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ARGENTINA
The dilemmas of Cristina Fernández
Leonardo Rossi
7/19/2013
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Argentina’s President reaches the middle of her term, consumed with how to push the Media Law and Judiciary reform forward.

Cristina Fernández is halfway through her second four-year term as president, though her political party representatives do not distinguish between her consecutive  terms, nor do they separate them from the administration of her predecessor and husband, Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), who died in 2010. Instead, they speak of a “década ganada,” a winning decade (2003-2013) that includes recent achievements like the recovery of the national oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), and the Gender Identity Law. Currently, the administration’s main challenge is overhauling the Judiciary, a bid that passed through national congress but encountered legal obstacles.

“We’re talking about a winning decade, about the reestablishment of the state as an axis for change,”  Martín Fresneda, head of the National Human Rights Secretariat, under the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, said to Latinamerica Press. He highlighted victories like the laws for “dignified death” (26.742/2012), gender identity (26.743/2012), limits on foreign ownership of land (26.737/2011), and the repossession of YPF management (26.741/2012)."

According to Fresneda, these steps advance rights and political sovereignty as part of a "philosophical matrix" aimed at "influencing people´s everyday lives.”

For the opposition – indeed diverse – one thing is certain, however: under the current Constitution, Fernández cannot run in the next presidential election in 2015, because the law prohibits three consecutive terms. Because of that limit, there are multiple interpretations of the future of Argentine politics.

For Senator Luis Juez, of the opposition party Frente Cívico, “there are policies from this administration that are done well and that should be improved, and there are others that are just poorly done.” He considers the state’s recovery of 51 percent of YPF shares “a great success,” but says that the government "lacks a strategic perspective on energy."

The great battle
Since the 2009 Act on Audiovisual Communication Services (known as the Media Law) attempted to "decentralize and de-monopolize" broadcasting licenses held by the same media group, the conflict between the government and Grupo Clarín , Argentina’s largest media conglomerate, has dominated the political scene.

Grupo Clarín publishes numerous newspapers and magazines, has 237 licenses for AM and FM radio and cable and network TV stations, as well as Internet and telecommunications services, printing and mail, among other media businesses.
In an article published last May in the weekly Miradas al Sur, Doctor of Communications Science Martín Becerra wrote, "the conflict with Clarín sets the tone." A defender of the Media Law, Becerra said the government doesn’t move forward in applying it and “justifies (that) because of the suspension of a few – although central – articles in the law by the Judiciary.”

Becerra is referring to the claim filed following its enactment to the civil chamber by Grupo Clarín, that two sections of the law are unconstitutional: Art. 45, which establishes prohibitions and restrictions on cross-ownership of different types of media, and Art. 161, which imposes a one-year deadline to disinvest the media entities that exceeded those ownership limits. This final article is of most concern to Grupo Clarín, which through the courts achieved a stopgap measure to it, as Art. 45 was ruled unconstitutional.

Furthermore, said Becerra, "far from realizing the delivery of 33 percent of the (media) spectrum to non-profit stakeholders, 94 percent of the media authorized [by the administration] to work after the law’s enactment are state broadcasters.”

In comments to Sudestada magazine, Natalia Vinelli of the collective Espacio Abierto de Televisoras Populares, Alternativas y Comunitarias, said that "To go up against monopolies [it´s necessary] to ensure 33 percent of the spectrum goes to nonprofits.” There also needs to be movement away from the "crossfire between the government and a for-profit group – Clarín, against which we’ve fought all along," because that dispute should not trump the rights of the “long-neglected" grassroots media, she added.

Political decisions
Following the legal obstacles faced by the Media Law, the reform of the Judiciary has taken over the president’s agenda, according to Fresneda. “It became clear that the judicial body is a political obstacle as they act in political terms,” he said.

On April 8, President Fernández announced she would send bills to Congress to reform the Judiciary. These initiatives included the election of the members of the Council of Magistrates of the Nation, a body of the Judiciary that proposes and controls federal judges, improved access to case information, public disclosure of sworn statements, the creation of three Chambers of Appeal (Labor, Administrative Litigation, and Civil and Commercial), an exam for admission to the legal profession and temporary limits on precautionary measures.

Between April 25 and June 3, elected officials from the president’s party were able to approve and pass the proposed legislation. However, it was the popular election of the representatives of judges, lawyers and academics who make up the Council of Magistrates – who until now were elected by peers – that was a point of contention.

On June 18, the Supreme Court of Justice, with a 6-1 vote declared the articles supporting that change unconstitutional. The rest of the laws are in effect, though, and now the Judiciary will have to uphold them.

For journalist Horacio Verbitsky, head of the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), the people who blocked this elections law "leaned toward the 19th century idea of independence that results in a neutral judiciary" and do not account for the "power relations in the field of justice itself," said the newspaper Página 12.

Roberto Gargarella, J.D. from the University of  Buenos Aires with extensive experience in constitutional analysis, interpreted the Supreme Court’s decision as positive in his blog, discussing how "despite its rhetoric" to democratize justice, the government did not speed up reforms like facilitating access to justice for the poor or reducing the costs and formalities of litigation, among other simple solutions.

Senator Juez shared the opinion that “Justice needs to be reformulated, because it has a feudal slant,” but did not ascribe to the laws of the ruling party, because they “seek a dependent Justice. Without "building their own agenda – popular and democratic,” the legislator  contends that "the opposition is not up to the occasion" and that "it fails to break with the agenda set by the government and its fight with Clarín."

Legislative elections are scheduled for October. So far, no survey predicts changes in the current composition of Congress. While the ruling Frente para la Victoria (FPV), has a majority in both chambers, in addition to its own strength, it has alliances with other forces like the Movimiento Popular Neuquino or the Frente Cívico de Santiago del Estero. A two-thirds majority is needed to advance a constitutional amendment, and is the only way to open up the possibility of re-election.

In this regard, Fresneda only said that the FPV follows "the course the president charted days ago," when on June 29 while presenting the ruling party candidates for the upcoming legislative elections, Fernández called for "winning another decade.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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Face-off between President Cristina Fernández and Grupo Clarín dominates the political agenda in Argentina. (Photo: TELAM)
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