The streets of Argentina are pulsating with collective excitement in anticipation of the World Cup final against Germany this Sunday. Politicians normally find such scenarios useful for their public image, but all this week President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been bedridden, dealing with a bad case of laryngitis.
No one knows for sure when she might return to normal activities. But this isn’t the only pain in the neck she’s dealing with. Kirchner’s vice president, Amado Boudou, is currently being investigated for corruption charges, a politically awkward situation by any measure.
Meanwhile, so-called vulture funds are shackling Argentina’s finances, in what Kirchner's administration has described as a Wall Street shakedown. The absent president's administration initiated a fresh round of negotiations with creditors on Monday, in the hope that both parties can reach a mutual agreement over the repayment of holdout bonds.
While these have been tough months for la presidenta, the Argentine leader has spent the past week holed-up at La Quinta de Olivos, the presidential residence just outside Buenos Aires. This leaves the country technically in the hands of Vice President Boudou. But he was recently indicted on allegations that he attempted to gain possession of the only private company with the authority to print national currency, Ciccone Calcográfica.
The case sets a bizarre precedent, the first time someone occupying such a high post in Argentina has been the subject of an investigation of this nature.
On June 27, a judge charged Boudou with bribery and conducting business incompatible with public office when participating in negotiations to purchase the company. Boudou’s lawyers filed an appeal on his behalf on Thursday, claiming that his constitutional rights are being violated.
As for Argentina’s delicate economy, its unpaid bonds amount to a whopping $1.3 billion in state-held debt and place the country dangerously close to defaulting for the second time in 13 years.
The risk of entering a default is one of Kirchner’s primary concerns, because it would obstruct future access to international creditors in the midst of Argentina’s economic crisis.
On July 9, Kirchner would have presided over Independence Day celebrations, which were especially buoyant after Argentina’s victory over the Netherlands in the World Cup semi-finals the same day. Kirchner could have delivered a meaningful statement regarding the dispute over vulture funds, showing a united front with other presidents in the region who don't always toe the line with US interests.
Instead, Boudou stood in and delivered a speech in Kirchner’s absence in a ceremony held in San Miguel de Tucumán, where Argentina declared independence from Spain in 1816.
Boudou spoke about anti-colonialism, and managed to connect the theme to the holdout hedge funds. He was met with the unenthusiastic applause of a few audience members.
Multiple legislators and opposition leaders are calling for his impeachment, but that would require a two-third majority vote in the country’s two houses of Congress. Both chambers have a Kirchnerist majority, so it seems unlikely that Boudou, who is loyal to the president, would be successfully removed from his post.
The vice president has consistently maintained his innocence, yet since 2012, he's made several moves criticized as abuses of power, including firing attorney general Esteban Righi. Boudougate, as the political scandal is known, has damaged the Kirchner administration in the public eye and managed to further aggravate the country’s bizarre economic climate, leading to the impression that no one is really in charge.
Following the recommendations of Argentina's executive legal advisor, the administration is rather cleverly attempting to arrange for Boudou's travels outside of Argentina to coincide with Kirchner's official foreign visits, which would then place command in the hands of the provisional president of the Argentine Senate, Gerardo Zamora, another faithful Kirchnerist.
This carefully planned scheduling of the nation's agenda is expected to continue until there is a break in Boudou's judicial processing. The first test comes on July 15, when Kirchner is expected to travel to Brasilia, Brazil, to attend the sixth annual BRICS summit, along with the leaders of other "major emerging economies" like Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Photo via Flickr