This Monday, August 1, was not a great day for Cristina Kirchner. And things got much worse when she heard the following dialogue.
“Who introduced you to Lázaro Báez?”
—“Néstor (Kirchner) was finishing his house and I met (Lázaro) Báez in the park, because he was doing some work there in Calafate. He approached to say hello and the only dialogue that I commented on took place: ‘Good morning, nice to meet you’. I never spoke to him again. And I never saw it again. I never crossed it again.”
The dialogue had taken place on February 15 in a judicial hearing. The one who asked was the prosecutor Diego Luciani. And the one who responded was President Alberto Fernández. “Néstor was the one who introduced him to him?” The judicial official asked the stammering Alberto to confirm the version. It was enough.
Luciani not only included the dialogue between the allegations against Cristina Kirchner for the Vialidad cause, which began to develop this Monday, but also took the video so that everyone could see it. The defense lawyers of all the accused and also the Vice President, who followed the prosecutor’s speech from her office in the Senate, accompanied by the Argentine flag, putting together a staging so as to make it clear that it was a conflict of powers. Cristina had to observe how the main proof of the friendship between her family and the entrepreneur Lázaro Báez was provided by Alberto Fernández.
A complicated way to start the day of the allegations in the Vialidad case, one of the two that most complicates Cristina Kirchner. The other is the Hotesur case, that of the hotels that the Kirchners have in Santa Cruz. But in the first, in addition to her, Julio De Vido, José López (the Olympic thrower of bags with dollars in convents in Buenos Aires) and the visionary Lázaro Báez, the man who knew that the business of the future was to put a construction company in Santa Cruz nine days before the Kirchners assumed total power in Argentina.
The next few months are not going to be easy for Cristina Kirchner. On Monday it became perfectly clear that prosecutor Luciani had been preparing for a long time to accuse her and expose the arguments in the Vialidad case. “Néstor and Cristina installed one of the most extraordinary matrixes of corruption,” he explained at the beginning of his speech, following the strategy of making a high-impact statement on the first day of the allegations.
The word matrix and the idea of a systematic plan to keep money from the State fly over the entire accusation. And, although the prosecutor does not expressly say so, he proposes a mirror scheme with that systematic plan of repression, disappearances and deaths for which the last military dictatorship was condemned. A similar explanation for cases that are very different. It will be necessary to see if the prosecutor Luciani achieves an exemplary conviction as the prosecutor Julio César Strassera did in 1985.
The judicial record of Diego Luciani should not leave the legal team that defends the Vice President very calm. The 49-year-old prosecutor obtained the convictions of a group of ephedrine traffickers linked to dangerous Mexican cartels; he condemned Armando Gostanian, the picturesque president of the Casa de Moneda who supplied the shirts to Carlos Menem, for corruption. He also condemned the federal judge Carlos Liporace, for bribery in a case of the Tanneries Yoma, and condemned Romina Picolotti, who was Secretary of the Environment with Kirchnerism under the political protection of Alberto Fernández, for using public funds for her own benefit.
The evaluations of different Court sources indicate that the prosecutor could request between six and eight years of effective prison for Cristina Kirchner. Later, possibly between October and November, the Federal Oral Court 2 would announce her verdict. There are many forecasts about how much the Vice President could receive, but the most repeated version is that she could be sentenced to between three and four years in prison.
Could the image of Cristina in prison be given, as happened to Carlos Menem in 2000? Hardly anyone in Comodoro Py believes it feasible. If it is three years, the prison sentence is suspended. And, if they were more, the Vice President will turn 70 next February. And in that case, she would be placed under house arrest, an instance that Cristina does not even want to hear about.
In this column it has already been said that the Vice President has launched a defense strategy that consists of qualifying the eventual conviction in the Vialidad case as an attempt to ban a candidacy that she has not made explicit until now. For a couple of weeks, the closest leaders and some press activists have been working on that campaign. In a recent video, Cristina extols the figure of Juan Domingo Perón and tries to draw a parallel between October 17, 1945 and the situation she could experience if she is now convicted. Peronism can be accused of many things, but it can never be blamed for a lack of imagination.
