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This past March, US Senator Ted Cruz introduced the Corruption in Argentina Stymied by Enforcing Sanctions Act of 2023 (CASES), a bill that requires the US president to investigate and eventually sanction five Argentinian officials for corruption. This includes current Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her son, National Deputy Máximo Kirchner.

Natalia Seoane

Intelligence Manager & Head of LATAM Desk

The bill was also introduced to the US House of Representatives by Florida Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, who chairs the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

Cruz argued that sanctions are applicable in this case since the Fernández de Kirchner administration was highly corrupt during her presidential term from 2007 to 2015 and undermined the country’s rule of law and political institutions. He further states that the Fernandez de Kirchner administration placed Argentina’s institutions at the service of Iranian-linked terrorist organizations.

The CASES bill is based on Fernández de Kirchner’s criminal conviction for supervising a bribery scheme to defraud public funds, along with family members and close associates. However, Cruz’s argument that Argentina is associated with Iranian-linked terrorist organizations is more difficult to support, as the case is still ongoing. This stems from a controversial 2013 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that the Fernández de Kirchner administration signed with Tehran, which, according to her detractors, would have shielded Iran from its accused role in a 1994 attack against a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

The alleged collusion was being investigated by special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was subsequently found dead under unclear circumstances the day before he was scheduled to present his findings to Congress. The “Memorandum with Iran Case” was dismissed by a lower court that was purported to be politically linked to the Kirchners but last week it was ordered to be reopened by a court of appeals.

Some of Cruz’s arguments are aligned with Argentina’s judicial system. Last year, the Federal Court sentenced Fernandez de Kirchner to six years in prison and a lifelong ban on holding public office after she was found guilty in a fraud case involving 51 public contracts in Santa Cruz, the Kirchner’s stronghold in the Patagonia region, during her and her late husband Néstor Kirchner’s various national administrations between 2003 and 2015. According to the conviction, the Kirchner’s benefited from the construction company ran by Lázaro Báez, a close associate with no previous experience in the sector. Fernandez de Kirchner temporarily cannot be detained due to her position as vice president, which grants her political immunity until December 2023 and the Supreme Court is expected to review her appeal next year.

Indeed, following her two-term presidency, Fernandez de Kirchner was investigated multiple times on around a dozen charges related to corruption. However, only two other cases in addition to the above-mentioned conviction for fraud, are expected to go to trial next year, namely, the “Hotesur Case”, which involves an alleged scheme to launder the money obtained by the public contracts awarded to Lázaro Báez through a chain of hotels owned by the Kirchners, and the “Notebooks Case”, a purported large-scale corruption system that involved the biggest infrastructure firms in Argentina.

Sanctions are one of the most preferred foreign policy tools utilized by the US in response to various geopolitical issues worldwide, and Latin America is no exception. However, in this case, multiple media outlets and think tanks reported that Fernandez de Kirchner accused Cruz of being politically and economically motivated, including allegedly related to her decision to renegotiate the contracts of companies that operate in Vaca Muerta, one of the largest gas reserve fields in the world. Other outlets indirectly suggest that Cruz’s request for sanctions could also be related to Argentine Economy Minister Sergio Massa’s strategy for the country’s USD 44 billion bailout loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Despite this and arguments that such imposition of sanctions may be counterproductive by providing evidence that supports her own narrative regarding Cruz’s motivations, this would not be the first time that the US considered sanctioning senior officials still holding office in countries with whom the US amicable relations. Senior Paraguan officials, for example were sanctioned in January 2023 for their “involvement in systemic corruption that has undermined democratic institutions”. Former President Horacio Cartes, former Vice President Hugo Velázquez, and several companies owned by Cartes were designated pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which was issued to tackle human right abuses and corruption cases outside of the US that threatened the stability of international political and economic systems. According to the US Department of State, Cartes and Velázquez, along with other politicians, engaged in systematic corruption, including widespread bribery, through which they expanded their political and economic power while undermining Paraguay’s political institutions. Both are reportedly under investigation by the local prosecutor, but the cases remain open.

This serves as a not-so-distant example of proposed sanctions levied against senior Latin American officials for similar reasons to those presented by Cruz vis-à-vis Fernández de Kirchner  and her associates. That said, similar to most sanctions, these moves are, indeed, quite likely to be politically motivated and potentially even geared toward domestic consumption than efforts to effect real change. Indeed, such efforts have and will draw attention to Cruz, while currently serving considerably unclear US national or international policy interests, a fact that remains true whether or not the CASES bill passes.This is true whether or not the CASES bill passes and is implement. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the CASES bill will succeed.

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