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Albright Must See Argentina In Its True Colors

U.S. Secretary of State's democratization mission bound to find new Argentine administration a disappointment to this country and the region * * De la Rua fails to carry through on his campaign pledge to fight corruption * * Debauched Argentine judiciary feted by Argentine president rather than denounced for venality. * * New impertinence by bizarre state attorney regarding his obsessive witch hunt in the infamous Buenos Aires Yoga School case

Madeleine Albright's mini-tour of South America-with her formidable mission of advancing democracy in the region where faux democracy prevails-is taking her to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia. One would think that officials in Buenos Aires would use the occasion of her being in the country today, no matter how briefly, to bring up the IBM case with the visiting U.S. Secretary of State. This is particularly so since it will be Albright who ultimately will make the decision on the extradition of key U.S. and non-U.S. citizens, now residing in the U.S. who have been implicated in the alleged bribery affair. But strangely enough, the case-one of the biggest scandals to hit already scandal-ridden Argentina in many years-has all but disappeared from the country's horizon. This is but one of a series of inexplicable occurrences that have visited an Argentina that has all but lost its image as a progressive nation, and which has now, due to its sagging economy, become almost a junior player in the regional Mercosur Trading bloc.

President Fernando de la Rua, who ran last year on a reformist platform, as the candidate of a coalition consisting of his center-right Radical Party and the center-left Frepaso Party, was voted into office on a sharply targeted anti-corruption platform. His personal support has now all but vanished as the nation suffers from disillusionment over his lackluster performance. Today de la Rua hardly is the dynamic alternative to the Menem era of the 1990's as was his image during the presidential race. Under the current Argentine leader, employment is stagnant, work stoppages are rampant, crime is increasing, capital flight takes off, as the population quickly loses faith in its democratic government. De la Rua's lack of leadership and the virtual disappearance of Carlos "Chacho" Alvarez, the more liberal Frepaso Vice President, from a role of eminence in national affairs, suggests that Argentina will remain leaderless for the next four years, which inevitably will prompt the corrupt former President Menem to again run for office once de la Rua finishes his first term.

IBM Case becomes a desaparecido Argentine authorities may still be preoccupied with the unresolved IBM bribe case, in which IBM Latin America, a subsidiary of the U.S. computer giant, allegedly conspired with Banco Nación, a government-run institution, to award the U.S. company a $250 million computer contract in exchange for a $25 million bribe. But it is doubtful that the issue will be on de la Rua's agenda for the Albright meeting. The IBM case has become a significant factor in Washington's growing awareness of Argentina's notoriously corrupt judicial system, including its skewed institution of state prosecutors with their dangerously unchecked authority. As a result, U.S. officials have consistently resisted all feelers from Buenos Aires, as well as the entreaties of an Argentine federal judge investigating the case, regarding the possible extradition of several U.S. and foreign nationals who allegedly have had been directly involved in the bribery affair.

The Argentine legal delivery system has been widely noted for its poor quality and sticky fingers. According to the 1999 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Argentina is the 28th most corrupt nation in the world of the 99 nations that had been evaluated. Rather than mount a frontal assault against an institution that has brought international derision upon the country, de la Rua decided to hold a state dinner honoring over forty Argentine judges, an estimated half of whom had systematically received payoffs from one source or another.

The BAYS Case But there is another case that perhaps more accurately reflects the profoundly tainted nature of Argentina's criminal justice system. Due to the code of silence that descended upon the media regarding the Buenos Aires Yoga School (BAYS) case because of the acute embarrassment of public officials and some editors over the abuse of power and the application of yellow journalism by a few of the newspapers when the whole affair came to light seven years ago, the BAYS matter has received almost no scrutiny by the Argentine authorities, and only slight attention in the U.S. press. Rather than view BAYS as a small educational and cultural society that, at its peak had 900 members, half of whom were Jewish, the press and the courts-looking for another circulation-building Jonestown-presented a grotesquely distorted image of the organization as a murky sex cult which "psychologically captured" its members, all adults, and reduced them to a "condition of servitude."

These outrageous and entirely contrived charges demonstrably were motivated by a lurid court, containing judges who, in a number of instances, had been accused of being of a neo-Nazi orientation, and were applied against BAYS with a vengeance. The cases originally had been brought by a small group of dissident families seeking to restrict the freedom of their adult children and other relatives (a number of whom were in their thirties), who had fled their often dysfunctional homes and found in BAYS' philosophy strong moral values.

It is imperative that Albright uses this opportunity to briefly raise the BAYS case with de la Rua in order that the Argentine Supreme Court finally will resolve this seven-year-old case, which disgracefully has far exceeded the applicable statute of limitations, and marred Washington's relations with Buenos Aires.