A Secretary of Agriculture from Entre Ríos
In the lush spring of political events generated by Peronism, Cristina’s legal complications coexist at this time with Sergio Massa’s risorgimiento. The Minister of Economy who wants to be super tries to give a little glamor to the portfolios of Agriculture and Livestock, and Industry and Production. But upon encountering Gabriel Delgado’s refusal to deal with the field, and Miguel Peirano’s refusal to mediate with businessmen, he must be extremely creative so that his choices do not become a point against him. It’s not easy.
For this reason, the chances of a history of massism and critical moments such as Vasco José de Mendiguren increased to return to the production area that he has already known since the burning days of 2002. In the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Massa’s chosen is the national deputy for Entre Ríos Juan José Bahillo, who has direct links with the productive sector because he is an agricultural producer and operates a dairy. His family spent many years producing frozen desserts. As the second of him will be Jorge Solmi, who fulfilled the same function with Julián Domínguez.
Massa continues to have a breath of encouragement from the financial area. The blue dollar reached the floor of $280 (the Sergio dollar, as they call it in the City), and the country risk continues to be located just below 2,400 basis points. They say in the markets that both variables will not move much from those margins until the direction and depth of the economic measures of the post-Batakis stage are reliably known.
The new minister has already given signs about the two axes that he is going to prioritize to contain the financial and exchange crisis of the last month. Raise interest rates as much as necessary to sustain the viability of bonds in pesos, and give the countryside a “more generous” soybean dollar so that they speed up the liquidation of foreign currency and Massa can cross the September Rubicon, a river with renewal of parity and more than two billion pesos to be renewed. And that’s just the first management challenge.
More difficult is the miracle that Massa should attempt with inflation. The calculation that they make in his team is that, if they manage to stop the rise in food prices from August, they could have a decline in the rise in the cost of living from September. The goal is to bring the projected inflation for the year from the current 90% predicted by all consultants to 75%. Argentina has reached such a degree of paroxysm that this monstrous rate of inflation, which would keep it in the top 3 of the 2022 world record, would be celebrated as a group stage pass at the World Cup in Qatar. “It would be worse to be left out in the first round,” say the massistas, who prefer to be realistic.
To aspire to all these modest objectives, Massa is still trying to keep control of the Central Bank and its strategic money table. But Cristina Kirchner’s blockade did not allow it. It is almost certain that the resistant Miguel Pesce will remain in the presidency, and that the vice president will be the financier Lisandro Cleri, the Massista who was deputy director of the Anses Sustainable Guarantee Fund. In the local banks, they believe that there will be a game of attrition over Pesce, and that Cleri will end up presiding over the entity before the end of the year.
In his attempt to offer a more reliable image than that of his predecessors, Massa managed to convince the economist Daniel Marx to join a committee to monitor foreign debt. The figure of Marx, and his knowledge, continue to be a guarantee for the bewildered players in the international financial market. Those who met with Batakis in Washington, not suspecting that she had already been replaced.
The signal that the markets were surely not expecting was that Cristina will put aside her judicial hardships to take a photo with Massa in her office in the Senate, and order her people to distribute it immediately. In the best style of her friend Vladimir Putin, the Vice President looks smiling but at the far end of the long table that presides over the office. At least those mysterious Kremlin buttons don’t appear.
Don’t forget that I’m here too, Cristina seems to say in the photo. with circumstantial face, Massa crosses his hands on the table and admits facially that his fundamental battle will be dealing with this Vice President whom Justice accuses of leading an organization dedicated to keeping public money. There are those who believe, and say so, that the situation could benefit him.
Then the fall of the blue dollar, the promise of the generous soybean dollar, the presence of Marx as a debt advisor. All signs of rationality and the illusion of curbing the extreme crisis that Massa represents for some sectors of the establishment must go through the filter of Cristina’s presence in the photo that she took care to spread. A show of support that is also a threat. And what will have to be seen if it is repeated if things get rough when the smiles of the first week pass.
The new Minister of Economy has one of those contradictions that complicate anyone. His image was the best in the past when he walked away and even confronted Cristina. And he collapsed along with hers and the President’s when he sank in the debacle of the Frente de Todos. Sooner or later, he will have to face the Vice President if he is serious about imposing his political will. Albert never did. And so he has remained. Like a lost soul that no one recognizes anymore in the corridors of the Casa Rosada.