Yesterday’s arrest in Uruguay of Marcelo Balcedo, head of the SOEME union (the union that represents workers and employees who execute tasks related with education and in direct contact with minors) and editor of the Hoy newspaper, didn’t happen in a vacuum.
It is further proof of what seems to be an implicit crusade from the judiciary over high-profile union leaders, a process that had its first episode in September 2016, when Omar “Caballo” (yes, people called him horse) Suárez, then head of the SOMU (Union of United Maritime Workers) was indicted and preemptively arrested, following an order made by Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral. Suárez was accused of leading an unlawful association which blackmailed business leaders of the maritime trade sector, as well as embezzling money from the union’s coffers.
Last Friday, he was granted house arrest due to a health condition. Although initially Judge Canicoba Corral had determined he could move up to 100 kilometers away from his house, judge Sergio Torres, who filled in for him during the judicial recess, decided yesterday to restrict it to his house.
Ever since Suárez’s arrest, several other high-profile union leaders who have been in their posts for years and wield a great deal of power in the political landscape have also been accused of similar crimes.
Some of these leaders have also been preemptively put behind bars as the charges against them are looked into, and while in other cases the investigations concerning them are still in a more preliminary stage, they’ve already caught the attention of the press and things could go down the same path.
After Suárez, the next union leader to fall from “grace” – not that they were considered to be full of grace in the first place, though – was Juan Manuel “Pata” Medina, head of the La Plata section of the UOCRA, the massive union of construction employees. In September 2017, police forces went to La Plata’s UOCRA building with a warrant to arrest Medina, who had been accused of the same crimes as Suárez – money laundering and blackmail. However, he had other plans: he locked himself up in the building during six hours, although he finally gave up (what did he expect, for the police to get bored and leave?) and turned himself in.
The other two union leaders whose activities are being investigated have an even higher profile than the three who are behind bars, and their eventual arrest or indictment could cause a pretty big political turmoil. They are Víctor Santa María and Pablo Moyano, son of perhaps the most powerful union leader in the last 30 years, Hugo Moyano, who even though is retired from the union life on paper, still has a massive deal of influence on union-related activities and Argentine politics in general. After his retirement, Pablo succeeded his father as head of the truckers’ union, arguably one of the largest and most powerful unions due to their ability to paralyze the country’s land deliveries when they go on strike.
Santa María is the head of the union grouping workers in charge of the maintenance of buildings, the SUTERH, but he is also the head of Buenos Aires City’s section of the Justicialist Party (the Peronist Party, for which we would need an entire other article to explain what it is, so just check Wikipedia) and leads the “Octubre” group, which owns several news outlets, one of which is Página 12, a newspaper that doesn’t hold back when it comes to making it clear it despises the Macri administration. He has been accused of laundering US $4 million, but has not been charged.
A potential arrest of Pablo Moyano could send shock waves through the political landscape, as it is safe to assume Hugo Moyano would throw all his weight to prevent his son from going to prison. Besides, in a country where each political event is like an iceberg – their underlying significance is bigger and further-reaching than the event itself – Hugo could consider that his son’s arrest means that his’ isn’t that further away. Continuing with that line of thought, a successful attempt to keep Pablo out of prison could also mean maintaining one of his most important lines of defense standing.
So what’s the accusation about, then? Moyano has been accused of being involved in shady business conducted by the barra brava – an organized group of hooligans who conduct illegal businesses related to a football club, such as scalping, for example – of football club Independiente, of which his father is President.
Last month, Infobae published the content of a testimony provided by a person accused in the same case, who assured that Pablo Moyano provided the Barra with funds from the union he leads to support their activities, namely, pay 1,200 club memberships, give them 100 tickets for the seated sectors and funds for trips to games in other locations, among others.
In fact, Hugo Moyano was filmed in an Independiente members meeting saying he used funds from the mentioned union to pay the club’s debts, since, same as the vast majority of Argentine football clubs, Independiente usually goes from one financial crisis to the next one.
“We owe Camioneros [the union] a lot, because without that little green color [the union’s distinctive color] it would have not been possible to get the club running, finish the stadium and many other things,” he can be heard saying. “Before the previous administration ended, when Claudio Keblaitis was left as an interim President, it was that green-colored institution which paid the salaries and a bunch of other things that allowed [independiente] to go back to the first division. Thanks to Camioneros, the school was able to get new computers,” he adds in another passage of the video.
However, Infobae journalist Román Lejtman clarified that the officials in charge of the investigation are trying to get documentation that proves this claim and can hold up in court. If they are successful, Hugo Moyano could be charged with fraudulent administration.
Independiente Vice President Noray Nakis was arrested as a result of this investigation. We’ll see what are the next steps Hugo and Pablo Moyano take. The courts will surely not be far behind them.