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Lastn Brief: Argentine court to rule on Kirchner graft case (December 6, 2022)

 Latin America Daily Briefing

An Argentine federal court is set to rule today on a corruption case that accuses Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kircher of leading a kickback scheme for public works in Santa Cruz province during her and her husband’s presidencies.

The “Vialidad” trial is hugely divisive in Argentina, as is Fernández de Kirchner, who was president from 2007 to 2015, and first lady between 2003 and 2007. She faces up to 12 years in prison and prohibition to hold public office. Sources say judges will sentence her to seven years, later today. The judges have a longer time-frame for releasing the grounds for their decision, and the full arguments aren’t expected before February of next year.

Whatever the verdict, Fernández can appeal, and will not face jail time unless the sentence is ultimately ratified by the Supreme Court, a process that could take years. In the meantime, she will not be disqualified from public office, and can run in next year’s presidential elections — though she has not indicated plans to do so.

Argentina’s judiciary is firmly entrenched in the country’s ultra-polarized politics. A guilty verdict will confirm people’s pre-held beliefs: either that the former president is corrupt, or that she is the victim of legal maneuvers aimed at undermining her political standing, dubbed lawfare.

Fernández faced over a dozen legal cases after leaving office, though she has since been absolved in several, including one accusing her of angling to coverup a 1994 terrorist attack and another accusing her of laundering money through a hotel she owns.

“It is evident that there is going to be a conviction,” Fernández said in an interview with Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo published yesterday. She alleged constitutional guarantees were violated during the process.

The Vice President’s supporters have announced marches today, and Buenos Aires is braced for potential upheaval. Infobae notes it is the first time in Argentine democracy that a verdict is expected against an extremely popular political figure who holds office.

(New York TimesReutersBuenos Aires TimesPágina 12Folha de S. PauloInfobaeLa Nación)

More Argentina

  • Argentine media published an alleged conversation among a group of judges, opposition politicians, and media executives in which they debate how to coverup an all-expenses-paid secret trip to Patagonia last October. The alleged protagonists deny the veracity of the leaked messages. The conversation was allegedly obtained by hacking one the phone of a participant, which means the evidence would be inadmissible in court. (El PaísTiempo ArgentinoCohete a la LunaPágina 12)

  • But the case, which involves Julian Ecolini, a federal judge who led the “Vialidad” investigation, has split Argentine society in two — confirming for some the rotten nature of the country’s judiciary, while government opponents say its a ploy to distract from the Vialidad verdict today. President Alberto Fernández called for the judiciary to investigate, and said the alleged chat shows “for the first time, the way in which certain corporations operate with officials, judges and prosecutors seeking favors from them that in many cases seek undue advantages while in others they simply encourage the persecution of those who confront them.” (El País)


  • The U.S. Biden administration extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians in the U.S. About 100,000 Haitians are expected to benefit from extended legal protections — allowing them to legally live and work in the U.S. on a temporary basis. The decision by the Department of Homeland Security will also extend to tends of thousands of undocumented Haitian nationals who recently arrived, reports the Miami Herald.

  • U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the U.S. expanded the TPS program for Haitians because of the “prolonged political crisis” in Haiti and the gang violence there, as well as the scarcity of food, water and fuel in the country amid an uptick in cholera cases. (CBS)


  • Canada announced sanctions against three high-profile Haitian businessmen accused of supporting the country’s armed gangs, the latest measure targeting those linked to the Caribbean nation’s criminal groups. The sanctions target Gilbert Bigio, chairman of Haitian industrial conglomerate GB Group, as well as prominent business leaders Reynold Deeb and Sherif Abdallah. (Reuters, see yesterday’s post.)


  • Cuba’s new Penal Code, which came into force last week, risks further entrenching long-standing limitations on freedom of expression and assembly and is a chilling prospect for independent journalists, activists, and anyone critical of the authorities, according to Amnesty International.

Regional Relations

  • U.S. President Joe Biden invited Brazilian president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to visit the White House, which may happen after he takes office on Jan. 1, reports Reuters. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Lula in Brasilia for almost two hours and discussed strengthening democracy in the Americas, combating climate change and addressing the situation in Haiti and Venezuela.

  • Biden is planning to head to Mexico City next month for his first scheduled foreign trip of 2023, reports Axios.

  • Former Miami congressman David Rivera, who signed a $50 million consulting contract with Venezuela’s Maduro government, was arrested yesterday in the U.S. on charges of money laundering and representing a foreign government without registering. (Associated Press)


  • A group of Brazilian and Colombian organizations of civil society rejected mediation in a case against French supermarket chain Casino, which they accuse of links to deforestation and human rights abuses in the Amazon. (El Espectador)


  • Mexico’s Maya Train tourist project will now include a 72 kilometer stretch of elevated trackway through the jungle, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The controversial plan is a pet project of the president, but has been strongly opposed by environmental activists. (Reuters)

  • Prosecutors in Mexico’s Durango state blamed private hospitals for contaminated anesthetics that caused a meningitis outbreak that has killed 22 people and sickened at least 71, reports the Associated Press.


  • Peru’s democracy has been hammered by years of high-level corruption scandals, leading to a high presidential turnover rate. Current President Pedro Castillo, who faces his third impeachment attempt in just over a year, “has only deepened the sense that the country’s political system is broken,” reports the New York Times.


  • Utama portrays the Bolivian altiplano’s climate crisis through the prism of a real-life love story between two septuagenarian rural residents — Guardian.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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