In an interview over Spanish CNN before beginning her Latin America visit, Albright acknowledged that she was aware of the BAYS case and had been monitoring it. In fact, last year, President Clinton in one of two the letters he has written on the BAYS case, assured a number of members of Congress that he had instructed the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires to closely follow developments regarding it. On May 11 of this year, Judge Corvalán de la Colina, himself a highly controversial trial judge, who was being considered for impeachment as a result of his conduct in the BAYS case, dismissed the defendants after a decision by the Cassation Court, which cited a lack of evidence and the expiration of the statue of limitations. The closure of the case is still not secure because State Prosecutor Patricio Lugones, who seems determined to convict the BAYS members regardless of whether they had violated any laws, has appealed the dismissal, which he also has done in the past after his appeals had been rejected by higher courts. Since there are no obvious illegal actions by BAYS members, Lugones is casting about for any pretext under which he can continue to prosecute, coming forth with the pathetic argument that "This case merits...a larger conceptual breadth for the analysis of facts which appear very seldom in practice." In fact, Lugones' actions have attracted the private condemnation of a number of Supreme Court justices and senior faculty members of the University of Buenos Aires, Faculty of Law who met with COHA director Larry Birns, on trips he made to Argentina in 1998 and 1999.

Given Lugones' determination, and the strong sense of fellowship among judges within the Argentine judicial system, where loyalty supersedes any basic sense of justice, it appears that Judge Corvalán de la Colina's dismissal of the defendants could actually be only a strategic ploy. Instead of ending the harassment, it could provide Lugones with a fugitive opportunity to reopen the case and continue to prolong the trial without any basis of merit, meanwhile grossly violating statue of limitations considerations. If the appeal is denied, then the BAYS case will be dismissed and all charges, even the case pending in the Supreme Court, will be vacated by court decree. However, if Lugones is successful, BAYS must continue to seek justice from the same fraud-ridden Argentine judicial system that has been championing the groundless case against it for the past seven years.

The Lugones factor Eminent Argentine criminal law attorney and University of Buenos Aires law professor, Dr. Raúl Zaffaroni, along with a number of renowned human rights activists, have come to BAYS' defense, arguing that throughout the handling of the case, basic human rights of the organization's members have been violated. The situation has been compared to the Soviet practice of "psychiatrization of the dissidents," described by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his work, "The Gulag Archipelago," where pseudo-psychiatric procedures were used by Stalin and the KGB as a ruse to punish and later inter political dissidents. In this process, "In the interrogation [the authorities] do not seek evidence and proof that the person accused acted in word or deed against Soviet power. The first question should be: What is his class, what is his origin, what is his education and upbringing? These are the questions that must determine the fate of the accused."

In a modern-day parallel, the actions of Judge Corvalán de la Colina (an ill-reputed trial judge) together with other jurists who presided over the case at different phases and acted as if they were members of a Nazi-style Bund, have authored a series of gross acts bordering and acceding the boundaries of professional malpractice as well as acceptable human rights standards. They repeatedly ignored reputable psychological evaluations establishing that the two adult BAYS members were of sound mind, instead awarding their parents with the right to be their legal representatives. Within the U.S. context, or in any other western judicial system, a man with Lugones' reputation and pattern of dubious behavior would have been summarily dismissed from his position, after a suitable hearing had taken place. COHA director Birns, has affirmed that, as a result of a meeting with Lugones and an extensive familiarity with his behavior, he would be glad to testify at such a hearing, arguing that Lugones was ether temperamentally unfit for the position, a right-wing extremist carrying out an explosive hidden ideological agenda, or a person who is financially benefiting from his otherwise inexplicable actions. Birns reiterated that due to these serious charges, expert witnesses were necessary to establish their validity.

BAYS struggle has taken on some international prominence, having become the subject of articles in the Financial Times, the Washington Times and the Dallas Morning News, among other national and local publications, including the Congressional Record. It also has come to the attention of Washington officials and numerous human and legal rights organizations. In a letter sent to over 50 members of Congress (including Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) and John Conyers (D-MI) the chairman and ranking minority leader of the House Judiciary Committee), who earlier had written letters both to the U.S. and Argentine presidents expressing their chagrin over the handling of the BAYS case, President Clinton said that he agreed that "Like the other cases in the Argentine judicial system, this case has taken too long to resolve," exceeding the statute of limitations.

In a letter written by COHA Director Larry Birns to Dr. Nicolás Eduardo Becerra, Argentina's General Prosecutor and Lugones' superior, he expressed his astonishment over the state prosecutor's decision to reintroduce the charges against BAYS after they had been dropped by the trial judge, who himself had clearly been waging a personal vendetta against the organization. Birns maintained that Lugones' actions were bringing "disgrace upon the General Prosecutor's office." In his letter to Becerra, Birns went on to say that "established Argentine jurisprudence clearly holds no sway in this case, where Neo-nazi judges and state prosecutors are carrying out a campaign of obsession, vengeance, right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism, and in the case of Lugones, possibly the subornation of his office."

Because of the Argentine government's failure to protect the basic rights of its citizens, the BAYS members are now been forced to seek international redress from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and for that body to relieve them of the burden of these false charges. If the Commission finds in BAYS favor, this could prove a very costly denouement for the de la Rua government.

Karen Juckett and Allison Rainey Research Associates

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-partisan and tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the floor of the Senate as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers."


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