Under the administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina has embarked on path of economic self-destruction while becoming an increasingly important hub for drug trafficking and money laundering, as noted recently by the U.S. State Department.
Senior government officials as well as leaders of the influential Catholic Church have recently lamented that much of the criminal activity seems to occur with the complicity of government.
Over the past year, the International Assessment and Strategy Center has published three reports documenting these trends. The reports show:
• The broadening corruption scandals at the highest levels of government.
• The enormous rise of the president’s personal wealth since she became president.
• Government attempts to muzzle the independent media.
• Government meddling in the judiciary — including the firing of an aggressive prosecutor investigating millions of dollars in suspicious and lucrative deals between the first family and one of its main business associates.
• The strengthening of ties of the administration with Iran
• Its growing anti-U.S. policies and rhetoric.
This pattern of anti-democratic behavior led Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who is chairman and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, a committee member, to publicly question whether Argentina could even be considered a U.S. ally and a mature democracy.
The answer to both questions is no. Fernández de Kirchner is following the Bolivarian model of criminalization and populist authoritarianism pioneered by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, not a road to democratic pluralism and rule of law.
This raises another important question: Given the nature of the Fernández de Kirchner government, how did it land Paul Clement, a respected former U.S. solicitor general, as its counsel of record in its case against U.S.-based hedge funds that he is now asking the Supreme Court to review?
The lower courts have consistently ruled against Argentina in the case. In oral statements to the appellate court, legal representatives of Argentine government said their client would not obey any court order to pay the $1.3 billion the hedge funds are seeking as repayment for loans that Argentina defaulted on in 2001.
Despite its own public disdain for the U.S. court system — which it initially agreed to as the venue for arbitration — Argentina is entitled to its day in a U.S. court.
But Argentina is not an ordinary case of a government seeking judicial redress. The Fernández de Kirchner government has consistently failed to live up to its international obligations in many other international forums, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Paris Club.
Unlike most governments, the Fernández de Kirchner administration does not deal in facts, even on basic economic indicators. For years the government fabricated inflation figures. It only begrudgingly halted the practice last month when, desperate for cash infusions from the international lending institutions it has spurned, it promised to reform in hopes of qualifying for IMF loans.
The appeal to the Fernández de Kirchner government of having such an eminent legal scholar representing it is obvious. Clement, who served as solicitor general from 2005 to 2008 and in other senior Department of Justice positions before that, has argued more than 70 cases before the Supreme Court and won numerous prestigious awards that attest to his legal acumen.
What is baffling is why someone with such a reputation would take on as a client a government that is ranked among the most corrupt in Latin America, with rising authoritarian tendencies, strongly anti-U.S. positions and an increasingly permissive environment for transnational organized crime groups.
It is a government that defends its ineptitude by spinning conspiracy theories of how the United States and Britain have conspired to topple it from its once-glorious place (a century ago) as one of the world’s richest countries.
Clement must be a very good lawyer. His reputation is stellar and he brings the heft of a former senior U.S. Department of Justice official who served his country.
Why would he risk that by defending a government that has already stated it has no intention of complying with an adverse court ruling, and pays little more than lip service to the rule of law at home? Perhaps believes the merits of the case outweigh the baggage of the client he is representing. It is hard to imagine how that could be.
Douglas Farah is president of IBI Consultants and senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a think tank in the Washington, D.C., area.