If Thursday was the 76th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, will it now go down here as a “day of infamy” too? Was it a treacherous attack by the slanted judges of a “totalitarian corporate state” or are ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her co-defendants arrested and/or indicted that day “traitors to the country” for whom no punishment is too harsh? Passions are riding high but this escalation of tensions calls for a more dispassionate viewpoint.
Dispassionate in both judicial and political terms. Why Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio has chosen only now to bring to trial charges related to a treaty with Iran signed almost five years ago is a judicial question which cannot be separated from its political context. At the legal level the recent outburst of selective justice, whereby figures linked to the previous government can now be imprisoned prior to conviction in non-criminal cases, without any change in legislation or jurisprudence, is cause for concern but in this particular trial it can also be asked whether there is any case at all. Among the many irrational decisions of the Fernández de Kirchner presidency, the 2013 memorandum of understanding with Iran is a strong candidate to be the worst but even the biggest mistakes cannot be taken to court as crimes (the dollar futures trial would be another example) – governments are elected to make decisions in domestic and foreign policy and these are only accountable to the voters, not judges.
Why these alleged acts of high treason have suddenly become so outrageous almost five years after the event and two years into the Mauricio Macri administration as from tomorrow is something calling for a political rather than legal explanation. For almost two years the conventional wisdom of most pundits has agreed that keeping the Cristina firebrand burning as a toxic asset dividing Peronism has been the key to Macri’s electoral success – why toss this strategy out of this window as abruptly as not jailing people ahead of conviction in favour of “lock her up” political persecution? The simple explanation might be that this is a purely individual initiative from a Bonadio trying to ingratiate himself with the government without appreciating the longer-term strategy.
Yet there are also reasons to believe that the prime mover here is not Macri, as charged by Fernández de Kirchner on Thursday, but Senate Majority Leader Miguel Angel Pichetto. This week there had been a last-minute Kirchnerite drive to impose the former president as leader of the Peronist caucus, arguing that it is Pichetto who should leave – Bonadio’s decision not only counters any faint chance of the often malleable Peronist senators being browbeaten into submission (with the help of aggressive marches) but places Fernández de Kirchner permanently on the defensive by making her dependent on Pichetto’s senators for her parliamentary immunity.
Far from being an epic confrontration this is in many ways may be a political win-win situation for everybody – Macri has his main rival in a tight spot but she can play the victim and regain protagonism (which can also help the government), while Pichetto can play both ends by simultaneously sidelining and saving his adversary. Perhaps ultimately a tempest in a teapot since everybody knows that for all Bonadio’s judicial grandstanding, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will not be going to jail.