Argentina | Freedom House

Countries at the Crossroads



Countries at the Crossroads 2012

2012 Scores

Accountability and Public Voice
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Civil Liberties
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Rule of Law
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Anti-Corruption and Transparency
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Argentina, an independent nation since 1816, is a federal republic comprising 23 provinces and an autonomous capital city. The 1853 Constitution, as amended in 1994, provides for a president elected for four years with the possibility of reelection for one additional term. The lower chamber of the federal legislature, the Chamber of Deputies, seats 257 deputies elected in provincial districts using proportional representation and serving four-year terms. The upper chamber, the Senate, has 72 seats, three for each province and three for the autonomous capital city of Buenos Aires; its members serve six-year terms. Elections for both chambers are staggered, with half the deputies and one-third of the senators elected every two years.

In the 20th century, democratic rule suffered multiple interruptions, with the most bloody, repressive period of military rule occurring between 1976 and 1983. Following the restoration of democracy in 1983, legislative and executive offices, both federal and provincial, have been filled according to the results of free and fair elections. However, the path has not always been smooth: at different points over this period, political crises led two presidents and several provincial governors to resign before completing their terms.

Argentina’s two largest and oldest parties, the Peronist Party (Partido Justicialista—PJ) and the Radical Civic Union (Unión Radical Cívica—UCR) have dominated competition for executive offices and have typically won the largest shares of legislative seats at all levels of government. However, electoral support for the UCR has dwindled in the three most recent presidential races, significantly reducing the probability of party turnover at the national level. 

As in many other Latin American countries, electoral cycles and dramatic reorientations of economic policy have affected Argentine democracy. Yet Argentina’s electoral swings and policy changes have spanned a particularly wide spectrum, with the frequent spells of PJ dominance only partially obscuring fights between members of its multiple factions. Raúl Alfonsín, the UCR first president of the restored democracy, ran on a platform of commitment to the rule of law and heterodox economic policy. His administration was partially successful on the first front but failed completely on the second. High-ranking military officers accused of human rights violations during the dictatorship were brought to trial and sentenced, but a succession of mutinies cut short the possibility of additional prosecutions. In the midst of a severe social crisis and hyperinflation, Alfonsín resigned and transferred power early to Carlos Menem, the candidate of the opposition PJ who had won the 1989 elections.

Menem pardoned the military members sentenced for violent crimes committed during the 1970s, pushed constitutional concerns far back on the presidential agenda, and launched an ambitious plan to stabilize prices, privatize state-owned firms, lift barriers to foreign trade, and weaken regulations on market competition. After some initial difficulties, these policies achieved a notable level of success and boosted Menem’s popularity. Riding this wave of support, he agreed with the UCR to reform the constitution and lift the ban on presidential reelection. In 1994, a constitutional convention approved the proposal, as well as a number of other significant reforms. Menem was then reelected in 1995, but the economy skidded, and amid unprecedented unemployment levels and allegations of corruption associated with bitter political competition within the ruling PJ, the party was defeated in the 1997 midterm elections.

In the second half of 1998, a severe recession added to the Menem’s second-term problems; worse yet, a 1999 devaluation in Brazil, Argentina’s main trade partner, further eroded Argentine economic competitiveness and called into question the peg of the local peso to the American dollar—the centerpiece and symbol of Menem’s economic policy. However, while a majority of the public remained firmly in favor to the scheme, internal conflict plaguing the incumbent administration made it no surprise when Fernando de la Rúa, who headed a coalition between the UCR and the smaller, center-left, Peronist spinoff Front for a Country in Solidarity (FREPASO), won the 1999 presidential election.

De la Rúa inherited an economy sunk in a deep recession and facing an unsustainable public debt. Unwilling to travel the path of devaluation, the new president was forced into an ill-fated plan of deep spending cuts that proved futile in restoring confidence and jump-starting activity. The economy spiraled into a full-blown financial and social crisis, including a bank deposit freeze, plummeting output, and major political commotion. The saga culminated with de la Rúa’s resignation on December 20, 2001 and a rapid succession of three presidents—one of whom, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, announced a default on the public debt—before tenuous stability returned to the executive with the inauguration of Eduardo Duhalde as interim president on January 1, 2002. Duhalde devalued the currency, launched an emergency social assistance plan, and adopted several measures to avoid hyperinflation. Though unemployment and poverty remained at record levels, the economy emerged from four years of decline in the second half of 2002. While having averted the worst forecasts and produced the beginnings of economic recovery did not provide sufficient political capital to allow Duhalde to stand for a full term in the 2003 elections,  his performance was strong enough that his support of Néstor Kirchner,  the governor of the large but sparsely populated Santa Cruz province, boosted Kirchner to place a close second to Menem in the first round and win the presidency after Menem, facing certain defeat, declined to partake of the runoff.

