Last week, LatinAmericaGoesGlobal had the opportunity to sit down with Margarita Stolbizer, one of the presidential candidates in October 2015 elections in Argentina. A lawyer by training, she has been involved in Argentine politics for more than 35 years. Stolbizer began in the 1980s as a member of the Radical Civic Union (UCR) when UCR leader Raúl Alfonsín, was elected president in the country’s democratic transition in 1983. Stolbizer became one of the leading figures in UCR until increasing differences with the leadership led her to split and form her own alliance, Generation for a National Encounter (GEN) in 2007. She is currently a National Deputy for Buenos Aires Province, and is running for President as the candidate from the democratic left Broad Progressive Front (Frente Amplio Progresista or FAP), running under the brand “Progressives” (Progresistas).
Women’s and LGBT Rights:
We started by asking how she—as a self-proclaimed progressive candidate—differentiates herself from current Peronist President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner who has a reputation for being progressive on social issues. Stolbizer disagreed, saying that while the government portrays itself as progressive, in reality it is not. She pointed out that the laws for women’s and LGBT rights were unanimously approved by Congress, with little support from the government. LGBT legislation, she said, was written and pushed almost in solitude by Vilma Ibarra, then a member of the Frente para la Victoria, but now an advisor to Stolbizer.
And despite the passage of severals laws, “la ley de trata” (on human trafficking) and the law on the Integral Protection of Women, Stolbizer said that the government still has not implemented policies to protect women. Included in this, she pointed out, the government still has not addressed “femicide” (which is clearly defined in the Penal Code) as a specific problem, a topic about which there have been recent protests in Buenos Aires. Finally, she added, the government is still delaying treatment of a bill that would legalize abortion, preventing it from being voted on, despite 60 legislators supporting the bill. (Abortion is allowed in case of rape and incest, but the woman is more often than not forced go through a judicial review process, that can often take so long that the woman is forced to carry the child to term.) Stolbizer summarized the political scene on women’s issues so: “The only political force that has a gender agenda is us” and that “other blocs [parties] may have individual legislators that support specific topics, such as health, education, work/labor, justice” but not as part of a party platform.
Transparency and Anti-Corruption:
Stolbizer says that the first and most critical issue on this topic is that Argentina still has no freedom of information act. The legislation was blocked by Fernández when she was in the Senate (and her husband was president), and the government continues to prevent approval of any legislation on public access to state information. Stolbizer states that it is “important to have transparency because it allows citizens to know how governments function and for journalists to investigate the operations of government.” A “law of access to public information is a tool of citizenship,” she said.
Another topic of transparency Stolbizer mentioned is the absence of a law of “FideiComiso Ciego” (blind trust) which would require politicians to place their investments and businesses in a blind trust while they were in office. Currently there is no legal prohibition on high-level politicians using their office to advance their own financial interests. Stolbizer cited the case of Lázaro Baez who has—she alleged—been a business partner of President Fernández in series of real estate and hotel investments that have enriched both Baez and the president.
The same corrupt nexus between the public sector and private business interests has led to the explosion of gambling in Argentina. Stolbizer emphasized that gambling is an addiction that has become a huge blight on the poor, adding that some areas of Buenos Aires have more slot machines than in Las Vegas. This has been the result of an Argentine businessman’s alliance, Cristóbal López, with key policymakers at the federal and municipal levels.
Finally, we asked her examine her chances in this presidential election. She knows that the electoral scenario is very difficult. Mauricio Macri, Sergio Massa and Daniel Scioli [her competition in the presidential elections] all have huge war chests, “it’s obscene the amount of money they have.” Stolbizer pointed out that expectations depend on what one focuses on. She and her coalition are not just concentrating on this election, but on a greater, long-term transformation, she said. “If I don’t win this election, I’m not going to go to my house and tend my garden, nor am I going to change parties. Argentina in the future is a very unpredictable country.”