Freedom in the World

Argentina

Argentina

Freedom in the World 2014

2014 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 fell in 2013 due to the Argentine economy’s estimated 25 percent annual inflation rate, an effective ban on foreign currency exchange, and the increasing centralization of the executive branch. Declining public services and public safety, as well as the government’s judicial reform proposal prompted demonstrations in April 2013 in which an estimated one million Argentines participated. The government’s popularity was also hit by its slow response to massive floods that scourged La Plata and Buenos Aires in April, killing more than 50 people and destroying thousands of homes. 

The Argentine government continued to pressure opposition media in 2013 through the discriminatory allocation of official advertising. After years of delays due to injunctions, in October the Supreme Court upheld the controversial 2009 Media Law. Hailed as a victory for freedom of speech by supporters by limiting the power of large media conglomerates, opponents alleged that the government could use it to silence critical outlets.

In July 2013 the government announced a joint venture between YPF—an oil company formerly owned by a Spanish corporation that the Argentine government had nationalized the previous year—and Chevron. The move followed a disappointing production year, and aims to exploit Argentina’s massive shale gas reserves, the second largest in the world.

Fernandez underwent unexpected brain surgery in early October to remove a build-up of blood near her brain, causing her to cease campaigning for allies in midterm elections held on October 27. The elections reduced the president’s majority in Congress, giving new momentum to the opposition.

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 elected for four years, with the option of reelection for one additional term. Presidential candidates must win 45 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. The National Congress consists of the 257-member Chamber of Deputies, whose members are directly elected for four-year terms, with half of the seats up for election every two years; and the 72-member Senate, whose members are directly elected for six-year terms, with one-third of the seats up for election every two years.

Fernández—originally elected in 2007 after her husband, Néstor Kirchner, finished his term—won reelection in October 2011, garnering 54 percent of the vote, the largest margin of victory in the first round of an Argentine presidential election since the return of democracy in 1983. Fernández continued to centralize power around the executive even after Néstor Kirchner’s sudden death in October 2010.

In the October 2013 midterm elections, 127 of the 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 24 of the 72 seats in the Senate were at stake, as were provincial deputies, senators, and a governorship. Fernández’s Front for Victory (FPV) coalition won 33 percent of the vote nationwide, allowing the president to maintain a slim majority in both houses of the National Congress. However, it lost 12 of 23 provinces, and placed third in the city of Buenos Aires. Observers said the strong showing by moderate opposition figures in effect marked the end of an era of “Kirchnerismo,” the political movement of Fernández and her late husband. The prospect of changing the constitution, which requires a two-thirds congressional majority, to allow Fernandez to run for a third term became close to impossible.

 

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 holds two opposing factions: the center-left FPV faction, and the center-right Federal Peronism faction. Other parties include the centrist Radical Civic Union, the center-right Republican Proposal, and the socialist Broad Progressive Front. In recent years, the Renewal Front, a breakaway faction within Fernández’s party, has gained prominence. The Peronists have been a dominant force in politics since 1946, although in Argentina’s multiparty political system, opposition parties do have a realistic ability to compete.

 

C. Functioning of Government: 6 / 12

Corruption plagues Argentine society and scandals are common. Former president and current senator Carlos Menem was convicted in June 2013 of trafficking arms while in office in the 1990s, but remains free because of parliamentary immunity. Former secretary of transportation Ricardo Jaime was indicted twice in 2010 on separate charges of embezzlement that reportedly occurred during his tenure from 2003 to 2009; while his trial had not begun by the end of 2013, he was found guilty in a separate trial in September 2013 of removing evidence during a raid on his house. Vice President Amado Boudou was also accused of embezzlement and influence peddling in 2012; his criminal investigation continued through the end of 2013. Finally, a scandal broke out in April 2013 concerning money laundering and official corruption involving Lazaro Baez, a construction tycoon and close business associate of the late Nestor Kirchner.  Baez faces allegations of embezzlement, facilitated by an illegal relationship with the Argentine government. A criminal investigation continued at year’s end. Argentina was ranked 106 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Meanwhile, the government’s manipulation of INDEC, the national statistics agency, in recent years has resulted in distorted economic figures, as well as the agency’s loss of domestic and international credibility. In February 2013, Argentina became the first country to be censured by the IMF for not providing accurate economic data.  A new consumer price index, more in line with IMF recommendations, was in the works at year’s end and was expected to be released in early 2014. 

 

Civil Liberties: 49 / 60


D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16

Freedom of expression is guaranteed by law, and Congress decriminalized libel and slander in 2009. However, the Fernández government has increasingly pressured opposition media through verbal attacks, the selective distribution of official advertising to progovernment outlets, and directives prohibiting private companies from advertising in opposition outlets. The government also proposed a bill in May 2013 to expand the government’s stake in Papel Prensa, the country’s sole newsprint manufacturer. The main target of the government’s actions has been Grupo Clarín, Argentina’s largest media conglomerate and a vocal critic of the Fernández government. After a years-long battle, Fernández’s government won a significant victory in October 2013 when the Supreme Court upheld the controversial 2009 Media Law, which aimed to diversify ownership in the heavily concentrated broadcast sector. Under the new provisions, Grupo Clarín will be forced to surrender all but 24 of its current holding of 158 broadcast licenses.

