Editorial: Does victory bring rights or duties?

In truth, there’s very little of the blacks and whites presented by both sides here but plenty of murky greys.

Alejandra Gils Carbó.
Alejandra Gils Carbó. Foto:Cedoc.
Aweek beginning with the surprise resignation of Attorney General Alejandra Gils Carbó and ending with the arrest of the man most immediately responsible for her rise to legal prominence, former vice-president Amado Boudou, might be said to complete a cycle, but the underlying problems dogging the independence of Argentine justice remain as acute as ever.

Two particular presidents on opposite ends of this subcontinent, Mauricio Macri and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, are also opposites in almost every way possible, it should be noted. Yet the fact remains that in the last few months both have put paid (by entirely different means) to an attorney general toward whom neither man tried to disguise his hostility. A harshly simplistic comparison perhaps, which is more odious than most no doubt, but it is a comparison which the Macri presidency must banish in the process of replacing Gils Carbó, if its vows to improve institutional quality are to count for anything at all.

Yet if questions need to be asked about Gils Carbó’s departure, far more so about her arrival five years ago – she is no martyr. Her opportunity arose when her predecessor Esteban Righi (yes, the same man who so rashly freed all legally detained guerrillas when Héctor Cámpora’s interior minister back in 1973, thus prompting many military commanders to go looking for other ways to counter that threat) was almost the only Kirchnerite to admit openly that there might be grounds for trying Boudou, arguably the most flagrantly corrupt official in the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration.

The infuriated veep immediately insisted on Righi’s arbitrary dismissal and obtained it. The first nominee to replace Righi, comptroller-general Daniel Reposo, was so obviously lacking in any qualification except blind loyalty to Kirchnerism that even progovernment senators felt obliged to reject him – Gils Carbó’s legal credentials were so vastly superior that even opposition senators approved her in relief (some analysts think that the Reposo nomination was a gambit deliberately seeking that result).

Yet Gils Carbó’s crudely partisan origins cannot remove the rather more complex questions concerning her departure. Any blatant pressure by the Executive branch to remove a senior judicial official is always going to be ugly, and nor does it speak well for the independence of the Judiciary when in the same week as Macri’s midterm triumph, an administrative litigation court should arrogate itself the right to interpret the Constitution in the government’s favour by ruling on the impeachment requirement for Gils Carbó’s removal.

But at the same time an attorney general is not as purely a watchdog post as, say, an auditor-general – the obligation to name an opposition or independent figure is hardly any more an ethical obligation than it is constitutional (in the United States John F. Kennedy appointed his own brother to that post without dimming his glowing reputation, for example).

The Macri government constantly accused Gils Carbó of open complicity with Kirchnerism, maintaining a cosy relationship with Fernández de Kirchner while soft-pedalling all corruption cases against her government, before fabricating similar charges in industrial quantities via her control of prosecutors once Macri took over. Plenty of specific examples could be found to support that perception but it must be said that the Panama Papers at least were the result of a serious international journalistic investigation, not a domestic political stunt.

In truth, there’s very little of the blacks and whites presented by both sides here but plenty of murky greys.

Which in no way exempts the Macri government from maximising transparency when seeking a new attorney general.