Freedom in the World

Argentina

Argentina

Freedom in the World 2015

2015 Scores

Status

Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2
Overview: 


Popular support for P­resident Cristina Fernández de Kirchner continued its decline in 2014, due primarily to inflation and insecurity. Officials devalued the peso by 19 percent in January in order to shore up international currency reserves (which fell to a seven-year low in 2014), prompting a surge in inflation. An estimated 24 to 30 percent annual inflation rate during the year eroded the purchasing power of Argentines and increased the incentive to buy black market dollars. Inflation rose in spite of the government’s price watch agreement—Precios Cuidados (“protected prices”)—which mandated reduced prices on more than 150 products sold in the largest supermarket chains. Argentina also struggled with declining public safety in 2014 as the country played an increasing role in the international drug trade.

In April, a 24-hour general strike by labor unions brought large portions of the country to a standstill, affecting public transportation and government offices, and threatening the movement of the soybean harvest. Strikers demanded higher pay, lower taxes, and an increase in living standards amid the rising inflation.

The Fernández administration attempted to meet the country’s persistent economic uncertainty with pragmatism. By agreeing to a $5 billion settlement, the government resolved a two-year dispute with Repsol, a Spanish company whose controlling stake in an Argentine oil firm had been nationalized in 2012. The national statistics agency made efforts to increase transparency by reporting more credible inflation data, and the government exercised fiscal restraint by cutting expensive and unsustainable water and natural gas subsidies. Along with the January devaluation, the government eased restrictions on individuals purchasing dollars for savings purposes and reduced the tax rate on dollar purchases from 35 to 20 percent.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights: 31 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12

As amended in 1994, the constitution provides for a president to be elected for a four-year term, with the option of reelection for one additional term. Presidential candidates must win 45 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. President Fernández—originally elected in 2007 after her husband, Néstor Kirchner, finished serving his own term—won reelection in October 2011. With 54 percent of the vote, she claimed the largest margin of victory in the first round of a presidential election since the country returned to a democratic system in 1983. Fernández continued to centralize power in the executive branch after Kirchner’s sudden death in October 2010.

The National Congress consists of the 257-member Chamber of Deputies, whose representatives are directly elected for four-year terms, with half of the seats up for election every two years; and the 72-member Senate, whose representatives are directly elected for six-year terms, with one-third of the seats up for election every two years.

In the October 2013 midterm elections, Fernández’s Front for Victory (FPV) coalition won 33 percent of the vote nationwide, allowing her to maintain a slim majority in both houses of the National Congress. However, FPV lost in 12 of 23 provinces and placed third in Buenos Aires. According to observers, the strong showing by moderate opposition figures marked the end of the era of “Kirchnerismo,” the political movement headed by Fernández and her late husband.

As she will already have served two terms, Fernández is constitutionally banned from participating in the next presidential election, which will be held in October 2015.

 

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 14 / 16

The right to organize political parties is generally respected. Major parties include the Justicialist Party (also known as the Peronist Party), which has two opposing factions: the center-left FPV faction (currently headed by Fernández) and the center-right Federal Peronism faction. In recent years, the Renewal Front, a breakaway faction of Fernández’s party, has gained prominence.

The Peronists have been a dominant force in politics since 1946, and critics of the government have sometimes faced undue attention from tax officials in recent years. However, Argentina’s multiparty political system affords opposition parties the realistic opportunity to compete for political power. Other parties include the centrist Radical Civic Union, the center-right Republican Proposal, and the socialist Broad Progressive Front.

 

C. Functioning of Government: 6 / 12

Corruption plagues Argentine society, and scandals are common. The most prominent corruption scandal of 2014 involved Vice President Amado Boudou. In June, Boudou was indicted on corruption charges over his dealings with Ciccone Calcográfica SA, the company that had been contracted to print Argentina’s currency. During his term as economy minister in 2010, Boudou allegedly personally acquired 70 percent of Ciccone Calcográfica in secret, using various shell companies and middlemen. The deal would have given him lucrative government contracts and tax exemptions. If convicted, Boudou—who denies all wrongdoing—faces up to six years in prison and a lifetime ban on holding public office.

In another high-profile case, former secretary of transportation Ricardo Jaime was indicted on charges of “illicit enrichment” in April 2014 for allegedly accepting millions of pesos in assets as bribes during his time in office. Jaime has also denied any wrongdoing. Separately, Lázaro Báez, a construction tycoon and close business associate of the late Kirchner, has been under investigation since April 2013. Báez stands accused of embezzlement due to his alleged involvement in a money-laundering scandal facilitated by an illegal relationship with the government. Argentina was ranked 107 out of 175 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index.

A freedom of information bill passed by the Senate in 2010 subsequently stalled in the Chamber of Deputies and expired in 2013. Several provinces have passed their own freedom of information laws, but enforcement and funding problems have undermined their impact.

 

Civil Liberties: 49 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16

Argentine law guarantees freedom of expression, and Congress decriminalized libel and slander in 2009. However, the Fernández administration has been known to pressure opposition media through verbal attacks, and to prohibit private companies from advertising in opposition outlets. Despite multiple Supreme Court rulings urging the federal government to adhere to objective criteria for the allocation of official advertising, the administration has resisted reform. The government continues to make discriminatory use of official advertising contracts, doling them out as political rewards or punishments—a practice that threatens the sustainability of independent media outlets.

While Argentina is a relatively safe country for journalists, provincial governments have sometimes applied selective pressure to suppress critical news. In December 2013, for example, Juan Pablo Suárez, a newspaper editor known for his criticism of the government, was arrested while covering the violent arrest of a protest leader. In mid-2014, Suárez was accused of sedition and “inciting collective violence.” He is the first journalist to be charged under Argentina’s 2011 antiterrorism law, which amended Article 41 of the penal code to prescribe doubled sentences if a crime was intended to terrorize the public. The measure has been criticized for its potential for overly broad application.

The government does not restrict access to the internet, which is widely used in Argentina.

While the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and anti-Semitism is reportedly declining, the persecution of the country’s Jewish population (the largest in Latin America) has historically presented a great challenge. The 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center continues to play a role in politics; in 2006, Argentine prosecutors formally accused top Iranian officials of orchestrating the bombing, though there have been no convictions to date. In May 2014, a federal court struck down a 2013 agreement between Argentina and Iran to jointly investigate the bombing.

Academic freedom is a cherished Argentine tradition and is largely observed in practice. Private discussion is vibrant and unrestricted.

 

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 11 / 12

The freedoms of assembly and association are generally respected, and citizens organize protests to make their voices heard. Civic organizations are robust and play a major role in society, although some fall victim to Argentina’s pervasive corruption. Organized labor remains dominated by Peronist unions, and union influence is not strong. However, the country’s largest unions called a nationwide, 24-hour general strike in April 2014, paralyzing much of the country. They sought to protest high inflation and taxes, and shrinking real wages for workers.

 

F. Rule of Law: 11 / 16

Inefficiencies and delays plague the judicial system, which can be subject to political manipulation. The Supreme Court, however, maintains relative independence. In June 2013, it struck down former president Kirchner’s judicial reform law, deeming many of the provisions unconstitutional due to their potential to further politicize the selection of new judges.

Argentine law allows for fair trials, a right that is generally enforced by the judiciary. Police misconduct—including torture and brutality against suspects in custody—is endemic. Prisons are overcrowded, and conditions remain substandard throughout the country. Arbitrary arrests and abuse by police are rarely punished in the courts, and police collusion with drug traffickers is on the rise. Nevertheless, in February 2014, 17 former civil servants and police officers were put on trial for a December 2001 incident in which police opened fire on protesters, killing five.

Drug-related violence increased in 2014 as international criminal organizations used the country as both an operational base and a transit route. Argentina’s northern and central regions have been particularly affected. The city of Rosario, in the northern province of Santa Fe, has been plagued by turf wars between rival drug gangs since 2010, with the number of homicides rising 76 percent between 2012 and 2013. There were 264 registered killings in the city in 2013.

In 2014, Argentina’s growing insecurity was also reflected in a wave of attacks in which angry crowds attempted to punish suspected criminals through violent means. One such attack resulted in the death of a teenager accused of trying to steal a woman’s purse.

In 2005, the Supreme Court declared that laws passed in the 1980s to safeguard the military from prosecution were unconstitutional, laying the foundation for the prosecution of past military crimes. Following the ruling, then president Kirchner initiated proceedings against former officials involved in Argentina’s so-called dirty war (1976–1983), during which right-wing military rulers utilized brutal tactics to silence dissent. Such prosecutions have continued under the Fernández administration. In October 2011, 12 military and police officers, including Ricardo Cavallo and Alfredo Astiz, were convicted of torture, murder, and forced disappearance and sentenced to life in prison. Jorge Videla, a former military dictator and principal architect of the war, died in prison in May 2013 after receiving a life sentence in 2010 for crimes against humanity. In July 2014, two former senior military officials were sentenced to life in prison for the 1976 murder of Enrique Angelelli, a left-leaning bishop who championed the rights of those persecuted by the regime. The trial established that Angelelli was killed when his vehicle was forced off the road; the incident had been classified as an accident at the time.

Argentina’s indigenous peoples, who represent between 1.5 and 3.5 percent of the population, are largely neglected by the government and suffer disproportionately from extreme poverty and illness. Approximately 70 percent of the country’s rural indigenous communities lack titles to their lands. Current laws require the government to perform a survey on land occupied by indigenous communities by November 2017. While any evictions before that time are technically illegal, forced evictions still occur. This is partly due to the fact that only 11 of Argentina’s 23 provinces have constitutions recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples.

 

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 13 / 16

Harsh restrictions on foreign currency transactions limit citizens’ ability to travel and conduct business. In contrast, the registration process for owning property or starting a business has been streamlined through online procedures, which has reduced graft.

Women actively participate in politics in Argentina. In addition to the 2011 reelection of President Fernández, women held nearly 35 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies after the October 2013 elections. Decrees mandate that one-third of National Congress members be women.

Although abortion remains illegal, in March 2012 the Supreme Court outlawed the prosecution of women who have had an abortion after being raped. An estimated 500,000 illegal abortions are performed each year, resulting in approximately 100 deaths annually. Domestic violence against women is a serious problem, and women continue to face economic discrimination and gender-based wage gaps.

In 2002, Buenos Aires became the first South American city to pass a domestic partnership law, and in July 2010 Argentina became the second country in the Americas—after Canada—to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.

 

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology