Published en The Bubble
Nisman’s case has given rise to two intriguing story lines: the case of his mysterious death on the one hand, and the cover up accusations he made against Cristina on the other. Due to Nisman’s accusations, which came out after his death, many people have been talking about the possibility of Cristina being impeached. Cristina is still very far from that, even though she has now been formally accused by the public prosecutor in the case.
An impeachment is a process whereby the President, Vice President or any member of the Executive branch is subjected to trial. The first thing to keep in mind is that this process does not follow the normal legal steps; it is more like a pre-trial that determines whether a full penal trial against these political figures is warranted.
This is because every public official in Argentina (as in almost every Western democracy) has legal protections different from those of normal citizens. These are privileges embedded in the Constitution (articles 68 to 70) and require an impeachment before a regular trial.
So, first things first: Impeachment would be necessary to strip Cristina of her protection. Articles 53, 59 and 60 of National constitution define the procedure. How does it work?
According to these law, the Deputy Chamber can accuse any of the mentioned public officials of “bad performance” or a “common crime”, and the Senate is the one that has to judge and remove the accused. The Senate can also disable him or her from occupying public office.
In this sense, both the Deputy Chamber and the Senate are involved in impeachment proceedings. Deputies can form a special Impeachment Commission that determines if the accusation is admissible and if there are reasons to charge the accused. If so, the Senate considers it and proceeds with the possible removal of the protections.
Argentina has never applied this whole procedure to a president. One of the most high profile cases is that of Anibal Ibarra, former Chief of the City of Buenos Aires. He was removed by impeachment after the República de Cromagnon tragedy.
On the other hand, the United States has done it four times, Bill Clinton (1999) being the most instance case.
Be careful about jumping to conclusions about Cristina’s situation. What happened today has, as of now, nothing to do with an impeachment proceeding. What the prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita did by accusing her is to indicate that there are solid grounds to open a case. This case is the one that Alberto Nisman was going to carry out before he was found dead. Impeachment is a very rare occurrence, and we’ll have to see where the case goes from here.