Peronism has a real obsession with controlling the judiciary in Argentina, and the most recent attempt in that direction made headlines in the local press this month.
In nominating four senators for the Judiciary Council, the vice-president of the country and president of the Senate, Cristina Kirchner, carried out a political maneuver to dismember the ruling bloc, so that it would have three of the four seats of the house in the collegiate. In this way, the ruling Martín Doñate would take the seat of the second minority.
Even with the Supreme Court of Argentina understanding that such a vacancy should go to the opposition Luis Juez, the Peronist bloc took the nomination forward and the discussion continues in court.
Interestingly, this Monday (28), a judge who had held a position in the Executive during the presidency of Cristina Kirchner (2007-2015) barred the appointment of an opposition deputy to the council citing as an argument the position of the Supreme Court on Doñate .
Cristina had already acted against the balance of the Judicial Council, which appoints and can dismiss judges, when she was a senator: in 2006 she promoted a reform that reduced the number of members of the collegiate from 20 to 13, with the aim of unbalancing the composition of the group and increase the proportion of political appointees. This change was challenged in court and at the end of 2021 the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.
Other attempts to undermine the independence of the judiciary have taken place in recent years. Two months ago, the Argentine Senate approved an increase in the number of Supreme Court justices from five to 15, so that Peronism could equip the court with sponsors – repeating a Chavista formula. The issue must now be voted on by the Chamber of Deputies.
In addition, in 2020 the Senate approved a judicial reform that would create dozens of new federal courts, with the main objective of diluting the power of judges based on Avenida Comodoro Py, in Buenos Aires, responsible for cases of corruption. In the capital alone, there would be 23 new federal courts. However, the project did not advance in the Chamber.
In March of this year, President Alberto Fernández again defended the need for this reform. “Unfortunately, the Judiciary reform project that I submitted in 2020 and which was approved by the Senate has already lost its parliamentary status. What is happening with the Judiciary in Argentina is serious, ”he criticized. “That reform that I promoted was met with resistance from the opposition, which sought to benefit some officials from the previous government who must be held accountable.”
While Peronism claims judicial persecution, political analysts point out that the objective is to rid Cristina Kirchner of the corruption processes of which she is the target.
In August, Argentina’s Federal Public Ministry asked for a sentence of 12 years in prison and life disqualification from public office for the vice president, as part of a trial for alleged irregularities in the concession of public works when he was president. The verdict will be announced next Tuesday (6).
Last year, three other lawsuits against Kirchner were filed, but the Public Prosecutor’s Office appealed and they are being analyzed by higher courts.
“Actually, this agenda is fundamentally Cristina Kirchner’s, I wouldn’t even say it’s Alberto Fernández’s agenda. The president is not very interested, throughout his government he defended the need for judicial reform, but his actions were never very incisive in that sense. It is Cristina Kirchner who has an obsession with the subject, to basically get away with it, as well as her family members, her children,” said Flavio Gonzalez, lawyer and professor at the University of Buenos Aires.
“And in addition to trying to control these courts, now, for example, they have tried to create a federal appeals chamber in a community of 6,000 inhabitants in the province of Santa Cruz, near El Calafate, with the aim that this chamber, which would have judges kirchneristas, help to have impunity for Cristina Kirchner in some processes”, added the professor.
Gonzalez pointed out, however, that Peronism’s fixed idea of controlling the judiciary did not start with Kirchnerism. “At the time of Carlos Menem [peronista que foi presidente argentino entre 1989 e 99]the Minister of the Interior, Carlos Corach, told the minister [da Economia, Domingo] Cavallo who controlled a certain number of judges in the Federal Court of Comodoro Py. He had written the names of all these judges on a napkin, so the episode became known as Napkin Judges,” he recalled.
Also in the Menem period, the Supreme Court was expanded from five to nine judges. Then, during the government of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), the court returned to the original number. “But now, with the lawsuits facing Cristina Kirchner and her family, they are looking to expand the Supreme Court again to control her”, pointed out Gonzalez.
He pointed out, however, that Argentina has shown institutional maturity to curb these attempts. “Kirchnerism always wanted to control justice and never succeeded, in a way because the judges were not receptive to these attempts, they stood firm against them, and they also know that society, specifically the middle class, which is more concerned with these issues related to institutional quality and the independence of the Judiciary, they know that it sustains them”, emphasized the professor.
“There is a whole apparatus of the media that also ask for the independence of the Judiciary to be maintained, so I believe that this will be prevented, as everything has been prevented because [os peronistas] they don’t have a majority [no Legislativo argentino] to be able to move forward”, he explained.