Argentina: President Nestor Kirchner's Strong National and International Policies Receive Support

Article excerpt

After little more than a month in office, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner has dispelled assumptions that he would be a weak president controlled by former President Eduardo Duhalde (2002-2003). In his latest show of strength, Kirchner forced Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) president Julio Nazareno to resign. At the same time, Kirchner met with International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Horst Koehler, and emphasized that Argentina wanted a new agreement with the IMF, but not on terms that would jeopardize the country's incipient economic recovery.

Kirchner's strong actions during his first weeks in office, popularly referred to as "K style," have the support of more than 80% of the population, according to most polls.

"Some people tell me that I am opening many fronts, and I tell them that it is not that I am opening fronts," said Kirchner. "We have needs everywhere and one has to go to where the needs are and look for solutions."

Kirchner tackles politicized court

The CSJ has long been seen as corrupt and politically tainted, with many of the judges openly loyal to former President Carlos Saul Menem (1989-1999) and his associates. In a recent poll, more than 50% of Argentines said they would like to see all nine CSJ judges changed.

Reforming the CSJ was one of Kirchner's priorities (see NotiSur, 2003-06-06). At the president's prompting, the impeachment committee of the lower house had begun hearings on 22 charges of corruption and malfeasance against CSJ president Nazareno, including his receiving a bonus for living outside the capital while actually residing in Buenos Aires.

As the inquiry proceeded, two incidents made it clear that Nazareno's power was slipping. He found he did not have the five votes necessary to sign the decision, set for July 4, in favor of redollarization. And he failed to win the support of his colleagues for his effort to promote one of his daughters to a higher position in the court. Rather than wait for Congress to render an expected guilty decision, Nazareno resigned on June 27 "for personal reasons."

"The shameful way justice was being administered has come to an end," said Kirchner after the resignation.

Nazareno's resignation has two immediate effects. It breaks the "automatic majority" on the CSJ, which consistently handed down rulings favoring Menem and his cronies. And it makes it clear that the CSJ will not have the votes to force the banks to return frozen deposits in dollars.

"This is a political victory for Kirchner," said political analyst Rosendo Fraga. "Now the key is the objectivity with which Nazareno's replacement is chosen. If the method is apolitical and objective and someone is chosen based on a consensus, then this will be the first positive step in a renewal of the institution."

Some critics had said Kirchner merely wanted to unseat the current high court to replace it with his own allies. The Argentine Constitution gives the president the power to nominate CSJ justices subject to confirmation by a two-thirds vote in the Senate.

On June 20, Kirchner signed a decree limiting his power-- and that of future presidents--to fill court vacancies. The measure establishes that a president's high court nominees must be reviewed by professional and social organizations before the Senate votes on whether to confirm them.

The decree also requires that nominees submit a sworn declaration of their assets, which will be public, and give their previous judicial experience.

Justice Minister Gustavo Beliz said civic groups would review the qualifications of future nominees and the government tax service would review their financial statements. "We want a court that is independent and competent and not an embarrassment," Beliz said. "Society is demanding a court that is credible and trustworthy."

Beliz said there might be new legal proceedings against some other members of the CSJ, but that would "depend on Congress. …