The recent release of hostages Consuelo Gonzales and Clara Rojas after six years in captivity has been an orchestrated victory for Hugo Chavez. Chavez has used his years-old complicity with the very dangerous guerilla insurgency known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to achieve a number of goals already pointed out in the last issue of the America's Report (see Nicole M. Ferrand, "Colombia's Uribe Unmasks the FARC").
Chavez tried to weaken Colombia's President, Alvaro Uribe, showing his own ability to release the hostages while Uribe could not. Chavez also tried to enhance himself as an effective mediator and a "true" leader of Latin America. Chavez lost the December 2nd referendum over his proposed constitutional reform. Thus, wounded by that defeat, he proceeded to strengthen his very ambitious foreign policy which consists of increasing his own regional power, spreading his ideas throughout the region while destroying US allies.
President Uribe is a symbol of enmity to Chavismo because he sees the US as an ally and exercises a most legitimate rule over Colombia while being committed to an economic liberal and politically democratic form of government. Colombia is an obstacle to Venezuela's influence in the region as England and France was an obstacle to Germany prior to World War II. The FARC, on the other hand, is a violent leftist group whose forty year asymmetric war against the Colombian government fascinates Chavez, an enemy of liberal democracy and a promoter of authoritarian socialist regimes.
However, the other country that showed its dark side most ominously in this episode is Argentina. Indeed the former Argentinean President and husband of the current Argentinean president, Nestor Kirchner, joined Hugo Chavez in what was supposed to be the release of the hostages held by the FARC. This act, as we said, was supposed to bring glory and leadership to Chavez and Kirchner who were both there to celebrate. As we stated in the America's Report a number of times, Kirchner was an ally of Chavez not only because Chavez provided cheap oil to Argentina and bought part of its debt but also because Kirchner's Peronist party's historical populism finds affinity with Chavez and his style. The Peronist-wing, represented by the Kirchners, supports economic nationalism and state-socialism and is strongly "anti-imperialist" as has been demonstrated by Nestor Kirchner's numerous expressions of scorn for western leaders who visited Argentina during his presidency.
For standing with Chavez during the hostage crisis, the Argentinian opposition called Kirchner "immoral". But Kirchner, like his wife, is too shameless to be embarrassed by having linked himself to Chavez. Both deeply admire Hugo Chavez.
Of course, another interesting episode preceded this dishonorable situation. Before the last Argentinean elections that took place in October, Cristina Kirchner, the current Argentinian President, traveled to the United States. There she flirted with American officials who are always open and naïve enough to be impressed by the magic of such an enchanting woman. She also delivered a very charming and friendly speech to the Jewish community in Venezuela, which has been frightened by the anti-Semitism of the Chavistas and by the harassment of the Chavez government. Ms. Kirchner's actions were largely interpreted-and this was probably Ms. Kirchner's intention- as a sign that she will not be as close to Chavez as her husband was. (The Menges Project at the Center for Security Policy was not one of them. To the contrary it correctly stated that Ms. Kirchner is and will continue to be a Chavista. (See America's Report in this website "The AMIA Bombing: A Case of Deception and Negligence", by Luis Fleischman, August 2, 2007).
Now this double game is over as the US Justice Department is investigating the transfer of $800,000 from the Chavez government to Ms. Kirchner's presidential campaign. The FBI collected evidence by providing Guido Antonini Wilson, whose bag carrying the money was confiscated by the Argentine customs authority after he landed in Buenos Aires in a plane accompanied by high officers of the Kirchner government. The FBI gave Wilson the status of protected witness. After a short period of "absence", Wilson returned to Miami. In Miami the FBI wiretapped him and thus uncovered a plot by three businessmen working at the service of Hugo Chavez who threatened Wilson that they would kill his children if he disclosed the origin and destiny of that money. The evidence seems to confirm that the money was from Hugo Chavez and destined for Ms. Kirchner's presidential campaign.
After this incident, the reaction of Ms. Kirchner's government was more than pathetic. Her chief of staff Alberto Fernandez wrote an editorial in the daily La Nacion where he accused the United States Justice Department of trying to create a rift between Venezuela and Argentina. However, his editorial is very significant as it reflects the nature of Ms. Kirchner's philosophy and foreign policy. Thus, Mr. Fernandez explained that the regional integration of Latin America, the US loss of control over Venezuela and Bolivia's energy resources, and Brazil and Argentina's increasing independence from (US) economic manipulation, has made America uneasy. The reason for this is that these events undermine American plans to "exercise hegemonic power in the region". This type of discourse is a less vulgar but is analogous to Chavez's anti-yanqui rhetoric.
In the same editorial, Fernandez took a rather defensive position by saying that Argentinian authorities knew about Wilson's money because it was the Argentinean government that caught it (in reality it was the Customs Administration that did and Cristina Kirchner allegedly lost her temper, attacked her husband and broke a glass when she found out that Wilson was caught. (See America's Report, "The Suitcase Scandal Linking Kirchner with Chavez" by Nancy Menges and Nicole Ferrand, September 6, 2007). According to Fernandez, the US should have responded to the Argentinian request to extradite Mr. Wilson so that he could be investigated in Argentina. Instead the US chose to investigate the case because it tries to recover its "hegemony" by undermining relations between Venezuela and Argentina. Fernandez claims- based on the recent scandal involving the firing of several US Attorneys - that in the US, prosecutors are political appointees and respond to Presidential policies not to objective justice. This comment is as interesting as it is boldly insolent. During his tenure, Nestor Kirchner moved to establish control over the judiciary (see America's Report "The Meaning of Kirchner's Defeat in Recent Municipal Elections" by Luis Fleischman, July 19, 2007).
According to sources in the US Department of Justice, the Argentinean authorities lost interest in the extradition. The US Department of Justice stated that the Argentinean authorities first let Wilson leave the country and second showed no interest in bringing him back. The Department also claims that the US interest in the case is based on the Patriot Act, an anti-terror law enacted after the 9/11 attacks. The law extends US jurisdiction over money laundering operations carried through the US.
More so, knowing the history of Argentina's legal and political corruption, a hypothetic extradition and investigation of Wilson would have led to nothing but a cover-up, particularly when current evidence suggests that the money was directed to the Kirchner campaign.
Kirchner's reaction was defiant by all accounts. The joint Chavez-Kirchner appearance on the hostage crisis was part of this defiance. But there is more, the Kirchners have once again embraced the piquetero leader and former Kirchner cabinet member, Luis D'Elia. D'Elia is the same man who was ousted from Kirchner's government over his stand in defense of Iran after a court declared Iran responsible for the 1994 terrorist attack on AMIA. D'Elia is also one of the non-Venezuelan grassroots Chavistas who with the help of Chavez's encouragement and funding attended seminars in Iran.
If we had any doubts where the Kirchners are in the international arena, these doubts have been dissipated by now. Any separation between husband and wife is misleading and artificial. Cristina Kirchner is and should be considered an ally of Hugo Chavez.
This alliance is not only one of convenience but an ideological alliance as wel l. Just this week Roberto Lavagna, former Minister of Economy and Production under Nestor Kirchner, declared that Argentina's current policies are being dictated by the "impulses of Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez." When asked to explain the reasons for his statement, he said "you have to ask the former President Kirchner and the incumbent, Cristina."  What kind of consequences this alliance will have for the region and for geo-political security remains to be seen but we will continue to watch closely and report the ramifications of this relationship as it matures.
 "Somos furgón de cola de Chávez." January 13, 2007. La Nación, Argentina.