Kirchner used a high exchange rate and favorable international and domestic conditions to foment a robust recovery of public finances—and in the process reasserted the political authority of the presidency. He also actively promoted the reopening of judicial actions against those responsible for crimes committed under the military regime. Most presidential initiatives were justified as efforts to restitute the primacy of politics over other mechanisms of social coordination. In practice, this primacy was often reduced to the ascendancy of the national executive over other public authorities as well as other social actors. A deep seated belief in the practical efficacy and normative validity of state regulations, inspired a set of decisive interventions in several sectors and markets, which implied a significant departure from the policy style of the previous three administrations. The enlarged social presence of national public authority coupled with a presidential taste for stark contrasts in public debate and distaste for internal dissent, made for a distinctively charged climate of political competition.

Having presided over four years of high economic growth, increasing employment and decreasing poverty levels, Kirchner was able to unite the PJ behind his leadership and impose his wife, Cristina Fernández, as presidential candidate for the 2007 elections. Her candidacy signaled the intention to sustain the policy orientation of the previous administration but also entailed the worrisome possibility that Kirchner and Fernández rotated in the exercise of the presidency, thus flouting constitutional term limits.

Kirchner’s reluctance to reduce public and private consumption even in the face of accelerating inflation, foreshadowed the conduct and tone of the next administration. Three months into her presidency, Cristina Fernández sparked bitter—and in some cases violent—opposition from agricultural producers when she proposed setting duties on agricultural exports according to shifts in international prices. The proposal cleared the lower chamber by a very narrow margin but was defeated in the Senate, with the deciding nay vote cast by Vice President Julio Cobos. The confrontation, in combination with a brief economic contraction, eroded Fernández’s popularity and led to the defeat of several of the PJ’s most prominent legislative candidates, Kirchner among them, in 2009. Responding to this setback and seeking to galvanize support among its allies and voters, the government responded with an economic and political offensive. In the economic sphere, it reinforced incentives to stimulate internal consumption, implemented an ambitious cash transfer antipoverty program, and nationalized the pension system. In the political realm, the administration confronted its critics in the media, cultivated a network of progovernment shows and columns in both private and public media outlets, and put forward a progressive social reform agenda that included the legalization of gay marriage. Increasingly, the government restricted access to public information and made unapologetically partisan use of state resources to publicize its policies and harass its adversaries in the media and the electoral realm.

By six months after the 2009 election, the combined effects of its policies had helped the government recover a significant share of lost ground, and the economy was again growing at very high rates in October 2010, when ex-president Kirchner passed away. His passing dissipated the prospect of indefinite sucession between husband and wife in the exercise of the presidency. The evident sincerity of President Fernández’s emotional reaction to this shocking event helped her consolidate her public standing and leadership position, and after campaigning on a platform of continuity she was reelected to a second term by a comfortable margin in October 2011.

Despite the dominance of the Kirchner-Fernández wing of the PJ in Argentine politics, the president faces multiple pressing issues as she enters the heart of her second term. Economically, inflation has eroded much of the competitive edge that a comparatively weak currency gave Argentine exports, the growth of subsidies to internal consumption has outpaced that of public revenue, and the supply of foreign currency is insufficient to meet Argentina’s outstanding financial commitments. The policy style and coalition of support of the current administration do not seem to fit comfortably this new socioeconomic context. Although it seems likely that distributive conflicts will present the Argentine political system with severe challenges in the near future, party fragmentation and the electoral weakness of opposition parties suggests that political challenges may originate in the governing party rather than in opposition ones.

Accountability and Public Voice: 

On the whole, elections in Argentina are free and fair. Suffrage is universal and mandatory. Freedom of political choice is widely assured; elections have by and large been peaceful. No undue or illegal pressure from organized societal actors encumbers elected officials, and people’s political choices are free from domination. In the 2011 presidential election, 79 percent of the country’s nearly 29 million registered voters turned out.[1] The right to organize political parties is respected at all levels of government. The Democratization of Political Representation, Transparency, and Electoral Fairness Law enacted in 2009 and implemented for the first time in 2011, gives parties free and equal access to television and radio, ensures public financing of party activities (with resources distributed in proportion to the performance of parties in national legislative elections), and forbids private political contributions. Yet advantages for incumbents related to the electorally-motivated use of public resources remains a concern. A recent study finds that incumbent majors in the province of Buenos Aires have enjoyed an advantage only related to their being in office and probably built upon their control of public resources.[2]  Other evidence suggests that decisions over public employment give provincial governors of every party an electoral edge.[3]  In addition, in national elections, political parties are required to print and distribute their own ballots among polling stations, a labor-intensive task that most small political organizations are not able to perform effectively.

