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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 07-12-2019 12:19

Cristina is back, on steroids

Unless the new president manages to tie her down, next week Argentina will fall into the hands of a lady many of her compatriots, and most foreign leaders and businessmen, believe to be extremely corrupt.

Alberto Fernández is about to become president, thanks to the support of many people who would never have voted for a ticket topped by his running-mate, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, because they think she is as untrustworthy as they come. She herself is well aware that, popular as she no doubt is in the enormous slum belt that has the Federal Capital in a vice-like grip, in the rest of the country she is widely disliked. That is why – after suffering defeat in Buenos Aires Province in the mid-term legislative elections by the relatively little-known Esteban Bullrich, who until then had been education minister in Mauricio Macri’s government – Cristina realised it would be better to get someone else to lead the charge.

The ruse worked. Peronist bosses, among them Sergio Massa, who had sworn they would never have anything to do with her, found the arrangement to their liking and joined the coalition she quickly put together. To justify their decision, they repeated a mantra to the effect that, while by herself Cristina did not have enough votes to win a presidential election outright, unless they added those she had to their own, they too would fall short.

During the campaign, Cristina kept a back seat, thereby encouraging both the Peronist “moderates” and a considerable chunk of the electorate to think she had lost interest in politics and only wanted to cling to the parliamentary privileges that would keep her out of jail and give her enough influence to protect her ailing daughter Florencia, who has been holed up in Cuba for many months, from those who wanted to nail her.

Last week, Cristina dynamited that pleasant illusion. She did so by taking full advantage of a day in court to mount a furious attack against much of the Judiciary, most of the media and her political foes starting with Macri. The judges who wanted to question her about the industrial-scale looting that went on when she occupied the Pink House could hardly get a word in. Her face contorted with anger, she let them know that she had already been absolved by history (just as many years ago Fidel Castro had predicted he would be) and that it was her accusers who were now on trial. As for Alberto, unfazed by Cristina’s insinuation that he too should be put in the dock, he said her defence had been simply “marvellous, impeccable.”

Not surprisingly, the soon-to-be vice president’s extraordinarily aggressive performance filled many with foreboding. Journalists, judges, prosecutors and others who have a low opinion of Cristina and her cronies now have good reason to fear that the incoming government will be more interested in punishing them for their refusal to revise their points of view than in making a genuine effort to knock the country’s ramshackle economy into some kind of shape and heal its festering political wounds. They know that even if Alberto and Cristina do nothing more than fling insults at them, there are plenty of individuals out there who would be only too happy to make the most of what they would see as an invitation to lynch any alleged enemy of the people who crosses their path. The gloomier among them think Argentina could be in for a period of mob rule.

Many who voted for Alberto did so because they believed that, with the help of reasonable, middle-of-the-road Peronists, he would be able to keep Cristina and her wilder supporters in check. Perhaps he will try once he has been sworn in, but so far he has shown little desire to play that particular role. On the contrary, he has been doing his considerable best to persuade the more excitable Kirchnerites that he is one of them and is as determined as they are to put unfriendly journalists, judges who take seriously all that guff about judicial independence and a great many others in what he thinks is their proper place.

Cristina and, since getting into her good graces, Alberto, insist that while in office she never stole a single penny and that all the evidence that has been piled up against her is fake. They make out she has been the target of what must be one of the most successful defamation campaigns the world has ever seen. In addition to producing huge numbers of videos, documents of one kind and another and forcing hundreds of weak-minded collaborators, including businessmen, to sign supposedly phony confessions in exchange for shortened jail terms or refuge in a witness protection programme, the masterminds behind it managed to find US$5 million in her daughter’s safe deposit box. Florencia says she inherited them from her dad, Néstor Kirchner, who had made a modest packet strong-arming people unable to meet their rapidly increasing mortgage payments before going into politics where, in theory at any rate, he would have been hard put to acquire that kind of money.

With so much convincing evidence against her, Cristina has no choice but to insist she is the victim of a monstrous political plot. In her view, and that of Pope Francis, she, along with Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is a victim of “lawfare” (the pun on warfare has already been incorporated, untranslated, into the local political jargon), which according to them is being used by reactionaries to get at “progressives” who want to help the poor. Had she been so minded, she could have justified the liberation of huge amounts of money by saying she wanted to put it all at the service of a leftist revolution, but perhaps she thought that would have been a bit too much. In any event, impressive as the tirade she aimed at the court judges undoubtedly was, it had nothing much to do with the charges levelled against her.

Unless the new president manages to tie her down, next week Argentina will fall into the hands of a lady many of her compatriots, and most foreign leaders and businessmen, believe to be extremely corrupt. This will not make winning the trust of would-be investors or influential entities like the International Monetary Fund any easier. Neither, for that matter, would an all-out offensive by the government against parts of the Judiciary, the press, and those opposition politicians who are unwilling to pay her the homage she feels is her due. So as well as facing what could soon become an economic firestorm which would impoverish a large proportion of the country’s inhabitants, Argentina could well find herself torn apart by political conflicts every bit as vicious as the ones that made the 1970s such a wretchedly memorable decade.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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