Argentina: ex-prez gets off for 2001 repression

On Dec. 27 an Argentine federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s decision to stay a possible prosecution of former president Fernando de la Rúa (1999-2001) in connection with the deaths of 39 people during protests and massive looting after an economic collapse in December 2001. De la Rúa had been under investigation for the killing of five people and the wounding of 110 others by federal police when thousands of people defied the state of siege by demonstrating in Buenos Aires in the Plaza de Mayo and at the Obelisk in the Plaza de la República. The other 34 victims were killed in the provinces, where the police were not under the orders of the federal president.

The court ruled that De la Rúa’s declaration of the state of siege was legitimate and that he was not responsible for the repression that followed. The ruling doesn’t cover former security secretary Enrique Mathov, former federal police chief Rubén Santos and six other former police agents, who will be tried for the five deaths in Buenos Aires. Relatives of the dead and the wounded said they would appeal the exoneration of De la Rúa.

The ruling would seem to clear the way for current president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to declare a state of siege in response to a new wave of lootings that hit the country from Dec. 20 through Dec. 22 of this year. The death toll in the current disturbances had risen to five as of Dec. 26, when hospital authorities in Rosario, Santa Fe province, announced that Carina Paz and Emiliano Sánchez, a teenager, had died from gunshot wounds they received several days earlier during the looting there. (La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 27, Dec. 28 from correspondent; El País, Madrid, Dec. 28 from correspondent)

In other news, former economy minister Felisa Miceli (2005-2007) was sentenced to four years in prison on Dec. 27, the day that the appeals court ruled in De la Rúa’s favor. Police discovered 100,000 in pesos and $30,000 in US currency in the private bathroom of Miceli’s government office in 2007. Miceli claimed the cash was a loan she was going to use to buy a house, not money connected to her government post. After the sentencing she announced her intention to appeal. In an interview published on Dec. 30 by the daily Tiempo Argentino, Miceli called the sentence “arbitrary and out of proportion with other influential judicial cases that leave criminals free, or absolve De la Rúa, who was guilty of deaths.”

The decision by center-left former president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) to appoint Miceli, the first woman to head the country’s economy ministry, was considered at the time a move to the left on the part of the government. Some groups on the left are backing her up now, including the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and former labor leader Luis D’Elía. It was “striking that the bribes in the IBM-Banco Nación scandal for $30 million didn’t bring a single conviction,” D’Elía said, referring to the revelation in 1994 that IBM’s Argentine subsidiary had paid off officials in order to win a $250 million contract for a computer system at Banco de la Nación; the amount most sources give for the bribes is $21 million. (LJ, Dec. 28, from correspondent; La Gaceta, Tucumán, Dec. 30 from DyN)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 30.