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December 11, 2020

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ARGENTINA: Understanding CFK’s political aloofness

BY Nicholas Watson

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Vice-President Cristina Fernandez (CFK)’s latest open letter published on 9 December is another reminder that her over-riding objective is the pursuit of legal impunity for herself and her children. It also points to a political strategy akin to a “bad bank” scheme in which President Alberto Fernandez assumes all the risks of governing and bears the costs of a looming fiscal retrenchment, while CFK remains at arm’s length in a bid to preserve her political capital into the medium- to long-term. Below we examine key aspects of CFK’s letter and their political significance.

Legal complications

CFK’s legal troubles occupy most of her latest letter, which was ostensibly released to mark one year since Fernandez’s inauguration. Not only does CFK reiterate that she is a victim of “lawfare” – the exploitation of the legal system in pursuit of political ends – but the VP also launched a withering attack on the Supreme Court. The attack reflects the seriousness of CFK’s legal situation; she currently faces nine cases, most of them corruption-related. Only one is at trial stage, though pre-trial proceedings are set to start next week in another – the Iran Memorandum case (the alleged cover-up of Iranian involvement in the 1994 terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish community center).

The attack on the Supreme Court marks the onset of another push to pass the government’s judicial reform – which includes an expansion of the Supreme Court – in the extraordinary legislative period that will take place over the coming weeks. The reform also aims to cut powerful investigative judges down to size. Note that there is a separate CFK-sponsored initiative underway to reduce the majority needed to appoint a new attorney-general. These measures are primarily designed to clear CFK’s judicial headaches.

Senate versus president

In her letter, CFK was gushing in her praise of the Senate, which as VP she leads, and where the Front for All (FdeT) coalition has a commanding majority. CFK wants the Senate to be seen as a bastion of popular, progressive politics that she shepherds; this is why the Senate has recently led opposition to proposed changes to the formula used to calculate pensions, while taking the most vocal stance against the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with which talks are ongoing.

In contrast, CFK’s letter fails to mention Fernandez by name; that there is a rift between the two leaders is hardly news. The distance between them was in evidence yesterday, 10 December, at a rare public event in which both were present. However, Fernandez does not appear willing or able to break from his much more powerful VP. In fact, CFK has made it more difficult for Fernandez to contemplate doing so now that she has helped wreck relations between the president and the opposition mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodriguez Larreta.

Adjustments and elections

On the horizon is the unavoidable reality that emergency social spending needs to be wound up and fiscal consolidation put in place. However, fiscal adjustment in a mid-term election year is virtually unthinkable for CFK, especially if it is mandated by the IMF. Poverty statistics showing that, following the pandemic, 44.2% of the population is now considered to be poor underlines this dilemma. CFK therefore needs Fernandez to bear the political costs, while she continues to play to the gallery and dismantle her judicial problems.

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