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OP-ED | 07-10-2023 06:40

Of dirty money and ‘dirty wars’

With corruption being rubbed in its face by Insaurralde’s Marbella yacht jaunt and with the ballot-box in only a fortnight’s time as a readymade outlet, how will the citizenry react?

Even if the extravagant folly of a self-destructive Buenos Aires Province Cabinet Chief (until then) Martín Insaurralde on the eve of last Sunday’s presidential debate could hardly be ignored (although not entering to the degree expected), none of the five candidates made any issue out of corruption in general or any suggestion that ethics and transparency might be criteria in politics – a striking absence which nevertheless failed to draw as much comment as libertarian Javier Milei’s curious reticence about his pet nostrum of dollarisation.

Yet the blame for turning a blind eye to corruption cannot be restricted to the quintet on stage last weekend (and tomorrow in this city). The general public was given its chance to place corruption on the agenda by being invited to define the third segment in the two debates and struck out both times (“Human rights and democratic co-existence” was their choice for last weekend and “Human development, housing and environmental protection” for tomorrow – all too human, a cynic might say). With corruption being rubbed in its face by Insaurralde’s Marbella yacht jaunt and with the ballot-box in only a fortnight’s time as a readymade outlet, how will the citizenry react? That platitude of every country having the government it deserves can be exaggerated (as it would also be wrong to ignore, like most clichés) but this is the challenge which must be met by the electorate before this month is out.

Having faulted first the five debate participants and then more or less everybody, it would be unfair not also to single out the rest of the political world for its almost blanket silence. Even the man with the most to gain from this shambles – Juntos por el Cambio gubernatorial candidate and Lanús Mayor Néstor Grindetti seeking to deny Buenos Aires Province Peronist Governor Axel Kicillof re-election – went to extremes of moderation when he said that he did not meddle in private lives. Could it be that Lanús and Insaurralde‘s district of Lomas de Zamora have more than being geographical neighbours in common? The mainstream opposition can always present the electoral excuse that playing up the scandal might only feed Milei’s anti-caste crusade at their expense but then Milei is again curiously silent here.

Seemingly a cross-party complicity of silence which only serves to underline the scale of corruption. Insaurralde is far from being a stray sheep, as his party comrades would like to depict him, not even within his home turf because the Lomas mayoral candidate to succeed him is Federico Otermín, the Speaker of a barely active Buenos Aires provincial legislature costing the taxpayer some 36 billion pesos annually and thus at the heart of last month’s scandal – the electrician Jorge ‘Chocolate’ Rigau caught cashing the cards of dozens of legislative employees and thus the middleman of a suspected political gravy train.

Only the tip of an iceberg although lacking the technicolour obscenity of Insaurralde’s Mediterranean escapades – surely the most outrageous flaunting of corruption since José López tossing dollar-laden bags over a convent wall in mid-2016. There may be more to this shocking episode than meets the eye (gaming payback?) but what meets the eye is more than enough for now.

Corruption was not the only orphan of last Sunday’s debate any more than dollarisation – curiously enough, human rights should also be listed despite being one of the three segments. Why? Because Milei pushed the envelope and crossed the line at several points while the pushback from his rivals was generally lame. Repudiating Milei with the single word of “denialist” is, strictly speaking, inadmissible because he does speak of “excesses” but that is already bad enough, diluting the state terrorism of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship beyond any recognition. While only a lunatic fringe of leftist and Peronist militants could deny guerrilla violence (although denialism can also be found there) and although the terrorists did some terrible things because that is the nature of the beast, the atrocities of the dictatorship cannot be covered up by presenting them as a war on terrorism. There has been no war without some soldier “missing in action” but that nightmare period of Argentine invented the category of “disappeared” – in wars bodies are sometimes smashed to smithereens by bombs or grenades but whole identities are never annihilated.  When were baby-snatching or death flights over the River Plate ever legitimate military targets in war? Milei is not a denialist, he is worse – a vindicator.

Points which never should have been absent from the debate but that was then and corruption is now.

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