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Latin American Vice Presidents and Corruption: Ways of Life

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s vice president, has a weakness for national rock, and for her favorite song – Rasguña las piedras. Her neighbors say that lately she can be heard singing it at home loudly. “The truth is that I am here / Others have died for less / Ways of living”. The neighbors, astonished, wondered what would lead the vice-president to change Sui Generis for the Spanish Leño.

A neighbor with a particularly fine ear detected that sometimes the vice-president changes the original lyrics for this one: “Lo cierto es que estoy aquí / Otros por menos renunciaron / Maneras de vivir” (The truth is that I am here / Others for less have given up / Ways of living). And since he has not only fine hearing, but also a fine intellect, it took him a short time to connect the dots; the newspaper on August 12 announced the resignation of the Paraguayan vice-president, Hugo Velázquez, and the withdrawal of his candidacy for president in 2023. The reason being that the United States considers him “significantly corrupt.”

Just a few days before, the three cases of the prosecutors Diego Luciani and Sergio Mola in the “Vialidad” trial, in which Cristina Fernandez is accused of illicit association and aggravated fraudulent administration, were made known. But the Argentine vice-president, far from resigning her position, challenged the two prosecutors in the case and the two judges. Ways of living.

Taking the good with the bad

 Velázquez did not need the accusations against him to lead to court cases, let alone to an oral trial, which is the most advanced stage of the legal process. The denomination of “significantly corrupt” by the United States was enough for him to resign.

In justifying his decision, he offered a mixture of good and bad`. On the one hand, he announced the cancellation of his candidacy for the 2023 presidential elections. According to him, the following was the reason: “To focus on preparing my defense and protecting my family’s good name”. That is to say, he made it seem that he made this decision for strictly personal reasons, and not because of the damage it would cause to the institutions if a suspect in a corruption case was a viable candidate for the first magistracy.

On the other hand, he also affirmed: “The institutionalism of the country must always stand above any personal matter”. Ultimately, what counts is that these words coincide with his actions, that is, with his departure from the Executive. And they coincide with the words and actions of Juan Carlos Duarte, legal advisor of the binational hydroelectric power plant, Yacyretá, that was implicated in the same corruption case – “I have already resigned from my position. It is a public position, and I have to honor the republican institutions.” Ways of living.

Imitation, to the consumer’s taste

One of the most common mechanisms in politics, but also one of the most mysterious, is imitation. How do we explain the reasons why some countries copy the institutions of others? How can it be understood that some behaviors of political leaders are replicated by those around them?

And even more surprising: in times of the Internet, when we find out at the same time what is happening in our neighboring country and in another located on the other side of the world, how is it that politicians mostly imitate the neighboring country and not others? Is geographical proximity still matter this much, despite technological advances and the corresponding socio-cultural changes? Regardless of speculation about the reasons, one thing is clear: imitation is at work. But it does not do so in a predetermined sense. In most cases, politicians can choose a model.

Velázquez seems to have chosen the model of Raúl Sendic, in Uruguay, who has been accused by the Political Conduct Tribunal of “unacceptable behavior in the use of public money” (he made personal expenses with a corporate card of the state oil company). He resigned from the vice presidency in September 2017. In an interview with Panorama Diez, the former vice-president affirmed: “When the situation reached the level of the justice system, I decided to resign from my position as Vice-President of the Republic and go to court as any other citizen. I never had the intention of taking refuge in the privileges. From my point of view, privileges should not exist”.

Cristina Fernández, on the other hand, seems to have looked for inspiration in Ecuador. On the one hand, according to sources close to Rafael Correa, it would be the latter of the two who originally devised the strategy of proclaiming themselves a candidate for vice-president and then nominating the candidate for president. But, in the end, she carried the scheme to term while Correa did not. The apprentice surpasses the master.

Regarding the privileges (to which Sendic renounced along with the vice presidency), the theory that Cristina Fernandez’s determination to hold political office has precisely to do with the political immunity that such office confers on her, and not with her ambition for power, is vox populi at this point. 

On the other hand, when it comes to dealing with the courts, Fernandez again looks to Ecuador. First, to Correa himself, who has obtained the status of political refugee in Belgium. This is a kind of legal protection that allows him to evade the eight-year sentence handed down by the courts of Ecuador for bribery. Second, there is former Ecuadorian vice president Jorge Glas, who is the fourth vice president in this series to face accusations of corruption. The now former president, Lenín Moreno, removed him from all his functions, and the also former president of the National Assembly, José Serrano, declared that Glas should step aside. However, the vice president clung to the position: “Resigning the Vice Presidency of the Republic would be like accepting my guilt when I am innocent”, he tweeted. In effect, Glas went to prison without resigning. Ways of living.

The implicit message

The song that Cristina Fernandez is heard singing is one of those with an implicit message. But it is not the classic psychophonies of dark rock, nor is it necessary to play the vinyl backwards to hear it. It is an implicit but very clear message.

First, the legal system is corrupt and unquestionably dominates the other Branches. This is demonstrated by the fact that those Brances fail to tame the tyranny of lawfare. If justice is corrupt and dominates the institutional system, the institutional system as a whole is corrupt. A funeral ode to the rule of law, intoned by those who are expected to be the guardians of its health.

Second, if the courts judge the citizen and he does not agree with the verdict, he can authorize himself to reverse the procedure. That is, the citizen judges the courts. This implies, moreover, that the citizen is in a position to decide who can judge him, which, in turn, always tends to be resolved in the most obvious way; the citizen determines that he alone can and should judge himself. And, of course, he declares his innocence.

The message received by the international political community, investors and, citizens has dire consequences in all three areas. There will be those who suffer these consequences, those who are concerned without suffering them directly, those who fight to reverse them. And there will be those who benefit from them and continue to chant loudly. Ways of living.

Translated from Spanish by Alek Langford


Politologist and Doctor in Political Science from the University of Salamanca. He specializes in the succession of power and vice-presidency in Latin America.


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