honour,” Garavano said in conversation with the Times this week.
“When I referred to pettiness, I was giving my personal opinion and a description of how public office works,” he explained.
Why is the minister so upset? Sources close to Garavano say he has the total support of Mauricio Macri and point out that the president dedicated a large part of his state-of-the-nation speech opening the legislative year to talking about initiatives of the Justice Ministry: a reshaping of the juvenile penal system, as well as public ethics legislation and a new Penal Code bill.
The minister has regularly found himself in the headlines of late. Just last week, Garavano was caught up in the eye of the storm when Federal Oral Court No. 2 delivered a sentence in the trial for the cover-up of the 1994 AMIA Jewish community centre bombing. Memoria Activa, one of the organisations that gathers relatives of the victims and acted as a plaintiff in the trial, demanded his resignation. The group, along with the former head of the Justice Ministry’s AMIA Unit, Mario Cimadevilla, accused Garavano of having forced the state plaintiffs to ask for the acquittal of prosecutors Eamon Mullen and José Barbaccia, who ended up being convicted on charges they diverted the investigation into the terrorist attack.
They are not the only ones who have requested the minister’s exit from government. So did Elisa “Lilita” Carrió, the founding member of the ruling Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition. Last year, the Civic Coalition leader asked for Garavano’s impeachment, accusing him for good measure of seeking to grant impunity to former president Carlos Menem, who stood trial on allegations he was part of the cover-up (he was later cleared).
Sources close to Garavano, however, play down Carrió’s onslaught, saying it is all part of the ‘game’ of politics. With Cimadevilla though, things are different. So far, the request by the former head of the AMIA Unit hasn’t made progress.
According to reports, the minister is frustrated with some of his coalition allies, members of opposition parties and, above all, judges and prosecutors.
Garavano went public with criticism recently as the scandal involving alleged lawyer Marcelo D’Alessio and federal prosecutor Carlos Stornelli – the official in charge of the ‘cuadernos’ (“notebooks”) case – grew out of a federal court in Dolores, Buenos Aires province. On the same day the AMIA cover-up verdict was issued, Garavano said that over the past 30 years, Argentina’s secret services have continued to meddle in judicial investigations – without excluding the Let’s Change administration from that description.
In January, the new federal Code of Criminal Procedure came into force. It will begin to be implemented first by Salta, Jujuy and then in the south. It will take a long time before it reaches the Comodoro Py courthouse, where it will change the chessboard, ceding more power to prosecutors.
One of Garavano’s additional complaints is that he was not able to appoint a new attorney general after the resignation of Alejandra Gils Carbó, who hastened her departure while the complaints filed and promoted by government allies grew. For the minister, it was a half-victory: he managed to oust Gils Carbó – seen as a detractor of the Macri administration – but failed to find the necessary senatorial votes to name Inés Weinberg de Roca as her replacement.
Another issue of concern to the Macri administration is the agenda of rulings prepared by the Supreme Court, some of which come with heavy economic implications for the government. For the Executive branch, the nation’s highest court became unpredictable after Carlos Rosenkrantz replaced Ricardo Lorenzetti as the chief justice. Rosenkrantz has failed to find allies while, in contrast, Lorenzetti, Horacio Rosatti and Juan Carlos Maqueda seem to have formed a compact bloc.
Although he maintains weekly contact with the justices, Garavano knows he is not to blame for what happens within the Talcahuano Palace.