With her popularity flagging, inflation cutting into wages and a technical default on Argentina’s foreign debt looming in the next few days, the last thing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner needed was for Amado Boudou to become the first sitting Argentinian vice-president to be formally charged with corruption.
In a succession of fiery speeches last week, Fernández had hoped to rally nationalist fervour against the international vulture funds, which won a recent US supreme court ruling ordering Argentina to pay the holdouts of its 2001 default – lenders that refused to take part in a debt restructuring – some $1.5bn (£880m) by Monday. But survey polls this weekend show the public is not listening and would rather pay the holdouts and are increasingly worried about corruption in her government.
A poll by the Poliarquia, indicated a surprising 65% are in favour of paying the holdouts, although 49% thought the US court’s award in their favour was excessive. Another, published by the newspaper Perfil, showed that 66% of Argentinians believe other corruption cases in her government will be uncovered by the courts.
Fernández has stayed silent on a weekend retreat in the southern region of Patagonia after federal judge Ariel Lijo presented the charges against Boudou in a midnight announcement on Friday.
Her failure to comment has added to the sense that her administration lacks direction as it moves into the last 18 months of its term.
There is also a feeling many Argentinians wish they could be allowed to just enjoy Lionel Messi’s game-winning performances so far in the World Cup, where Argentina face Switzerland on Tuesday, instead of having to deal with yet another government ending its term in the midst of a social and economic collapse.
“For society in general, a government that manages to complete its term without a massive social explosion is already seen as successful,” Gerardo Scherlis, a political science professor at the University of Buenos Aires, told the Buenos Aires daily La Nación, referring to Argentina’s previous economic collapses, hyperinflation in 1989 and the massive default in 2001-02, that brought down earlier administrations.
Boudou has been charged with accepting, through middlemen, a bribe of a 70% share in Ciccone printers in return for cancelling bankruptcy proceedings by Argentina’s tax office and obtaining government contracts for printing the nation’s banknotes. Also charged are two of Boudou’s business associates and two members of the Ciccone family, after over 300 pages of detailed testimony and phone call traces.
Leaders of the opposition have demanded the vice-president resign. “If he felt any shame Boudou should resign, but he’s shameless,” said Buenos Aires city legislator Graciela Ocaña, an anti-corruption campaigner.
“The president should have already ordered him to return to Argentina to demand his resignation,” said Margarita Stolbizer, of the Progressive Civic Front. “This is damaging for the president, for the government and for all Argentinians.”
Boudou, who was on an official trip to Cuba at the weekend, denies the charges.
Fernández, who once had astronomically high approval ratings and presided over a booming economy, might have hoped her last year and a half in office would have been easy. But with the economy crashing, a foreign default ever more likely and now the charges of corruption against her vice-president, it is doubtful that even a Messi-powered World Cup win could convince Argentinians she has not wavered off course.