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Is Argentina’s president using Cristina Kirchner to divide the opposition?

Mauricio Macri insists he cannot sway influence over the courts to bring the former leader to trial

Former Argentinean president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Former Argentinean president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Télam

When President Mauricio Macri came to power a year ago, in large part it was due to the efforts of opponents of his predecessor, Cristina Kirchner. Not content with removing her from office, many also want to see her face trial for corruption.

Few Argentineans believe their judicial system is independent, and are long used to seeing judges acting on behalf of the government of the day. The last year has seen one accusation of corruption against Kirchner follow another, and most people believe that Macri is, one way or another, behind them. Nobody believes him when he insists that he can do nothing to force the courts to take action against Kirchner.

The last year has seen one accusation of corruption against Cristina Kirchner follow another

What’s more, a growing number of voices are suggesting that Macri is doing all he can to keep Kirchner out of jail, preferring her to lead the opposition at the head of the divided Peronist Party, half of whose members want to dump her.

Kirchner has been called to testify in a kickbacks-for-contracts case in her home province of Santa Cruz, in the south of the country. Lázaro Báez, a property developer with close ties to Kirchner and her husband, former president Néstor Kirchner, has been in jail awaiting trial since April in the same case.

In 2013, a well-known investigative journalist accused Báez of helping her and her late husband launder some €55 million abroad.

The wealth of the president and her late husband has been the subject of ongoing speculation since the political power couple emerged almost a decade ago as national leaders of the faction within the Peronist party that identified themselves as “Kirchnerites.”

In December 2010, WikiLeaks released a US State Department cable written in 2007 by then-US Ambassador Vilma Martínez, who complained to Washington that the Kirchner government was not cooperating with US authorities in cracking down on money-launderers.

“Some embassy contacts argue that the current [Argentinean] leadership, including the president, stands to lose from the honest and vigorous pursuit of money laundering,” wrote Martínez, adding that most money laundering in Argentina is the product of tax evasion and political corruption rather than financing of terrorism.

Kirchner could stand in mid-term elections in 2017

Veteran leftist politician Margarita Stolbizer, who has filed charges against Kirchner, as well as outlining her accusations in a best-selling book, believes that Macri is doing all he can to prevent Cristina Kirchner from standing trial.

“I am concerned by this hold-up in the justice system. I suspect that this is part of a strategy by the government to allow Kirchner to stand for office next year and thus polarize politics. Every time she says something outrageous, Macri is the beneficiary,” said Stolbizer in a radio interview.

Kirchner could stand as the Peronist Party’s candidate for the province of Buenos Aires in mid-term elections in 2017, effectively taking attention away from other opposition parties.

In reality, Kirchner is a greater threat to her own party than she is to Macri. She retains a loyal and vocal following. “Between 20% and 25% of voters in Buenos Aires will vote for her or whomever she names in the event of being sent to jail. Demand dictates supply, not the other way round,” said Macri’s close aide Marco Peña.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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