Since the critical 2001 elections, the Argentine party system has undergone a significant transformation at the national level. Votes have been distributed among a larger set of parties, with the ensuing fragmentation affecting most severely the non-Peronist camp, formerly centered on the UCR. New organizations have grown in the space that the UCR’s decline left open, but most of them are confined to one or a few provinces. Therefore, the PJ remains the only electoral force of national scope, a status that, in spite of sometimes deep internal divisions, has allowed it to dominate the last three presidential races. The PJ has moreover continuously held large majorities in the Senate since 1983. Partisan majorities changed often in the lower chamber, however, as did control of the presidency until 1999. This diminished possibility for party turnover in the presidency blurs political responsibility and blocks electoral accountability. Politicians still compete fiercely for candidacies and votes, but competition is often more intense within parties and through nonelectoral means than between parties and through votes.

Rotation in power is somewhat more complex at the provincial and municipal levels. Argentine provinces and municipalities exhibit great variation in degree of competition and frequency of alternation in their executives. In some provinces, power has shifted from the UCR to the PJ or other successful provincial parties and back. But in many other provinces, such as Santa Cruz, Formosa, and La Rioja, the PJ has not lost an election since the return to democracy.[4] Not only are these limits to political competition at the subnational level relevant to policymaking within the provinces, they also affect policymaking at the national level through the often strong influence that provincial leaders exercise on national coalitions. This lack of electoral dynamism also has been interpreted as a further limit on accountability.[5]

Argentina’s system of checks and balances resembles that of the U.S. All bills must clear both houses of Congress and the president is endowed with substantial decree and veto powers. Since 1983 legislators have initiated a majority of enacted bills, and Congress has approved about half of all presidential initiatives.[6] More recently, legislative initiative has been somewhat lower than average and presidential success rates higher, as might be expected when the governing party enjoys majorities in both houses of Congress. Although President Fernández has resorted to decrees much less often than her predecessors, significant initiatives in monetary policy, foreign trade, and fiscal policy have been carried out through ministry directives and other executive resolutions. In short, Congress is active in national policy, but the presidency is pivotal in most key policy areas.This has been attributed to high legislator turnover rates; short legislative careers prevent professionalization and reinforce executive dominance both at the national and at the provincial level.[7] As a result, legislators do not specialize and rarely develop policymaking skills.[8] This lack of specialization has also compromised congressional oversight capabilities. For example, reports issued by the National General Audit (AGN), an autonomous body that assists Congress in reviewing administrative activity, rarely motivate significant changes in policy design or implementation.

Argentine judges, like their counterparts in the U.S. and many other Latin American countries, are endowed with the power to review the constitutionality of legislation. These powers have been exercised with varying intensity and effectiveness since 1983. Turnover of several members of the federal Supreme Court, completed during Kirchner’s administration using a newly transparent selection process, endowed this tribunal with high legitimacy, which the court has transformed into political ascendancy by carefully selecting their cases and timing their rulings, including several rulings that went against the executive branch’s position.

Civil servants are very rarely hired or promoted according strictly to their merits. Civil service laws and regulations are incomplete and ineffective at both the national and the provincial level. Noncompetitive employment contracts are usually used to bypass the weak system that regulates civil service. Although there are some merit-based staffing practices, they coexist with political patronage and electorally-motivated public sector wage policies.[9] [10]   

Monitoring and civic engagement has grown in Argentina in recent years. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civic groups are able to testify, comment on, and influence legislation and the policymaking process in general. Most NGOs are able to carry out their work without any impediment. In fact, NGOs were key participants in the discussions that led to the enactment of pivotal legislation in recent years, including the law that legalized marriage between same-sex couples in 2010,[11] as well as the 2003 decree establishing greater transparency and mechanisms of public discussion in the Supreme Court nominee selection process. In 2011 the National Electoral Chamber formally enabled the engagement and monitoring activities of diverse civic groups in the electoral process.[12] The number and effectiveness of NGOs diverge widely across provinces, variation that seems to reflect differing sociopolitical contexts rather than formal obstacles.[13]

Full constitutional protections for freedom of expression exist in Argentina. The national state has actively opposed the use of libel laws and other forms of legal restrictions on the freedom of expression, although libel and defamation remain criminal offenses. Arrest and violent forms of intimidation are uncommon and the state provides effective protections against those measures. Although there is neither censorship nor media closure, governments at both the national and the provincial level exert substantial influence through state advertising. Although the private media holds by far the largest market share, the national government makes intense use of the public media outlets at its disposal and allocates advertising quotas among private newspapers and stations with little correspondence to their readership or ratings. Such abuses prompted the Supreme Court, in February 2009 and again in March 2011, to issue decisions proscribing the discriminatory use of public advertising and calling on Congress to legislate on the matter. Achieving a more balanced spending equilibrium is critical, as the federal and provincial governments are the main investors in advertising in both radio and television. Just between May and October 2011, the presidency spent US$63 million in public advertising.[14]

Although state agencies actively communicate their activities and results in the media, officials rarely answer questions from the press. President Fernández has given only five press conferences in five years of government. Instead, she has frequently resorted to addressing the public using the official broadcasting system (which by law includes also private radio and television stations throughout the country).