While the Senate passed a freedom of information bill in 2010 that would apply to all branches of the government, the time limit for action by the Chamber of Deputies lapsed in 2013, requiring the legislative process to begin anew. Several Argentine provinces have passed their own freedom of information laws, though enforcement and funding problems have undermined their impact.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and anti-Semitism is reportedly on the decline. In June 2010, Fernández appointed the first Jewish foreign minister in Argentine history. Nevertheless, the country’s Jewish community, the largest in Latin America, remains a target of discrimination and vandalism. The 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center continues to play a role in Argentine politics; in 2006, Argentine prosecutors formally accused top Iranian officials with orchestrating the bombing, though no convictions have been made. In 2013, the governments of Iran and Argentina set up a truth commission to investigate the bombing, prompting concerns that the Fernandez administration was interested in deepening Argentina’s economic ties with Iran at the expense of pursuing justice. Academic freedom is a cherished Argentine tradition and is largely observed in practice.

 

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 11 / 12

The rights of freedom of assembly and association are generally respected. For example, an estimated one million protestors marched peacefully across Argentina in April, criticizing Fernandez’s management of the economy, crime and unemployment, and a combative political environment. Civic organizations are robust and play a major role in society, although some fall victim to Argentina’s pervasive corruption. Labor is dominated by Peronist unions, though union influence has diminished dramatically in recent years due to internal divisions.

 

F. Rule of Law: 11 / 16

The justice system remains plagued by scores of incompetent and corrupt judges who retain their positions through tenure. The lower courts are highly politicized, and the relatively independent Supreme Court received heightened pressure from the government in the fall of 2013, specifically surrounding the Grupo Clarín case. In June 2013, Argentina’s Supreme Court struck down part of a judicial reform, pushed through Congress by Fernández, that called for direct elections of members of the Council of Magistrates, the body that nominates and disciplines judges. Critics said the reform endangered the independence of the judiciary.

Police misconduct, including torture and brutality of suspects in custody, is endemic. Arbitrary arrests and abuse by police are rarely punished in the courts, owing to intimidation of witnesses and judges, particularly in Buenos Aires province. Prisons are overcrowded, and conditions remain substandard throughout the country.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that laws passed in the 1980s to protect the military from prosecution were unconstitutional. The decision laid the foundation for the prosecution of past military crimes, leading previous president Néstor Kirchner to initiate prosecution proceedings against former officials involved in Argentina’s dirty war, a period between 1955 and 1983 that saw the use of brutal tactics by a series of right-wing military regimes to silence dissent. Prosecutions of perpetrators of human rights violations committed during that era have continued under the Fernández administration. Twelve military and police officers, including Ricardo Cavallo and Alfredo Astiz, were convicted of torture, murder, and forced disappearance in October 2011 and sentenced to life in prison. Jorge Videla, a former military dictator and principal architect of the dirty war, died in prison in May 2013 after receiving a life sentence in 2010 for crimes against humanity.

Argentina’s indigenous peoples, who represent between 1.5 and 3.5 percent of the population, are largely neglected by the government. Approximately 70 percent of the country’s rural indigenous communities lack title to their lands. While the Kirchner administration has returned lands to several communities, most disputes remain unresolved. Forced evictions of indigenous communities still occur, despite laws prohibiting the practice. In July 2013, the Supreme Court ordered the local government of La Primavera and the National Institution of Indigenous Rights to submit a plan of action for mapping territory claimed by the Qom community. The mandate specified that the Qom community must participate in the process.  The ruling came amidst a period of political pressure and police violence against the Qom community in the province of Formosa.  Particularly since 2010, the Qom have suffered from abusive authority, specifically violent evictions, in their quest to regain ancestral territory.

 

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 13 / 16

Women actively participate in politics in Argentina. In addition to the 2011 reelection of Fernández as president, women comprised 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. Argentina’s Supreme Court ruled in March 2012 that women who have an abortion after being raped can no longer be prosecuted; an estimated 500,000 illegal abortions are performed in Argentina each year. Domestic abuse remains a serious problem, and women face economic discrimination and gender wage gaps.

In 2002, Buenos Aires became the first South American city to pass a domestic partnership law, and Argentina became the second country in the Americas—after Canada—to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide in July 2010. Sex-trafficking remains a problem in Argentina, and in December 2012, three judges unexpectedly acquitted 13 defendants accused of kidnapping a woman and forcing her into prostitution. The verdict led to accusations that members of the judiciary were complicit in the sex-trafficking trade.

 

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology