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Council On Hemispheric Affairs

Monitoring Political, Economic and Diplomatic Issues Affecting the Western Hemisphere

Memorandum to the Press 98.26

5 September 1998


BAYS Group Targets U.S. Congress’ Perception of Troubled South American Nation

• Persecution of Buenos Aires Yoga group saturated with officially sanctioned anti-Semitism and just another illustration of the corruption of Argentina’s tainted court system.

• David vs. Goliath campaign by members of tiny Argentine cultural institute produces astonishing results in Washington that challenge White House’s fantasized picture of its "major Non-NATO Ally."

• BAYS’ Capitol Hill effort could damage outgoing Argentine president’s prospects of gaining U.S. support for his being elected to OAS’ top post.

• Incompetent neo-Nazi and virulently nationalist judges, often appointed by former military regime, could scare off foreign investors from country.

• Working the Hill


The band of Argentines who have gone a long way to correct Washington’s erroneous upbeat policy towards their country, belong to the Buenos Aires Yoga School (BAYS), whose total membership is under 300 intellectuals, artists, young professionals, and aging pundits residing in Argentina’s sophisticated capital, Buenos Aires. About twelve months ago, BAYS dispatched a youthful group of its members who volunteered to come Washington and New York to try to do the next to impossible. BAYS’ mission would be to educate the Congress and U.S. financial and research institutions in the complexities surrounding their organization’s desperate situation at home, where the police and the judiciary had unleashed a virtual reign of terror against them. The strategy of the BAYS group was to inform their audiences that President Clinton was getting it all wrong -- that President Carlos Menem is not Argentina’s hero, but its villain, and that the country’s court system often was hardly better than the star chamber proceedings of the Inquisition. Their ultimate goal was to end the non-stop persecution targeted against them at the hands of a venal judiciary and an indifferent federal government, in an atmosphere heavy with officially sanctioned anti-Semitism.

They follow in the footsteps of Panamanian Roberto Eisenmann, who at the time, was the exiled publisher of the famed Panama City daily, La Prensa. For months, he had walked the corridors of the U.S. Congress in the latter 1980’s, button-holing U.S. legislators in order to educate them concerning the shameful but true realities of his country under the strongman rule of General Manuel Noriega. His mission was to urge them to reject the close working ties that the Reagan and Bush administrations had with Panama’s drug-related dictator who was an asset in Washington’s covert war against the Sandinistas. After hundreds of days of doing this, along with the help of some of his compatriots, Eisenmann’s efforts eventually resulted in a Senate resolution calling upon the White House to cut off all funding and economic assistance to the Panamanian regime. This directly led to the U.S. embargo of that country and the forcible overthrow of Noriega in 1989.

Starting scarcely a year ago, the plucky Panamanian publisher’s extraordinary feat began to be replicated by a small group of mainly young Argentines, none of whom were household names to the U.S. public. Nevertheless, they are well underway to turning the U.S. Congress around on its perception of Argentina by duplicating Eisenmann’s results, but this time concerning the brutal realities of their own Latin American country and the deeply flawed character of its president, Carlos Menem. More to the point, the young Argentines have stressed, as a result of their own often-scarred experiences, that the country’s court system is second to none in the hemisphere for its incompetence and corruption.

Victory on the Hill

BAYS is somewhat akin to a 19th century-style New England Athenaeum literary and philosophical society, posing no more of a threat to today’s Argentina than Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson created in this country in the 19th century. In coming to Washington, their goal was to exert pressure on Buenos Aires’ authorities (who had arrogantly refused to hear their grievances), by launching complaints against them to U.S. officials, hoping that the reverberations of their efforts would be felt back home. After months of communicating the harassment, attempts of intimidation and a range of other hardships and abuses they had to suffer at home, they were able to eventually obtain a co-signed Congressional letter regarding the plight that BAYS’ members were facing in Argentina. The letter was authored by a highly respected member of the liberal wing of the House’s Democratic Caucus, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY). His draft eventually was signed by 11 of his Democratic colleagues. The list of signatories on the letter likely will soon be doubled, with its future prospects being wide open.

Aside from the Ackerman initiative, a bipartisan letter, which has just been drafted by Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA), has the potential of attracting as many as 100 or more signatures of House Democrat and Republican members. Perhaps, even more remarkably, the Argentine BAYS group also was able to obtain an individually-penned letter from ranking House Republican leader and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Henry J. Hyde. In his August 6 letter to President Menem, Hyde, a mainstay of conservative House Republicans and a person of profound influence in that chamber, refers to the "history of charges being brought against various members [of BAYS] without foundation." Because BAYS is a cultural and cosmopolitan fellowship committed to the sciences and the arts, and because it has a relatively large Jewish membership and leadership, it has become a favorite target for those aligned to the deeply anti-Semitic, parochial and neo-Nazi strain in the undercurrents of Argentine national life. This tendency has played a prominent role in the pathological mentality of a segment of the nation’s army, police, part of the press corps, and much of its judiciary.

Argentine Legal Realities

The BAYS delegation has stressed to its U.S. congressional audiences the crippling vacuum existing within Argentina’s system of criminal justice, which has made it anything but blind, and, in particular, Menem’s complete indifference to the massive failings of the country’s predictably venal court system. Menem, whose presidency has been exposed to its own recurrent corruption charges, has been flagrantly sightless to a raft of accusations directed against the country’s judges. In a recent major series of articles on the subject of the deplorable state of the Argentine court system, the respected British publication, The Financial Times, characterized the country’s judiciary by noting the "large scale corruption" that exists there and that "people in general have the sensation that there is manipulation of justice by the government," according to former economic minister Domingo Cavallo. The Times also has observed that to outside analysts, "The impression is of a legal system at once highly politicized and in deep crisis," and that according to the U.S. State Department, the "judicial system is slow, inefficient and subject to political influences."

Menem likely to go for the OAS’ Brass Ring

Clashing with the almost entirely invented and glossed over picture of Argentina’s current political arrangement, which several months ago foolishly persuaded the Clinton administration to designate that country with the somewhat bizarre appellation, "major Non-NATO Ally," in order for it to proceed to sell high-tech weapons to Chile (Argentina’s traditional rival), without ruffling Buenos Aires’ feathers, the BAYS representatives, by jawboning with one congressman after another, have helped challenge the White House’s own shallow and superficial standards for assessing Latin American democracies, in general, and Argentina specifically. With this, the BAYS educational effort on the Hill could face an even greater test, as it inevitably gets caught up in what likely will be Menem’s decision to try to seek to succeed Cesar Gaviria as the Organization of American States (OAS) secretary-general in 1999. One can expect that the youthful BAYS delegation will look upon Menem’s prospective race as a heaven-sent opportunity to highlight the institutional lesions that have flourished under his rule in Argentina. Although ten months remain in Secretary-General Cesar Gavira’s term, the race to succeed him as the head of the OAS is on. Aside from Menem, other possible candidates include former Costa Rican president Rafael Calderon. Gavira, who leapt from the Colombian presidency to the OAS as Washington’s last-minute dark horse candidate in 1994, is rumored to be gearing up for a second term bid, in spite of Washington’s overall disappointment with his performance. What is unfortunate is that none of these three would-be hopefuls are compelling choices for the OAS top job.

Congress Gives Menem a Wake-Up Call

In his introductory remarks to the House of Representatives last August 7, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) zoomed in on the BAYS case and pressed for congressional recognition of Menem’s lackluster attempt at judicial reform. "We can and must be forthright in expressing our opinions when the well-being of our fellow citizens may be at stake and the welfare of one of our neighbor's citizens is being flagrantly flouted," he said. Noting that the Argentine judiciary is notorious for its lack of professionalism, let alone for its shortage of competence, Conyers argues that it is questionable whether U.S. investors will feel secure that they will be treated equally in any civil or criminal cases in which they may become involved, which are allowed to make it to Argentine courts. He also reminded his audience, that, after all, “the same judiciary that protects the human rights of its own citizens in Latin America also enforces commercial law respecting foreign investments."

Here Conyers raises questions about the safety and fair treatment of U.S. investments as well as the need to safeguard the human rights of Argentines by describing the country’s judicial system as "one of the worst" in Latin America, and invites his colleagues’ attention to the fact that "despite Buenos Aires' continued claim that it is reforming its admittedly gangster-like judiciary into one that is less at the mercy of politics, cronyism, influence peddling and payoffs, and more into one that can fearlessly uphold and conform to the country's constitution, there are good reasons to believe that its court system is apparently taking serious steps backwards."

Rep. Conyers went on to relate the "long tradition of virulent anti-Semitism in the country, as exemplified by the sanctuary that a succession of Argentine presidents have provided to fleeing World War II war criminals of the Nazi era." In addition to the BAYS case, the Congressman fingered "other examples of outrageous behavior on the part of local Argentine authorities," including "the farcical investigation of the bombings of two Jewish-related Buenos Aires facilities in the last few years, at a cost of over 100 lives." All in all, he said, the treatment of the BAYS group amounts to another example of "disturbing instances [in Argentina] where injustice has been done: where the courts have served as a persecutor of the human spirit, rather than its defender."

In his August 5 letter to Menem, Congressman Ackerman, the senior minority member of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, and those of his congressional colleagues who co-signed it, called Menem’s attention to the pressing need for judicial reform and their concern over the blatant hounding of BAYS. Although the letter points to the Argentine president’s perfunctory efforts at judicial reform, the legislators underscored the distance remaining to achieve true institutional change. Their letter took note of the fact that: "It is our understanding that the enabling legislation to establish the Consejo del Magistrado (the judicial oversight committee) has been approved but that no commission members have been appointed yet. It is also our understanding that the other proposed reforms are still pending."

Laying it on the Line

The BAYS case serves as a dramatic indictment of Menem’s failure to speak out against instances where the law is being broken, including the "illegal searches of private homes, offices and the school itself by judicial investigators,”as noted by the House members. They went on to protest, “even though the Court of Cassation ruled that both the process and the actions by judicial authorities in the case were illegal, the case persists."

Congressman Hyde, who among his many duties holds a seat on the House Committee for International Relations, in his own letter to Menem, placed on the agenda complaints that he had received "about alleged unethical treatment imposed by the judicial system within Argentina against the Buenos Aires Yoga School." In his letter, Hyde went so far as to express his discomfort over the treatment of BAYS members, and that "there is a history of charges being brought against various members without foundation," along with the case having dragged on, given that it had "remained open beyond five years without supporting evidence." By helping to afford legitimacy to the validity of BAYS’ arguments, and suggesting that "perhaps the Consejo del Magistrado [might] review this case and take appropriate action" to end this "judicial impropriety," Hyde’s words, by inference, may have the unintended effect of exposing the largely unfocused and trivialized nature of Washington’s policy towards Argentina, along with the Clinton administration’s off-the-wall assessment of the country as a bona fide democratic role model, and one which possesses inspired leadership in the person of Menem. In fact, the Argentine leader has himself become a lightning rod for corruption charges and is looked upon by many principled Argentine democrats as an unmasked charlatan and vendor of snake oil, as well as a would-be miracle maker who relies on mirrors and smoke. This is attested to be the present high level of unemployment in the country, as the general restlessness of the population is made evident by daily protest marches and work stoppages throughout the land.

U.S. Foreign Policy Lapses and the upcoming OAS election

There is great danger that the Clinton administration, in just one more example of its chronic penchant for throwing rhetoric at persisting hemispheric problems rather than forthrightly trying to solve them, will continue to be taken in by its extremely inappropriate analyses of Argentine realities. President Clinton might also make the mistake of looking to this very foolish and unsound man, Menem, as being worthy of Washington placing all of its diplomatic resources into securing the OAS post for him, just as it did for Gaviria in 1994. But such a move could hold great danger for the Clinton administration. Several years ago, the White House had given its forceful backing to Carlos Salinas, the then-outgoing president of Mexico, to be the general secretary of the World Trade Organization. But this effort was hurriedly terminated when the full venality of the now disgraced Mexican leader became evident. The Menem candidacy also could be a ticking time bomb for the White House, as the fuses already have been lit on a number of scandals surrounding the Argentine leader. This, and his collapsing popular following among Argentine voters, undoubtedly helps explain why Menem suddenly decided in the middle of August to abort his presidential reelection race.

The BAYS Case: But One Example of Argentine Injustice and Corruption

BAYS’ ordeal has been hardly remarkable in terms of the panoramic sweep of Argentina’s unqualifiedly grim modern history, in which then-junior military officials, (who now hold command positions), turned on the civilian population during the middle 1970’s and early 80’s in a spasm of rage, killing upwards of 20,000 innocent civilians. BAYS’ current fate comes about from its members' involuntary involvement with one of the country’s most controversial institutions -- its notoriously flawed court system. While BAYS is seen by the Argentine literati as a non-religious, NGO that has assembled in its membership a remarkable group of intellectuals and those of a philosophical bent, Argentine authorities describe it as a “cult.” In fact, BAYS’ broad-spectrum membership has attracted a long list of tributes for its achievements in the field of public health and its contributions to the war on drugs. In the arts, BAYS members have made a telling mark through composing a number of major musical works, including an opera, ballet, and symphony, which have won plaudits worldwide. Nevertheless, the group has been singled out to be lavished with intense hostility by various Argentine institutions, fueled by the congenital anti-Semitism that has existed for almost a century among the nation’s nationalist, ultra-montane strata.

Going after BAYS

Legal proceedings against BAYS’ members were initiated in 1993, and were accompanied by an unrelieved spate of negative media coverage, much of which was tainted by anti-Jewish screechings and intimidations. The original trial judge, Mariano Berges, is well-known for his neo-Nazi ideology and his sympathy for the brutal military regime that had seized power in 1976, and which ruled for almost a decade through a level of violence unparalleled in Argentine modern history. He was also famous for his public outburst of flagrantly anti-Semitic barbs and his catalogue of bruising racist beliefs, and it could be said that he directly owed his present job to the esteem in which he was held in right-wing extremist circles.

The complaint against BAYS was in fact entered as a counter suit to one filed by one of the organization’s members, a 24-year-old student who accused her stepfather, a former employee of the military junta, of sexually molesting her. In turn, the stepfather charged in his motion that his stepdaughter was a victim of a cult [BAYS] which had "corrupted" her.

Judge Berges’ unethical behavior in the BAYS case reached such an advanced point of scandal that he no longer could be protected by his benefactors and eventually had to recuse himself from the case. But this was only under pressure of an impending impeachment proceeding by the Argentine Senate lodged against him on charges of having committed scores of improper, indefensible and illegal acts against the Buenos Aires Yoga group, including the unambiguous sexual harassment of one of the young female BAYS members who had been interrogated in his private chambers. He also had ordered a number of totally unrelated victims, who, while associated with BAYS, had nothing to do with the case, to be detained, and demanded that their children testify, but did not allow the presence of their parents or attorneys. He questioned defendants literally for hundred-hour stints at a time, as well as carried out more than forty illegal searches of private premises, including personally raiding the offices of defendants’ attorneys, and authorizing the stealing of evidence.

Well known for his pathetic sleaziness and his sexual improprieties, Judge Berges insisted at the time of his recusal that the reason why he reluctantly was removing himself from the case was not because of any character defect in his erratic personality, but only because he had been "bewitched" by the BAYS group. He then handed the case over to an almost equally inappropriate choice, fellow right-winger Judge Roberto Murature. Although the latter favored a slightly more discreet approach, he still could barely contain his personal antipathy toward BAYS, capriciously adding fraud and larceny to the long list of existing fabricated charges against the institution and a number of its members. Murature also openly ignored a superior court’s decision nullifying part of the case on grounds that no convincing evidence against BAYS had been established. Yet, despite the higher court’s decision, he refused to invalidate the previous illegal actions sanctioned by his predecessor, and proceeded to recklessly indict more BAYS members, as well as ignoring the fact that the statute of limitations had run out on some of the original alleged crimes.

No New Jerusalem When it Comes to Democracy

Demonstrably, Argentina is far less advanced along the democratic continuum than Presidents Menem and Clinton imprudently maintain it to be. Aside from its brittle democratic institutions, which often are more apparent than real, democracy in that nation has not been helped by Menem’s modus operandi, which has fostered political cynicism as its leitmotiv, rather than providing genuine leadership or anything approaching a constitutionalist vision to his nation. His lack of innate political class and his inability to comprehend strong ethical standards sadly has marked his presidency, leaving the country without a moral compass. His readiness to participate in the cover up of a number of notorious cases, including the bombing of two Jewish facilities with terrible loss of life, has emphasized a profound need for reforming Latin America’s deplorable court systems, beginning with Argentina’s. Such deeds have spotlighted Menem, not as an admirable leader, but as a disreputable and shabby political hack who has allowed the presidential palace to be drawn into back alley mafia-style operations, and the country becoming a cloaca for spiked moral values.

Menem Touted as Future OAS Secretary-General

By seeking redress outside their country, as many Latin American advocates are forced to do in the age of globalization and democratic facades, the BAYS group has helped to initiate a de facto review of U.S. policy toward Argentina, as well as a movement to reassess the reputation of its cagey president. Now that Menem has decided against running for a third term as president of Argentina, his next career move is becoming increasingly apparent and it is likely to contain a shot at the OAS job. With recent indications that an open battle might take place for the OAS secretary-general’s position as the end of Gaviria’s term in June of 1999 approaches, Menem will need U.S. help if he decides to run, along with the backing of the powerful fellow Mercosur countries. Thus, it would appear that the Washington work of the BAYS group is far from over.

Nicaraguan President, Arnaldo Aleman, recently asked his Argentine counterpart whether he had considered the OAS post in Washington, according to the Buenos Aires daily, La Nacion. Menem ambiguously responded that, as of yet, he “had much work left to do in Argentina." But Julio Cesar Araoz, Argentina’s representative to the OAS, was less ambiguous when he observed that he was "sure that [Menem] would be elected unanimously, including the favorable vote of the United States."

But Menem may not have been exaggerating when he said he has much work to do before leaving office. Despite 8 years on the job, he barely has begun to reform the judiciary, police or military, the country’s basic and most troubled institutions. Nor has he cleaned up any of the personal dirty linen surrounding his term in office, including the question of how did he, a man of lifetime modest means, all of a sudden end up owning a Midas-like country manor house, including an airstrip capable of accommodating a Boeing 747.

The Need to Reform the Disgraceful Judiciary

Not only are U.S. legislators becoming increasingly informed -- as a result of BAYS work in Washington -- of the self-serving nature of much of Argentina’s political establishment (many of whom supported the military’s bloody crusade against the civilian population during the “dirty war,” 1976-1983, or became apologists for it). U.S. legislators have begun to suggest reforms for upgrading Argentina’s crippled judicial system, which was a subject of major concern in the Financial Times’ story on the disgraced institution, including the need to purge it - as some would argue - of such tainted figures as Judges Mariano Berges and Roberto Murature, who have defiled the bench upon which they sit.

BAYS’ profile has become much larger in Washington in recent weeks, as it attracts widening attention for its David-like victories over Menem’s Goliath. Recently, Reuters, AP, and DPA, ran stories on their respective wires discussing various aspects of BAYS’ extraordinary work in Washington involving turning Congress’ eyes towards Argentina’s multiple lapses, including the true nature of Menem’s presidency. Meanwhile, in Argentina, where legal practice does not necessarily correspond to the rule of law as spelled out in the constitution, Menem’s Concejo de la Magistratura is being seen as an empty vessel without the necessary appointment of judicial commissioners. With this kind of track record, it seems that the White House will be hard put, if it keeps its senses, not to quickly jump off Menem’s OAS bandwagon while there is still time, due to all of the downside factors at work regarding his candidacy.



Researched by Council on Hemispheric Affairs Research Associates Anna Marie Busch, Francisca Geyer, and Kathryn J. Tolfree.

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