In October 2009, the broadcasting law, originally sanctioned during the last dictatorship and reformed several times since, was replaced by a new one that seeks to prevent the concentration of ownership in media markets and promote the intervention of NGOs, universities, and other civic organizations in public communications. Several articles of the new law have been challenged by established media groups before the courts. However, in light of a recent Supreme Court decision, the deconcentration of media ownership is expected to begin in late 2012. It is not yet clear how exactly will the government proceed implementing the prohibition to own more than one media outlet in a given city or province.

The state does not in any way hinder access to internet. In fact, the new broadcasting law compels the government to reduce the so-called digital gap between the rich and the poor. To this effect, government implemented a school-based program called Connection Equality that distributes millions of netbooks to students in public high schools.[15]

Civil Liberties: 

Argentina has signed every international human rights treaty, and the 1994 Constitution gave these rules precedence over domestic legislation. The national government under various administrations has made considerable efforts to implement these treaties and prevent further abuses. However, some deficits are still observable, particularly at the provincial level, where in many cases local legislatures must enact their own legislation to adjust to the new international standards.

Legal protections from physical abuse are, on paper, robust. However, these legal safeguards have proven to be ineffective in some cases of police brutality and exposure to harsh prison conditions. Several steps were taken in recent years to eradicate these practices. Most of them have come from public agencies in the executive and the judiciary. The intervention of a vast and dense network of NGOs, which gained significant experience in investigating and promoting the prosecution of human rights abuses of the 1970s, keeps the general issue of rights violations high on the public agenda and contributes to prevention efforts. Prisons are overcrowded in some provinces; in general, areas with poorer detention conditions also experience more frequent claims of torture and violence. The prison ombudsman annually reports on some of these abuses. In addition, NGOs such as the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) closely scrutinize the system. According to CELS’s 2012 report, the vast majority of instances of torture and mistreatment in prisons and police stations go unpunished.[16]

Although there are legal protections against prolonged detention without trial, at least 59 percent of the country’s detainees are awaiting trial or a final ruling. That figure rises to 74 percent for detainees in the province of Buenos Aires.[17] In response, the federal Supreme Court in 2010 urged the provincial authorities to abide by a May 2005 ruling to use preventive detention only according to international standards.[18] Attacks on activists are uncommon in Argentina and rarely go unpunished when they occur. Arrest is very seldom used as a political weapon and there are not significant cases, if any, of arbitrary arrest. 

Human trafficking, conversely, occupies a prominent place on both the public and the legislative agenda, not only at the national level but also in several provinces. Various measures have been undertaken to attack this particular problem. Efforts to combat trafficking include passage of the first federal law to prevent and combat trafficking and to assist and protect its victims in 2008, the creation of many national programs coordinated by the Ministry of Security that aim to inform and report on the subject, and the creation of a public office, the Rescue and Support Office for Victims, that operates within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The strategy appears to showing results: in 2011 the number of victims rescued increased 180 percent compared to the number of rescues in 2010.[19]

State protection against crime is feeble and, in the face of improving economic and social conditions, surprising. According to the Ministry of Justice,[20] crime rates increased over the 1990s, peaked at the turn of the century during the economic crisis and remained at relatively high levels until 2008 (the last year for which there is readily available official data). In 2010, a regional study found that one in every four respondents in Argentina declared to have been a victim of a crime during the previous year. Half of those responding to this survey said they feared being victims of a theft or robbery.[21]This figures place Argentina among the least secure countries included in this study. Though the sources of urban crime are multiple and difficult to pinpoint, most analyses the uneven control of elected authorities over police forces is key. Policy volatility and lack of coordination also play a prominent role. Urban security policies change frequently over time and vary significantly between provinces and across levels of government. It is not uncommon that national security authorities pursue goals and use instruments different from those used by provincial authorities. At all levels, both goals and instruments change frequently over time.[22]

Mechanisms established by the national and provincial constitutions and within civil society offer multiple opportunities to petition and seek redress for state-perpetrated abuses. In general, these devices are effective. Citizens can contact the national or the local ombudsman whenever they feel state authorities violate their rights. Aggrieved citizens can also hire a private lawyer or seek help from a public one to present a case before civil, labor, or administrative courts. 

Argentine law prescribes gender equality in the exercise of all rights. Although several forms of discrimination against women persist, many women occupy prominent positions in the public and private sector. Symbolizing that status, the president, two Supreme Court Justices, three ministers, two governors and the president of the Central Bank are women. A law enacted in 1991 and a Supreme Court ruling from 2000 established that at least 30 percent of each list of candidates to the Chamber of Deputies must be women. Thanks in part to these rules, according to the United Nations (UN),[23] Argentina is among the world leaders with respect to female representation in both the lower and upper chambers.[24]

Women’s personal autonomy and security has been an important issue on the national agenda. The Supreme Court reports 719 charges of violence against women in 2011 and 671 in 2010.[25] Though it is difficult to infer from these figures the actual incidence of the problem, it is nevertheless relevant that it receives public attention and that institutional remedies are put in place. In 2009 Congress passed a law updating previous legislation with the goal of preventing, sanctioning, and eradicating physical, psychological, sexual, economic, and symbolic violence and discrimination against women. To implement the new legal framework, in February 2011 the government created a national commission to coordinate prevention and prosecution of gender violence at the national, provincial, and municipal levels. The commission operates within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. These improvements, along with innovations in protection to victims and greater access to resources that allow women to exercise their rights represent a significant stride forward in terms of gender equity.

