Argentines Protest Fernandez’s Bid to Boost Grip on Courts

Argentines packed the streets of Buenos Aires last night to protest against President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s proposals that would increase state control over courts. The bills are set to be approved by Congress next week.

Protesters banging pots and holding Argentine flags and banners saying “Enough,” “No to Impunity,” gathered in central avenues of the country’s capital and sang the national anthem. Thousands gathered at the Plaza de Mayo square, in front of the presidential palace, brandishing banners urging “Independent Justice” and “Stop Corruption.”

“The government wants to domesticate justice, to get more control on judges and that’s a risk for all of us,” said Gustavo Alvarez, a 50-year-old lawyer who attended the rally with his son and wife. “We are here to force Cristina to listen to us, it’s all we can do.”

Fernandez, 60, sent a bill to Congress on April 8 to restrict court injunctions against the government and would limit any injunction to a period of six months. The bill would leave citizens and companies unprotected in their attempts to seek an injunction against state action to protect their finances or assets, said Gregorio Badeni, a professor of Constitutional Law at University of Buenos Aires.

“The idea of injunctions was to strengthen the position of people and companies to confront the strongest actor, which is the state,” Badeni said in a telephone interview. “This means a step back of 70 years.”

Million Marchers

Yesterday’s demonstrations in the streets of major cities represented the third nationwide protest against Fernandez’s government in eight months.

Buenos Aires Mayor of Mauricio Macri said in message on his Twitter account that there were more than 1 million people out on the streets taking part in the protests in the capital. TN television network showed rallies in cities of Salta, Cordoba and La Plata as well.

Fernandez last night flew to Lima to attend a meeting of Unasur, the 12-member Union of South American Nations, to discuss Venezuela’s election. She then traveled to Caracas for Nicolas Maduro’s inauguration as of Venezuela’s president.

The president’s proposal also seeks to expand the council of magistrates, a body that selects, monitors and evaluates the nation’s judges, to 19 from 13.

The planned changes to the justice system come four months after the government failed to impose a deadline for Grupo Clarin SA, the country’s largest media group, to sell assets that exceed limits set in a 2009 media law.

When Fernandez announced the proposed changes, she said the goal was to “democratize” and increase transparency in hiring attorneys for the judicial branch, justice workers’ wealth declarations and in selecting new members of the council of magistrates.

‘Flexible Justice’

Fernandez defended the restrictions on injunctions against the state, saying that injunctions can delay the law and legal rulings for years.

“By seeking injunctions against the state, they interrupt the application of laws or decrees ordered by legitimately elected authorities,” Fernandez said April 8. “We want legitimate, democratic, flexible justice for all Argentines, without fear of anyone.”

The Senate yesterday passed the bill restricting injunctions and will send the legislation onto the lower house, where the government has the majority to secure its approval, according to opposition Senator Maria Eugenia Estenssoro.

“The reform is a serious threat to constitutional guarantees,” said the Argentine Business Association in an e-mailed statement. “It would do great damage to Argentina’s investment environment and job creation.”

‘Arbitrary Measures’

Argentina’s Rural Society, the country’s biggest farm group, asked for an injunction when Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina in December ordered the confiscation of its exhibition center in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires as the government said that its purchase was “irregular.”

“Injunctions are the only way to oppose political power until judges rule on a case,” the Rural Society said in an e-mail statement. “It’s certain that in the near future, the government’s wishes won’t suffer limits,” the Rural Society said in an e-mail statement.

Opposition lawmakers, including former presidential candidates Elisa Carrio and Ricardo Alfonsin and Eduardo Amadeo, a former Ambassador to the U.S., said that the government is seeking an excessive level of impunity

Justice system workers are staging a three-day strike against the reform, which they say violates the Constitution as undermines the independence of the judiciary, union leader Julio Piumato said.

“By limiting and restricting injunctions against the state, citizens and the private sector are left unarmed to face arbitrary measures by the government,” said Estenssoro yesterday in a telephone interview. “This undermines individual’s rights and freedom.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.