That Venezuelan cargo plane with a crew including mysterious Iranians – a news splash overrunning all other items in most media outlets this week – is a random factor entering out of the blue for a government sinking ever deeper into the red, concealing as much as reflecting more substantial issues.
Thus this curious incident immediately placed under the spotlight the Frente de Todos government’s foreign policy and its questionable choice of friends such as the dictatorial Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela and the Islamic Republic of Iran (tagged for the terrorist attacks here over the last three decades) – just when President Alberto Fernández was starting to put behind him his Kremlin flirtations a fortnight before the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.
Yet the storm of opposition criticism on this front also had the effect of changing the subject in the government’s favour. Kirchnerism’s relationship with Iran and Venezuela are both very old stories to which everybody is used by now – a far more recent development, which should perhaps have been the main target of opposition critiques, was the way President Fernández played party-pooper at the recent Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles by quibbling over the guest list, but the rogue flight distracted attention completely. The damage done by the Argentine president’s gratuitously irresponsible insistence on making the absence of three undemocratic countries the main issue cannot be overestimated – all the lost opportunities to harness trade and investment to tap the enormous natural resources and human capital of this country and region, reversing their drift to poverty. A perhaps unique opportunity to embark on hemispheric trade and investment agreements all thrown away in favour of some cheap ideological grandstanding but President Fernández has largely escaped any reproach here – all because of that Mahan/Emtrasur aircraft.
The cargo of the Venezuelan aeroplane is another case in point. All kinds of frenzied speculation have arisen over the real reasons behind its surprise presence here with espionage recently springing to the forefront, but what if there is nothing more to this story than its stated purpose of importing auto parts from Mexico for assembly at a Volkswagen plant in Greater Buenos Aires (a cargo verified by the stringent inspections of the aircraft so much in the spotlight)? In that case any scandal would seem to evaporate but it could also lead to a more serious question if that flight is the tip of an import iceberg. The answer to that question of why auto parts and so much else are being imported is a monstrous exchange rate gap which makes it far less costly to import than produce (with no simple answers since any limits would only release the pesos now absorbed by imports to chase a domestic supply restricted by the lack of inputs, thus fuelling inflation). If Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner asked aloud why the metal for the Néstor Kirchner gas pipeline had to be imported from Brazil, thus delaying that vital artery, there is her answer.
In contrast, the baby steps of the new AFI intelligence chief Agustín Rossi have been highlighted rather than cloaked by this episode – his first moves there would in all probability have passed under the radar otherwise. But instead Rossi immediately shot himself in the foot with his improvised television appearance suggesting that this shady flight was nothing more than an Iranian training class – are cargo planes normal vehicles for flight instruction and is it necessary to fly the over 7,000 kilometres from Mexico to teach flying skills (not to mention the flights to Russia, Serbia and Paraguay in the previous fortnight, quite apart from Argentina, Mexico, Iran and Venezuela)? Yet the intelligence world also warrants a broader spotlight than its role in this episode because the ignorance displayed here is more dangerous in other arenas. Thus as the drug gang slaughter in Rosario continues (with a 19-month-old baby as one of the latest victims), the decision almost two years ago to abolish prison intelligence operations (because of the evidence of Kirchnerite corruption thus acquired) becomes ever harder to justify.
All the mystery surrounding this aircraft has triggered an infinity of questions which also serve to cover a multitude of sins giving rise to deeper questions requiring an explanation.