Argentina’s constitution has incorporated several treaties that protect and promote minority rights. According to 2010 census data ethnic minorities (indigenous population and population of African descent) represent 2% of the population. One in every twenty residents (5%) has migrated from another country. A national law from 1988 explicitly forbids discriminatory practices and actions on the basis of ethnicity, race, nationality, ideology, sex, socioeconomic status, social condition, or physical appearance. Discrimination affects segments of the population of different sizes. The existence of protection mechanisms is relevant, regardless of the size of the most vulnerable groups.The National Institute Against Discrimination, Racism, and Xenophobia (INADI) operates within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The institute protects minority rights, investigates and denounces anyone who practices any form of discrimination, and carries out many programs to eradicate discrimination and promote pluralism. In addition, in 2008 the government created the Federal Council Against Discrimination to coordinate, elaborate, and implement its various policies. The government has made efforts to promote the autonomy of sexual minorities as well. In that direction, in 2010 Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriages.[26] Moreover, in 2012, the Gender Identity Law permitted adults to adopt names and obtain identity documents that reflect their self-recognized gender.

In 2010, President Fernández’s administration issued regulations to implement the 2004 immigration law, which represents a significant effort to improve the status of and deter discrimination against immigrants. Many human rights NGOs, religious groups, and UN agencies participated in drafting and implementing the new law. This regulation elevated governmental migration policy to the level of human rights. Significantly, the law acknowledges a human right to migrate and promotes labor integration and social inclusion for all immigrants.[27] Actual progress since implementation seems to have been slower in labor relations than in other social realms. 

Argentina’s legal framework and practices toward disabled people have made some progress. INADI has carried out many educational programs to eradicate discriminatory practices against persons with disabilities. The new broadcasting law passed in October 2009 forces broadcasters to offer closed captioning or a sign language interpreter for the deaf. In addition to these somewhat isolated efforts, more substantial progress has occurred in public educational institutions. A national law passed in December 2006 requires fulfillment of  the right to education for all disabled people at all levels. The special education program is governed by the principle of inclusion and forces all provinces to make the necessary efforts leading to the integration of the disabled into the public school system.

Every citizen’s’ right to hold the religious beliefs of his or her choice is enshrined in the constitution. No formal restrictions exist and legal protections to practice all religions are effectively enforced. The state does not interfere with the internal affairs of any faith. It has also refrained from placing any kind of restrictions on religious observance, religious ceremonies, or religious education. The ineffectiveness of government efforts to prosecute both national and foreign individuals accused of participating in the bombing of the headquarters of a Jewish civil organization in 1994 remains a source of concern. Freedom of association and assembly are widely and freely exercised. Many civic associations, business organizations, and political groups are able to organize themselves and mobilize successfully. Labor unions in Argentina remain among the strongest in Latin America. Befitting the Peronist tradition, President Fernández and her government have been especially protective of labor unions and remain sensitive to their demands, as was Néstor Kirchner while he was president.[28] Although the union movement has been long dominated by the Peronist-linked General Confederation of Workers (CGT), other unions, like the Argentine Workers’ Central (CTA), are still able to exercise significant political influence. However, one notable legal limitation on trade union freedom remains in place. The Argentine state recognizes a privileged legal status (personería gremial) for only one union in each sector. This privilege is a powerful bargaining chip, has been a matter of bitter dispute among union activists and scholars of union life, and has often been denounced by the International Labor Organization as an undue limitation of the freedom to associate. In spite of this peculiar legal framework and the steady shadow of state tutelage, Argentine unions remain comparatively effective in pressing wage demands and seeking improved working conditions.

Public protests are part of everyday life in Argentina. Street blockades and demonstrations are common. In 2011, in the city of Buenos Aires alone, 581 protests that included some blocking of the streets were reported.[29] The Fernández government has seldom used force to break them up. That has not always been the case, however, at the provincial level, where some governors have been accused of excessive use of force against peaceful protests. For instance, in November 2010 the governor of Formosa ordered the police to use force against an indigenous group that resisted an eviction. The intervention resulted in the death of one community member.[30] Most recently, in February 2012, police in the province of Catamarca were accused of violently breaking up an antimining protest led by environmentalists.[31]

Rule of Law: 

The Argentine court system has two levels: one federal, the other one provincial. At both the federal level and in each province there is a supreme court, appellate courts, and district courts. The extent of judicial independence varies across levels of government and provinces, but on the whole the courts are seen as highly politicized and vulnerable to political interference. The most notable exception to this widely-shared assessment is the federal Supreme Court, whose current set of justices includes renowned jurists who have made great efforts to ensure transparency and improve the chamber’s legitimacy, with the 2011 ruling regarding the equitable distribution of official publicity (see Accountability and Public Voice) a prominent recent example of the court’s autonomy.[32]   

