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The "Kirchners", democracy and the protection of free speech

By Tony Pagliaro

10.01.06 | Time to redefine democracy, at will. Néstor and Cristina Kirchner believe they are modern “caudillos” and that their political power lays in their capacity to mobilize and lead “common people”. They also believe that democracy only means “common people coming to power”. Just that. No respect for the basic freedoms of people or minorities is, they believe, necessary.

A government is democratic, they argue, if it has been elected. Their view is that there can therefore be an “authoritarian democracy”, with substantial political and coercive resources, provided “common people” approve it.

Their strange definition of democracy is based on meeting a single minimum standard: periodic “competitive” elections. They do not believe that a democracy should always allow unrestricted opportunities for public contestation of the government. Nor that it necessarily entails balancing two principles: “majority rule” and “minorities rights”. For the Kirchners, minorities have no rights. As we will see, not even the right to speak.

The powerful Argentine couple rejects the idea that democracy is based in many centers of power and not in a single ruling political elite, run by political oligarchs, like themselves.

Today’s Argentine democracy is both of a low quality and fragile. But the Kirchners do not believe that there is a need to deepen democracy. Much to the contrary, their need is to get full institutional control, including the Judiciary, as we have alerted previously form these very same pages.

Freedom of speech?

One of the central principles of democracy is freedom of speech. This essential personal freedom is based on four basic reasons: (i) the importance for democracies of an open discussion (the “market place of ideas”) to the discovery of truth; (ii) the fact that a right to express beliefs and political views instantiates what it is to be human, and is closely linked to other fundamental freedoms, like those that have to with religion, thought, and conscience; (iii) the need to allow “citizen participation” in a democracy; and (iv) the right to some degree of “control” over government.

Wives have no right to speak.

A recent case clearly shows what the real attitude of the Kirchners is vis-a-vis freedom of speech. The wife of a young military officer, Rafael Mercado, whose name is Cecilia Pando, dared to defend -in public- a Catholic Bishop that, like many other, was under the Kirchners open attack. She did so by sending a simple and very mild letter to the editor of “La Nación”, the leading Argentine newspaper defending the Bishop. When, in April 2005, the young lady’s letter was published by the paper his husband was immediately punished by the military. Now Major Mercado has been dismissed from the Army for the simple reason that he is married with a woman that has public views and dares to express them.

It is absolutely clear that a woman has been discriminated. The Kirchners believe that a wife, as such, has no individual right to speak. Maybe because their own nepotistic approach to “sharing” political power makes them believe that they are a single entity. Nevertheless, the fact is that in Argentina nobody ever voted for Cristina Kirchner to “share” presidential authority. But she does. That is maybe why the Presidential couple feels that a wife always expresses “the husband’s views”.

Mrs. Cecilia Pando de Mercado dared to speak. Now she knows, the hard way, that in the Kirchners “democratic” Argentina she definitely cannot do that. She does not have the right to speak.

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