If you saw The Take, you’ll no doubt recognize the old man in the picture. Carlos Menem, following the dictates of the IMF, presided over an economic “miracle” in Argentina, which “mysteriously” (to hear certain economists tell it, anyway) turned into a meltdown. More than half the citizens of that once-prosperous country slid below the poverty line during the crash of 2001, which also saw Argentina go through five subsequent presidents in short succession. A year or so later, Menem — the father of the catastrophe — was running for office again, and in a bizarre twist, he was the frontrunner. He actually won the first round of elections, but as there was no clear majority, the election went to a run-off. It was on the second round that the rage and disgust of ordinary Argentines finally caught up to the former president and drove him out of the race. Néstor Kirchner, who got the IMF off Argentina’s neck (with some timely help from Chavecito in Venezuela) became president.
As for Menem, being a pariah didn’t hurt him as much as one might think. He didn’t slink off to obscurity, as might befit a disgraced politician who saw the tide of history roll over all his achievements and grind them into the mud. Nope…Menem is still, unbelievably, in office, as a senator (which is actually just a placeholder position until he decides to try for president again), although it now looks as though he might not stay there much longer:
The prosecuting attorney, Marcelo Agüero Vera, called on Friday for eight years’ imprisonment and the withdrawal of parliamentary privileges for ex-president and now senator Carlos Menem, for illegal arms trading to Croatia and Ecuador during his reign.
The prosecutor also asked that he be banned from holding public office for 16 years. An eight-year sentence was also requested for suspected arms trafficker Diego Palleros, and seven years for the former minister of Defence, Oscar Camilión, and five years and six months for Manuel Cornejo Torino, ex-director of Military Fabrications.
Menem, 82 years old, had been declared innocent by the Oral Tribunal, due to the events being considered not an “act of contraband”, but as a product of a “decision of exterior politics and a political act not subject to judgment.”
The case was reopened due to “insertion of false destinations (Panama and Venezuela), with intent to conceal from Customs the real destinations” of the weapons, which were bound for Croatia and Ecuador, countries in a state of war.
The ex-president (1989-1999) swore during the trial that he had limited himself to “signing export decrees” of 6,500 tons of weapons, originally destined for Venezuela and Panama, but they were diverted to Ecuador and Croatia, which were under a UN arms embargo.
Most of the weaponry went to Croatia, while the rest was set to Ecuador in 1995, when that country was in conflict with Peru, though Argentina was one of the guarantors in the peace treaty between the two countries.
In 2001, Carlos Menem was under more than five months’ house arrest for illegal arms sales, but the Supreme Court never enforced the sentenced.
As you can see, Carlos Menem is just another political bastard who benefited for unconscionable years from the culture of impunity in Argetina. The impunity, of course, was highly selective, reserved mainly for dirty politicians and Dirty War military repressors, many of whom have been lounging about for years unpunished while their victims have either fled into exile, died or been killed, or are still living in Argentina, terrified that the past may yet again rise up to trip them. That culture of impunity is also an effective silencing device for any political dissent that might actually accomplish something at a grassroots level. If the same Dirty War militaries who never went to prison for their repressive roles can be hired as police or bank security guards, what do you think might happen to anyone who dared to protest against the government…or the military…or the banks?
That’s why it’s become important to catch these political criminals and jail them in a timely manner. Menem, it seems, will likely pull a Pinochet, claiming he’s too old for prison (never mind that Jorge Videla, just five years Menem’s senior, died recently in prison, as befits a repressor.)
But if the macro details of his reign of corruption will not put him behind bars, the micro ones may yet do the trick. Illicit arms dealing is not a small crime, even if the plausble deniability of “oops, the guns got into the wrong hands, not my fault, haha” gets invoked. Does anyone seriously believe that Menem didn’t know where those guns were actually headed? If you do, I’ve got some lovely ocean-front property I’ll sell you for a song…IN SASKATCHEWAN.