Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has it in for top Buenos Aires daily Clarin. But it's part of much grander plans to extend her power well past the line of legitimate democracy.
BUENOS AIRES – A few days ago, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner presented a new bill to raise the government’s stake in Papel Prensa, the country’s largest newsprint manufacturer, from 28% to 52%.
Because the ruling political faction controls the Argentine Parliament, it is likely that the bill will be passed into law. If this happens, Cristina K. will have a new lever of control over the GrupoClarin media holding – which is perhaps her last undefeated enemy.
The objective in nationalizing Papel Prensa is not hard to guess. Currently, La Nacion, the leading conservative newspaper and the GrupoClarin, which publishes Clarin, the largest newspaper in the country, own the biggest stakes in Papel Prensa.
The new law would reduce their ownership to less than half – giving the government the majority voting power. Thanks to its new majority stake, the government will be able to deny Clarin and La Nacion access to the paper they need to publish their newspapers anytime they criticize the government. In Argentina, there are controls on currency exchange and imports, making it very hard and expensive to import paper – or any other product for that matter.
If the new bill is approved, Clarin and La Nacion will have to think twice before publishing criticism toward the government. Clarin – much more than La Nacion – has become a bastion of independent journalism and opposition to the president.
In fact, a couple of weeks ago, Clarin-owned TV station Channel 13 reported that the president's late husband Nestor Kirchner was implicated in a multi-million money laundering scheme and corruption scandal. It is difficult to imagine that this kind of report could be produced by Clarin if Kirchner had control over the country’s newsprint manufacturer.
She accuses Clarin of monopoly, but the truth is that the president clearly does not believe in free trade. Since she took office six years ago, Kirchner has taken control, little by little, of the Central Bank, pension funds, airlines and Treasury Petroleum Fields (YPF).
She controls monetary policies and fills up the fiscal coffers by nationalizing private companies without compensating their owners. This discourages foreign investment. She locks competition by closing the economy and making it difficult to import. She sets currency prices regardless of supply or demand.
All these actions are bread for today and hunger for tomorrow. It is very sad for Argentina and Argentinians.
No freedom of the press
What is worse is that she does not seem to be interested in pluralism or the independence of the powers of the state. She found enough popular support to be elected to office and obtain a majority in Congress, so that her dictatorial ambitions are legitimized – although if not illegal, than perhaps unconstitutional.
A few weeks ago she managed to pass a law that reduces the independence of the judicial branch, forcing its members to be elected by popular vote and limiting the length of appeals that companies have today. If this law had been in place a few years ago, Grupo Clarin would not exist as we know it today.
Cristina K doesn’t like freedom of press either. Neither she nor her ministers give press conferences or respond to any questions from journalists, limiting themselves to public speeches and voicing their opinions on Twitter.
All propaganda and official publicity comes by way of the state-owned media only. A decision by Cristina to ban advertising from supermarkets in newspapers impacted Clarin very negatively.
Her fight with Clarin dates from before she was elected president in 2007, but her first serious attack came in 2009, when she presented and managed to pass a communications media law that prevented companies with a daily newspaper to own any other print media, and from controlling radio and TV channels as well.
That law required Grupo Clarin to get rid of most of their assets, but the company filed an injunction in court, which lasted three years – during which they searched for ways to get certain unconstitutional clauses annulled. A federal court ruled against Clarin in December 2012, but an appeals court reversed the ruling last month. Cristina’s government said it would appeal to the Supreme Court. At the same time, the government is trying to reduce appeals and injuctions from three years to six months.
During her six years in office, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has done everything in her power to damage the private sector, the independence of the powers of state, pluralism and freedom of press – all of which are pillars of economic growth and democratic coexistence – greatly damaging Argentina.
Luckily, Argentinians are starting to realize what is going on.