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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 30-05-2020 10:43

Under cover of darkness

Alberto has shown no signs of wanting to be his own man, whoever he may be. Far from rebelling against Cristina’s tutelage, he seems afraid to do anything that might displease her.

Had she been so inclined, Mrs Cristina Fernández de Kirchner could have explained to the world that, while her fundraising techniques may have been a bit heterodox (as indeed, were those of Montoneros whose veterans she has incorporated into her movement), everything she did when ruling the country was for a noble cause; among left-wingers it is widely understood that to help them achieve their objectives revolutionaries must acquire plenty of money and are therefore entitled to liberate some from the people who have it. However, instead of trying to put all that corruption business in what her house intellectuals would say was its proper political context, Cristina and her followers simply deny point-blank that she broke any of the prevailing bourgeois rules which are enshrined in laws they say are illegitimate. According to her spokesman, Alberto Fernández, all the many charges against her should be dropped immediately because nobody can prove she stole a single penny.

Does Alberto really believe this? Or is it simply that, influenced by advanced thinkers of the French school who a couple of decades ago were quite popular in academe, he is convinced that truth is an arbitrary construct which depends entirely on the circumstances, so what yesterday he thought was indisputable is anything but today but could well be tomorrow? Such flexibility may be de rigueur in certain circles, but even here most people tend to take an old-fashioned view of such matters.

As far as a great many Argentines are concerned, while in power Cristina and her cronies really did steal a huge amount of money and should be behind bars. Had it not been for such prejudices, she would have run for president herself instead of asking Alberto to act as her stalking horse. It is also widely accepted that, given half a chance, she would be happy to turn Argentina into a slightly less tropical version of Venezuela, a once fairly rich but now desperately poor and disease-ridden country ruled by murderous thugs who allegedly share her political views.

Despite all this, Cristina is anything but finished. On the contrary, with Alberto going out of his way to cater to her every whim, she is the most powerful person in the land. Whatever she tells him she wants, she ends up getting. With much of the country imprisoned by the coronavirus, she has managed to make the Judiciary dance to her tune. For the last couple of weeks, supporters in key positions have been busily putting up roadblocks to stop judges and prosecutors nailing her for using her chain of hotels for money-laundering, snuggling up to blood-thirsty Iranian theocrats plausibly accused of planning and helping to execute the blowing up of the AMIA Jewish Community Centre in 1994, in which 85 people died and hundreds were injured, and much else besides. 

Her followers have also started pressing hard for economic changes designed to make Argentina even less capitalist than she currently is; what passes here for “the state” is a ramshackle, hopelessly inefficient, grotesquely overstaffed and pathologically politicised affair, but devout Kirchnerites think it should take over whatever the coronavirus leaves of the already broken-down economy.

In most other recognisably Western countries, a political movement centred on a person whose overriding objective is to stay out of jail would by now have been pushed to the fringes. This has not happened because, despite her innumerable failures and failings, Cristina enjoys the support of many ambitious people who back her either because, like Axel Kiciloff, they swear they take her ideological pretensions seriously or because – as is surely the case with Alberto and Sergio Massa – when elections were drawing near they felt suitably impressed by her ability to keep the votes of millions of slum-dwellers who, for some mysterious reason, think she is on their side. Thanks to the willingness of politicos that were widely regarded as Peronist moderates to join forces with her, she could put together a coalition that got almost half the votes in last year’s presidential elections.

For a time, many expected Alberto to use the opportunity Cristina had given him by placing him in the Pink House to build a personal power base and then start kicking out the many individuals in what theoretically was his government but who answered only to her. And when his tough reaction to the coronavirus threat sent his approval rating rocketing skywards, they assumed he would at least make the most of the opportunity it gave him to get rid of those Kirchnerite office-holders who treat him with open contempt, but to their disappointment Alberto has shown no signs of wanting to be his own man, whoever he may be. Far from rebelling against Cristina’s tutelage, he seems afraid to do anything that might displease her.

If ideas, principles and concern for the well being of others counted for more than tribal loyalties, Argentina’s political elite should be able to form a pragmatic centrist government which reflects public opinion. If what they once said is anything to go by, the Peronist “moderates” – who for years had been professing themselves appalled by the corruption of the Kirchnerite dispensation and reluctant to let themselves be pushed around by dodgy individuals with outlandish ideas – have much more in common with most of the people who threw in their lot with Mauricio Macri than with Cristina and her friends. 

Perhaps something like this will happen after Covid-19 has finished its work and the country, like so many others, finally faces up to the destruction both it and the drastic measures taken to keep it at bay have wrought. By then, even more people could be unwilling to put up with the in-your-face corruption that remains a Kirchnerite speciality or allow their country to ruin itself as Venezuela has so successfully done. Though the rancorous fury millions who have been impoverished and seen their future darkened will feel seems bound to encourage extremism, a more likely outcome – with or without an intervening period of turmoil – would be a collective decision to adopt a more level-headed approach to the vast number of problems confronting the country than is favoured by Kirchnerites, who are more interested in putting a wrecking ball to the many things they dislike than in trying to make them better.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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