For Venezuelans, the fight between Argentina’s president and their Central Bank chief is all too familiar. Cristina Fernández’s foreign reserves grab is a virtual re-run of Chávez’s "millardito" ploy, and the underlying assault on the separation of powers and the effective independence of nominally independent institutions is very much the alike.
The real difference, in this case, has a first name and a last name: Martín Redrado. While Venezuela’s Central Bank chiefs showed themselves ready to roll over and play dead in the face of Chávez’s open usurpation of the Central Bank’s constitutionally guaranteed autonomy, Argentina’s Redrado has shown himself willing to raise an immense stink rather than acquiescing to Cristina’s illegal whim. The result has been an institutional crisis of major proportions, and one that leaves Argentina at a crossroads.
At stake here is something deeper, more urgent than a technical debate over the best way to finance foreign debt service payments: the nature of power in Argentine society. Will power be One, omnimodo, emanating everywhere and always from a hyperempowered executive branch? Or will argentina retain the institutional complexity to sustain multiple centers of power within the state, each jealously guarding its constitutional prerogative, each checking the other and, in so doing, guaranteeing the freedom of its citizens and the primacy of the rule of law?
Venezuela reached this crossroads several years ago…and veered decisively in the authoritarian direction. Here’s hoping Argenina won’t make the same mistake.