The Ship’s Log: Argentina’s Vice President and the “Media Firing Squad”
Latin America’s Pink Tide leaders need to respect freedom of speech: critical coverage isn’t the same as “lawfare”
This week, the streets of Buenos Aires have filled with clashes between groups who support and oppose Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s hotly controversial ex-president and vice-president. In the “Vialidad” case, she stands accused of directing a criminal organization that ensured overpriced public works contracts went to her chum, Lazaro Báez, in exchange for a cut of the cash.
In blockbuster closing arguments this Monday, prosecutor Diego Luciani asked her to be punished with a 10-12-year prison sentence and a lifelong ban from public office. Cristina requested permission to give another statement, and when this was denied, opted to live stream a statement to the nation instead. Over 14,000 people watched live.
The case resumes on 5 September, when the defense will put forth their arguments. A ruling is not expected until the end of the year.
The Argentine right’s persistent efforts to put Cristina behind bars have drawn comparisons with the trial against Brazil’s leftist former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was jailed in 2018 on corruption charges. The proceedings meant he couldn’t run in the elections that brought dictatorship-defending COVID denier Jair Bolsonaro to power. However, Lula was ultimately freed after the supreme court ruled that he couldn’t be jailed until he had exhausted the appeals process. At the same time, it was revealed that the judge was in cahoots with the prosecutors and wanted to see Lula behind bars for political reasons.
Following Luciani’s pronouncements on Monday, Cristina declared that the proceedings against her were a “media-judicial firing squad”. As she and her supporters increasingly accuse her would-be jailers of “lawfare”, it’s worth stopping to examine the discourse going on around the trial, and what exactly that term means.