In spite of the Supreme Court’s independence, compliance by the other branches is not always guaranteed. In 2009 the court declared unconstitutional an article from the Trade Union Act because it restricted the principle of freedom of association. The court urged the executive and Congress to take additional action to harmonize the law and its interpretation in practice with the principle of freedom of association enshrined in the constitution. The federal government did not issue new recognitions of personería gremial and, in general, did very little to comply with this ruling. Similarly, in March 2012 a lower federal judge decided to fine the federal state in 2012 for failing to observe the 2011 state publicity ruling.[33]   

Both provincial and federal judges are protected from unfair dismissals or removals. Appointments, however, are subject to major delays. In 2011 the opposition denounced the fact that 20 percent of seats in the federal courts were vacant, alleging that the executive was delaying the appointments for political motives. In the federal labor courts, which oversee many issues of high policy importance and social impact, as of 2011, 40 percent of the tribunals were operating with deputy judges.[34] This understaffing has major consequences for the daily functioning of the judiciary: the courts are overwhelmed, provoking serious inefficiencies. This issue is exacerbated by the lax processes by which temporary or deputy judges are appointed, which inspire general distrust.     

Argentine law presumes innocence until guilt is proven for all accused of crimes. The constitution also provides for fair, public, and timely trials. Trials are generally fair, but they are seldom timely. Criminal defendants often wait months or even years until a trial begins, and even longer for final sentences. This is intimately related to Argentina’s overcrowded prisons (see Civil Liberties). Access to independent counsel is almost universal. Both private and public lawyers are able to represent citizens without any fear of physical, legal, or economic repercussions. However, the quality of the counsel to which poorer citizens have access is typically inadequate. In general, poorer citizens rely on the public defender system, which lacks the required resources to meet the needs of all defendants. Public defenders are entrusted with very large caseloads, usually leading to insufficient attention to individual cases. 

Prosecutors are, in general, independent of political direction and control. However, in April 2012 a major controversy emerged in relation to corruption allegations against Vice President Amado Boudou. The vice president responded with an offensive that included accusing a law firm tied to Attorney General Esteban Righi of offering Boudou protection that the firm could extract from their close relationship to federal judges.[35] Righi resigned in indignation, and the accusation effectively (though temporarily) distracted public attention from the allegations against Boudou. The Senate subsequently denied confirmation to the government’s proposed replacement attorney general, who happened to be a close associate of Boudou. The Senate’s refusal to confirm an unprepared candidate protected the independence of public prosecutors but strained their relationship with the federal executive.

The Argentine military and police forces have been under effective civilian control since the return of democracy. They do not interfere in the political process, though the federal police and, in particular, provincial police forces are widely regarded as resistant to political direction when it comes to enforcing public security policies. Although they are rarely held accountable for acts of corruption, several measures have been taken to effectively prosecute military and police personnel accused of human rights violations. President Fernández and former President Kirchner have forcefully pushed forward such proceedings. In 2007 the Supreme Court annulled the pardons President Menem had issued in 1989 for military officials convicted of human rights violations during the 1976–1983 military dictatorship. That, along with a prior annulment of the impunity laws that had protected suspected abusers, allowed for the prosecution of thousands of people involved in state terrorism, abuse, torture, and homicide. Many of them were sentenced to life imprisonment, notably including Jorge Rafael Videla, the de facto president of Argentina from 1976 to 1981.[36] In total, by March 2012, 1886 individuals had been accused and 250 convicted, with 790 still on trial.[37]

Property rights in Argentina are guaranteed by law. All citizens are entitled to own property, alone or in association with others. The state usually protects citizens from unjust deprivation of property and duly compensates those affected. It is less effective, though, in enforcing contracts, mostly as a consequence of the problems in the judiciary described above. It has also been reluctant to abide by the regulatory frameworks for major international investments adopted as part of the privatization process of the 1990s. The state’s unwillingness to commit to predictable courses of action in macroeconomic policy decisions has been regarded as a major institutional liability and limitation on economic growth.[38]

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 

Red tape is prevalent in the Argentine bureaucracy but does not seem to offer major opportunities for corruption on a large scale. Nonetheless, the use of public power for private gain is still a critical issue, mainly because it often goes unpunished. 

