Argentine corruption is not simply a failure of Menemism or Kirchnerism. It is a structural problem, and judicial impunity lies at its root. While 750 corruption lawsuits have been filed since the return of democracy in 1983, only three officials have been convicted.
Daniel Santoro is an award-winning editor at Clarín, Argentina’s largest newspaper. He has conducted extensive investigations into government corruption, national security, and international drug trafficking.
Corrupt Tango: Daniel Santoro Demystifies Government Wrongdoing in Argentina
by Anne Hoffman
At first glance, Daniel Santoro looks like a mild-mannered middle-aged dad. He wears white tennis shoes and explains complex concepts in heavily accented English. But Santoro is an award-winning investigative journalist who’s gone after some of Argentina’s most corrupt politicians. As such, he’s well-versed in the science of it: “Corruption is like tango: It’s dancing in pairs and very close together.”
The dance works like this: a politician acts wrongly and against the public interest, but his actions ultimately benefit a small group of powerful people. Those people seek to protect said official (who’s protecting their interests), and to make matters worse, the nation’s judges are in on it as well.
“You know, [the soccer player] Maradona wears a jersey with the number 10. So the businessmen say, “I’ll give you a Diego percent of the contract [to the politicians].”
Take, for example, the case of María Julia Alsogaray, Minister of the Environment, whose birthday party cost $150,000. “She gives jobs to her friends, lovers, and hairdresser,” says Santoro. Meanwhile, her promises to clean up a polluted river went unfulfilled. Alsogaray was finally convicted of financial crimes against the state in 2004.
Cristina Kirchner, Argentina’s first lady turned president, is not immune. Between 2003 and 2010 her assets grew by 980 percent. Meanwhile, Argentina continues to flounder in an economic crisis a decade old. Santoro says she’s arrogant — Kirchner believes herself the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian architect.
Menem was brought up on charges in 2001, but was elected a national senator and took office on 2005.
“It’s not like in the United States,” says Santoro, where if a politician is found guilty of corruption he’ll never win reelection.
Nevertheless when Menem was brought up on arms trafficking charges, Santoro was all exaltation. The most important decorative piece in his home is a framed article detailing the former president’s arrest. “It’s very, very important,” says Santoro.
Corruption, he says, is so ingrained that court cases like Menem’s and Alsogaray’s almost never happen. There’s a deeply entrenched system of corrupt businessmen and judges that await the arrival of a new potentially complicit politician, so that ultimately, “the hosts change, but the guests are the same.”