The coronavirus pandemic is anything but over, with the latest figures suggesting that the famous peak could be coming in the second half of May after all following weeks of relative calm. But quarantine now seems to have been lifted on the political front – and not just because Congress is back in session. Nor is this necessarily a bad thing – political criticism can no more be indefinitely suspended in the face of health emergencies than economic activity. The government is an obvious target for criticism with its huge difficulties compounded by some unforced errors – its debt negotiations, monetary interventions and foreign policy (Mercosur complications, for example) among others are all topics to which we will be returning critically with the former sure to bulk large next week as the default deadline arrives. But the opposition also needs to be included in the criticism, not least for its critiques – both because of what it is criticising and not criticising.
If the release of convicts was the big controversy around the turn of the month, the Anti-Corruption Office’s withdrawal on Thursday as a plaintiff in the cases investigating the Kirchner family hotel chain for money-laundering has sprung to the forefront, with widespread opposition outrage over “consecrating the impunity of corruption.” Nor do these suspicions seem at all unfounded if a presidential appointee decides that there is no case against this administration’s vice-president and the chief of its lower house caucus among other defendants – even if Anti-Corruption Office (OA in its Spanish acronym) head Félix Crous argues that a money-laundering case belongs more properly to the Unit of Financial Information (UIF, in its Spanish acronym) specialising in that area. However, the opposition is also throwing stones from a glass house if similar inaction by Laura Alonso – the predecessor of Crous under the Mauricio Macri administration – in cases involving former Energy minister Juan José Aranguren and former AFI intelligence chief Gustavo Arribas among others is recalled – malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance?
Such memories lend themselves readily to the conclusion that one side is as bad as the other, which is valid at one level but not at another. Leo Tolstoy’s famous opening line from Anna Karenina – “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” – can be transposed to read: “All honest governments are alike but each corrupt government is corrupt in its own way.” This is not to say that the unprecedented scale of Kirchnerite corruption under investigation can be placed on a par with Aranguren’s admittedly crass conflict of interests (a Shell ex-president and continuing shareholder heading the Energy Ministry) – here there can be no “two demons” theory and the outrage against the alleged whitewashing Kirchnerite graft, ahead of due investigation and the process of law, is fully justified.
Where there is little to choose between the two sides is the institutional monstrosity of allowing governments to choose anti-corruption officials entirely in the presidential (or vice-presidential) pocket – here Alonso and Crous are two sides of exactly the same coin, the former coming from the parliamentary ranks of Macri’s own PRO party and the latter an ex-prosecutor co-founding the ultra-Kirchnerite Justicia Legítima grouping. But the OA once again proving a bad joke is not the only example of hypocrisy on all sides – the intense wheeling and dealing now underway in the Magistrates Council to dismiss accusations of venality and other irregularities against judges of all tendencies (presumably to smooth the path for the government’s judicial reform) places both sides on the same sordid level.
Beyond this issue, it might also be asked if the opposition is choosing its battles wisely. When the big noise was the house arrest order for occasionally dangerous convicts due to the coronavirus risks in overcrowded prisons, the opposition should not only be faulted for exaggerating a valid complaint with considerable misinformation – meanwhile, a La Cámpora militant was being appointed to head the ANSES social security administration, Argentina’s only institution with a 17-digit annual budget (in pesos, of course) and yet this huge advance for the more extreme wing of the government’s coalition passed almost unnoticed amid the uproar over the prisoners. Now the rage is directed against the alleged impunity for Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner but behind the scenes the government has embarked on a renewal of superpowers which include placing the entire budget at the discretion of the Cabinet chief’s office. Surely the future of republican institutions and the market economy in the pandemic emergency should be the issue for the opposition? Perhaps not only people but oppositions get the government they deserve.