State activity in the economy is poorly regulated. Many longstanding agencies are charged with monitoring public accounts and state regulation of the economy. Syndicate General’s Office (SIGEN) operates a system of internal control that depends on the executive, while the AGN, as was mentioned above, assists Congress by elaborating technical reports about public accounts and the performance of the federal administration. SIGEN’s many duties include issuing and implementing internal control standards; monitoring the proper functioning of the internal control system; and elaborating recommendations to ensure proper compliance and proper implementation of internal audit rules, all guided by the criteria of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness. Access to the SIGEN reports is complicated, however, as citizens must write formal requests asking for specific reports and are required to give detailed personal information. In recent years the SIGEN has even refused to deliver required reports about sensitive policy areas to the AGN.[39] In general, the SIGEN lacks adequate independence from the executive branch to function properly. This enduring problem has not become any less acute over the last few years. Although the AGN, which by constitutional mandate is directed by a president selected by the largest opposition party in Congress, performs better and typically elaborates high-quality reports, it generally goes unnoticed.

The Public Ethics Law passed in 1999 requires that all members of government declare their assets on an annual basis, but most officials ignore this requirement. Supreme Court justices provided their first declaration in 2007. Most members of Congress fail to comply: in 2011 only 11 of 329 national legislators offered an asset declaration, and only 2 of those 11 documents were up to date.[40] Executive officials usually comply with the regulation, but the documents are not open to the public and require a formal request to be accessed. 

Argentina has signed and ratified many treaties that aim to battle corruption and promote transparency. A public ethics code explicitly establishes the functional limitations of public officials. A fiscal responsibility law states that all documentation and information related to national public administration has the status of public information and is freely accessible to interested citizens. Argentine law also provides for an anticorruption office in charge of combating corruption in the federal administration and state firms. There is, in addition, a public prosecutor for administrative investigations that examines the behavior of public officials. The effectiveness of these laws, and the independence of the auditing bodies provided for in the regulatory framework, have been seriously compromised in the past. Anticorruption prosecutor Manuel Garrido resigned in 2009 after the prosecutor general narrowed the functions of his office. Garrido had denounced several public officials, presidents Fernández and Kirchner among them, during his tenure in the anticorruption office.[41] Such interference suggests that the mechanisms and resources devoted to preventing and prosecuting corruption need reinforcement. The lack of sentences related to high profile allegations of corruption confirms this impression.  

Argentina has no law to protect whistleblowers or anticorruption activists. Allegations of corruption are frequently and abundantly, though not always informatively, dispensed by the media. Lack of information does not seem to be the reason why allegations of corruptions go unpunished in Argentina. Rather the main obstacles seem to be that incumbents tend to select political allies to fill high ranking judicial positions and that sitting judges refrain from prosecuting elected officials while they are in office or as long as they wield some power.

The constitution and other laws recognize and protect a right to information. Enforcement mechanisms and established practices are inconsistent with the legal framework, however. Access to information is limited; various ministries require justification and, in some cases, personal information before they will consider a petition. Despite a legislative push in 2011, Argentina still lacks a comprehensive national law on access to public information, both at the federal level and in most provinces.[42] The quality and frequency of publicly-relevant information that the federal state makes available has decreased over the last few years. Indeed, increasing difficulties in accessing public information on different policy matters prompted a collective legal claim by NGOs and academics in 2008 demanding access to public information.[43] A matter of particular controversy has been federal reports on consumer prices and other indices derived from them, which are widely regarded as unreliable and have frequently been denounced as rigged.

Legislators are able to discuss and amend the budget, both at the federal level and in all provinces. However, the budget is not an accurate predictor of spending decisions. This is not due to a lack of transparency, but rather because legislators typically provide the executive with ample discretion to alter spending allocations; underestimated inflation results in lowball estimates of state revenue, and thus offers the executive additional spending room. The national and provincial governments report their expenditures accurately, though not always in a timely fashion. Municipal governments seldom do so. Argentina’s procurement procedures are quite opaque. Direct contracting is abundant, and many public purchases are performed this way instead of through public tenders, casting serious doubts on the level of transparency in the use of public resources. 


[1] Resultados de las Elecciones Nacionales del 23 de octubre de 2011, Dirección Nacional Electoral, Ministerio del Interior,

[2] Antonella Bandiera. 2012, “Las ventajas oficialistas y las asimetrías de información: evidencia de los municipios bonaerenses.” Tesis para la obtención del título de Licenciada en Ciencia Política. Universidad de San Andrés. Departamento de Ciencias Sociales.

[3] Calvo, E. and M. V. Murillo (2004). "Who delivers? partisan clients in the Argentine electoral market." American Journal Of Political Science 48(4): 742-757.

[4] See Carlos Gervasoni, “A Rentier Theory of Subnational Regimes: Fiscal Federalism, Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Argentine Provinces,” World Politics 62, no. 2 (2010): 302-340

[5] Ardanaz, Martin, M. Leiras and M. Tommasi. “The Politics of Federalism in Argentina and its Implications for Governance and Accountability” Forhcoming. World Development, special issue on decentralization.

[6] See Ernesto Calvo, “Representación Política, Política Pública y Estabilidad Institucional en el Congreso Argentino” in Carlos Acuña (ed) Instituciones y Actores de la Política y las Políticas Públicas en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: OSDE, in press). 

