EL CALAFATE - This town of around 8,000 in Patagonia holds a particular place in the world of Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner. It is full of luxurious hotels that are open, but with barely any tourists, at least now in the (Southern Hemisphere’s) winter.
It was full of stray dogs a few years ago, but now they are nowhere to be seen. A municipal neutering plan wiped them off the map. But one thing is still on the map - the plots of land sold at a low price to family and close friends of the Kirchner clan.
Like the last known such sale, to the current minister of social development, who is also the sister of the deceased president Nestor Kirchner. In fact, Alicia Kirchner, the poorest of the cabinet members, surprised many people last month when she included two plots of land in the sacred land of Kirchnerism in her usually short declaration of assets. Each plot of land is 833 square meters, and she declared having paid almost $11,000 for both, that is, around $6.78 per meter squared.
According to Opi Santa Cruz, the two lots are located barely two blocks from the two hectares of land that Néstor Kirchner bought for a song several years ago (he paid $7.50 per square meter, $150,000 in total), that he said he later sold to the Chilean group Cencosud for $2.4 million.
The corner owned by the Chileans - where a supermarket was promised - is still as vacant as before. Even the president of the company, Horst Paulmann, admits that he has no plans for the land. From there, you can see the Alto Calafate hotel, in which Kirchner is said to have invested his profits from the land sale. If Alicia has the good luck to sell the land at the same price her brother got, she would get around $200,000 for her two new plots of land, although the market value today would indicate a much lower value, around $80,000.
Alvaro de Lamadrid, the lawyer who has accused the former mayor, Néstor Méndez, of illegal land sales, says he suspects that Alicia Kirchner actually acquired the plots of land at the same time her brother did, years ago, but that she didn’t declare them until recently because her daughter is now the prosecutor that would handle the case. And a daughter can’t investigate her own mother in a criminal case.
De Lamadrid no longer lives in El Calafate. He left after making an unsuccessful run for city council, a campaign where he says he faced intimidation. Last year he published a book called “The Penguin Emperor” in which he describes the sales of municipal property to around 100 current and former government employees. It isn’t clear who is selling the plots of land nor who is maintaining them.
According to Clarin’s investigation, for example, the property that everyone in the city refers to as “Alicia’s house” is on one of the pieces of land obtained by her daughter the prosecutor. Natalia was able to acquire a parcel of land in the city very cheaply seven years ago.
The house, on the Avenue Juan Domingo Perón, was empty last week. There was a plastic slide for children in the house’s small yard. The land sales that De Lamadrid are denouncing happened between 2004 and 2007 and were made possible by a municipal order dictated by former Mayor Méndez in 2003. The list of beneficiaries is large. In addition to her deceased husband, there was also current President Cristina Kirchner, the business man Lázaro Báez - the assumed new owner of the Los Notros Inn, and even Méndez himself.