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OP-ED | 26-08-2022 10:29

Trial of the century or a century on trial?

There was an air of climax about Diego Luciani’s conclusion of the case for the prosecution last Monday but in reality the trial has only just begun.

If some 230 years ago the French revolutionaries decided that as an infant republic they could not just bump off Louis XVI but had to place him on trial with only one possible verdict of guilty, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner today seems to aspire to a similarly one-track justice – no presidential pardon (rejected in midweek by President Alberto Fernández as “monarchical”) but a trial with the confirmation of her innocence as the only acceptable outcome.

When the pre-trial proceedings of the Santa Cruz highway contract case reaching its current climax this week with federal prosecutor Diego Luciani’s request for a 12-year sentence and a permanent ban from public office began in late 2019, the Vice-President made the histrionic claim that history had absolved or acquitted her. It is worth looking at that claim made in the flush of electoral victory only five weeks previously and comparing it with the current grim economic context which cannot be ignored. Three years ago that triumph was sealed by enough voters turning a blind eye to corruption (then admitted by even around half of Frente de Todos supporters) because they were more concerned about the dent in their real wages – with runaway inflation driving a coach and horses through real wages as the leading concern of public opinion today, can Cristina Kirchner count on the same verdict from an electoral tribunal now?

In this sense it might be worth asking whether the massive distraction of this trial of Kirchnerite corruption is a help or a hindrance for the new Economy Minister Sergio Massa as he takes his thus far timid baby steps towards austerity but the subject of this editorial must remain that trial as the undisputed centre of attention in this week’s news. 

Assuming in advance her conviction within a hostile judicial system and not being able to count on any electoral verdict beyond the courtrooms, the hard-pressed veep nevertheless does not stand alone. Her resilience lies not so much in her meretricious arguments of “lawfare” persecution of an innocent champion of the masses, which does not convince anybody except the already convinced fanatics, but in an empathy with her plight extending in political ranks well beyond a strangely united Peronism. Crony capitalism is the name of the game within public works and there is hardly a provincial governor who could escape scrutiny here – nor is there any such thing as a wholly private sector because the sheer size of the state makes it impossible for even companies with the purest entrepreneurial ethos to ignore the government. The opposition is not exempt from shady operators like Daniel Angelici or Nicky Caputo (implausibly blamed for the dollar-laden bags of her Public Works Secretary José López in Tuesday’s vice-presidential diatribe). The whole trial is thus a dangerous precedent for the entire political establishment, the more so if an elected government can be branded as an “illicit association.” Even the far left, which should be free from any such inhibitions as outside the system, has bizarrely sprung to Cristina Kirchner’s defence against their own electoral self-interest since they are in direct competition with Kirchnerism for the working-class vote.

There was an air of climax about Luciani’s conclusion of the case for the prosecution last Monday but in reality the trial has only just begun while there is no finality even to the surrounding fireworks – if it seemed that the Vice-President had fired every possible loose cannon in her 90-minute onslaught on Tuesday, President Fernández trumped her the next day with his dumbfounding hope that Luciani would not commit suicide like Alberto Nisman. And while broad sectors of both media and public opinion seem to be jumping to the conclusion that Cristina Kirchner already stands convicted, they should bear in mind that they are thus echoing the defendant’s own viewpoint – those who profess to defend the institutions against Kirchnerite populism should be the first to respect the times of the trial and await the final verdict.

In conclusion, the judicial war of Cristina Kirchner, a top priority throughout the Frente de Todos government to its own detriment, occupied centre stage almost exclusively last week but might there not be other issues – was William Shakespeare right when he wrote: “All the world’s a stage”?    

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