[7] See Mark Jones et al., “Amateur Legislators – Professional Politicians. The Consequences of Party-Centered Electoral Rules in a Federal System,” American Journal of Political Science 46, no.3 (2002): 656-669  

[8] See Mariano Tommasi, “Un País sin Rumbo. Política, Políticas Públicas y Desarrollo en la Argentina (con una breve comparación con el caso chileno),” Desarrollo Económico 50, no. 199 (2010): 391-421 

[9] Laura Zuvanic and Merecedes Iacoviello “The Weakest Link: The Bureaucracy and Civil Service in Latin America” in How Democracy Works: Political Institutions, Actor, and Arenas in Latin American Policymaking (Paperback) Carlos Scartascini, Ernesto Stein and Mariano Tommasi (eds) (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, 2010) 

[10]  Calvo, E. and M. V. Murillo (2004). "Who delivers? partisan clients in the Argentine electoral market." American Journal Of Political Science 48(4): 742-757.

[11] Gabriel Sued “El Poder de las ONG”, La Nación, 12 September 2010,

[12] Acordada N°128/1, Cámara Nacional Electoral, 13 October 2011

[13] Leiras, Marcelo. 2007. “Las relaciones entre el Estado y la Sociedad Civil en la Argentina: un marco de análisis.” In Hacia un nuevo vínculo entre Estado y Sociedad Civil. Buenos Aires: Programa de Naciones Unidad para el Desarrollo.

[14] “Pauta Oficial: ¿A quién beneficia Cristina Kirchner? ¿Y Macri? ¿Y Scioli?, La Nación, 21 March 2012,

[16] CELS. 2012. Derechos Humanos en Argentina: Informe 2012. Buenos Aires: Cels / Siglo XXI Editores. Pages: 187-8.

[17] “Informe Anual de la Procuración Penitenciaria de la Nación 2009”,

[18] CELS, La Corte Suprema volvió a advertir sobre la situación de las personas privadas de su libertad en la provincia de Buenos Aires”, 2 March 2010,

[19] Télam, “En 2011, creció 180% el número de víctimas rescatadas de redes de trata en todo el país” 2 January 2012,

[21] Germán Lodola y Mitchell Seligson. 2011. “Cultura política de la Democracia en Argentina, 2010.” Americas- Barometer, Vanderbilt University / Universidad Torcuato Di Tella: 74-78.

[22] For a complete discussion see Marcelo Sain. 2008. “El Leviatán Azul.” Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores.

[23] PNUD, “Aportes para el Desarrollo Humando en Argentina 2011: Género en cifras”, (2011), 50,

[24]  Ibíd., 51

[25] Accessed on october 20th, 2012.

[26] “Argentina legalises gay marriage”, The Guardian, 15 July 2010,

[27] “Reglamentación de la Ley de Migraciones: un paso necesario para hacer efectivos los derechos”, CELS, 3 May 2010,

[28] Sebastián Etchemendy, “La ‘Doble Alianza’ Gobierno-Sindicatos en el kirchnerismo (2003-2011). Orígenes, Evidencia y Perspectivas” in Carlos Acuña (ed) Instituciones y Actores de la Política y las Políticas Públicas en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: OSDE, in press)

[29] Pablo Novillo, “Creció un 70% la Cantidad de Piquetes en Calles Porteñas,” Clarín, 18 January 2012,

[30] Leonardo Rossi, “Por el crimen de La Primavera”, Página 12, 6 September 2011,

[31] “Caramarca: Brutal Represión a una Protesta Pacífica Contra la Minería”, La Razón, 10 February 2012,

[32] Editorial Perfil S.A. y otro c/ Estado Nacional -Jefatura de Gabinete de Ministros- SMC s/ amparo ley 16.986 E.80. XLV. Argentina. 2011

[33] “La Justicia Multó al Estado por no otorgar publicidad oficial a Perfil”, Perfil, 7 March 2012,

[34] “Casi la Mitad de los Juzgados del Fuero Laboral no Tienen Juez Titular”, Diario BAE, 23 January 2012,

[35] “Boudou Llevó sus Denuncias y Righi Renunció”, Páginas 12, 10 April 2012,

[36] “Condenan a los Represores Videla y Menéndez a Prisión Perpetua”, Clarín, 22 December 2010,

[38] Spiller, P. and M. Tommasi (2007). The institutional foundations of public policy in Argentina: a transactions cost approach. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[39] Juan Cruz Sanz, “Un Órgano de Control se Niega a Darle 300 Informes a Otro”, Clarín, 20 July 2010,

[40] Gabriel Salvia and Verónica Repond, “El Acceso a la Información Pública de los Legisladores Argentinos”, (CADAL, September 2011), 

[41] Gabriel Sued, “El Fiscal Anticorrupción dijo que lo Limitaron y Renunció”, La Nación, 13 March 2009,

[42] Victoria Urdinez, “El Acceso a la Información Pública, una materia pendiente en Nación y Provincias”, (Buenos Aires: CIPPEC, 2010),