The judiciary In Argentina is a very large family

Following a Latin American coup, the first act of the generals and commanders responsible was to remove the executive; the second was to shut down the legislative. Rarely, if ever, did they touch the judiciary. Español.

Fabián Rodríguez
3 March 2015
Buenos Aires rally, February 18, 2015.

Buenos Aires rally, February 18, 2015. Javie Coltrane/Demotix. All rights reserved.Throughout the twentieth century, a number of Latin American countries suffered multiple disruptions to the democratic order and a parallel corrosion of their public institutions. Whenever this occurred the judiciary invariably sided with the conservative and authoritarian sectors that had seized power by force.

Following a coup, the first act of the generals and commanders responsible was to remove the executive; the second was to shut down the legislative. Rarely, if ever, did they touch the judiciary.

Argentina is one of those countries. After more than thirty years of democracy, a number of institutions - from political parties to the army - have been overhauled and renewed. Yet this is only half true of the judiciary, many of whose currently active members held senior fiscal or judicial positions during the years of repressive government.

Judges Luis María Cabral and Ricardo Recondo, who have alternated over the last decade as president of the Association of Justices of the National Court (the judges’ union), are the archetypal embodiment of this relationship. There are many more.

Others, too young to have had any direct connection with the crimes against humanity committed between 1976 and 1983, are relatives of and share the same social circles as those who were engaged in state terrorism.

This is the case of Attorney General Ricardo Sáenz, who championed the Full Stop (1987) and Due Obedience (1988) amnesty laws aimed at guaranteeing immunity for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity. Both laws were repealed by former President Néstor Kirchner at the beginning of his term in 2003.

President Cristina Fernández, Kirchner’s wife and successor, recently referred to this when she said that many of those who historically opposed her late husband’s government, "do not forgive" him for having both repealed these laws and annulled pardons granted to assassins in order to safeguard their impunity.

In Argentina, the so-called “judicial family", a caste formed by generations of judges who share family names, retains to this day a series of privileges that are incompatible with a modern democratic society - such as not being obliged to submit their financial disclosure statements, and being exempted from a number of taxes payable by ordinary citizens.

This being a closed milieu, a judicial career is not accessible through open competition, but through family or friends.

In 2013, Cristina Fernández sent to Parliament a package of measures aimed at democratising the judiciary, promoting transparency, and giving greater legitimacy to legal proceedings. From then on, the judiciary has conducted an overt and sometimes even violent offensive against the government.

Having already blocked a number of presidential initiatives endorsed by Congress, the courts then turned their attention to the officials themselves. Suddenly, judges and attorneys whose performance had been under scrutiny in recent years decided to investigate complaints  – some of them anonymous - against both Cristina Fernández de Kirchner herself and several Kirchnerist leaders. Needless to say, although the legislation proposed by the president to democratise the judiciary was approved by Congress, the judges found legal grounds to block it.

Just as the proposed legislation to control media concentration ignited a public debate about the ownership and role of the media, a similar controversy about the judiciary has forced many judges and prosecutors who usually keep a low profile, to reveal their opposition to legislation aimed at democratising their profession.

The judges’ collective effort to challenge a democratic government plus their public exposure as a body that for decades has operated in the shadows, stood in the foreground of the political rally that took place in the streets of Buenos Aires on February 18, whose formal purpose was to pay homage to Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman [1], who died in circumstances that remain unclear.

During the twentieth century, the coalition between segments of the elite and the army was known in Argentina as the ‘Military Party’. It worked to overthrow almost every democratically-elected government.

The ‘Military Party’ has finally ceased to exist. Damaged by popular revulsion at the crimes committed during the Dirty War (1976-1983), it was eventually disbanded after the trial and sentencing of those found most responsible for the mass killing of some 30,000 people.

Today, an alliance of big business, finance and large media companies have found, in the “judicial Party”, a new battering ram with which to destabilise a government that they have not been able to defeat at the polls.

Translated by Victoria Robertson


[1] Alberto Nisman was the special prosecutor investigating the 1994 terrorist bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires. The quality of the investigation that he led was seriously questioned by groups of victims. His failure to present sufficient evidence in recent years put him at odds with the Fernández government, which had provided him substantial resources to carry out the inquiry. Paradoxically, he had also confronted many of the colleagues who now claim to be on his side.

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