Argentina Strike Sheds Light on Union’s ‘Mafia Style’ Operations

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An upcoming strike of the largest union conglomerate in Argentina is shedding light on some labor groups’ criminal relationships and “mafia style” operations, as a cat-and-mouse game unfolds between the country’s president and its most powerful union leader.

Argentina’s truck drivers union has scheduled a national strike on February 21, to protest a series of austerity measures promoted by the administration of President Mauricio Macri.

But a closer look into the union leader promoting the strike, Hugo Moyano, unveils a maze of fraud and money laundering allegations that run deep into his organization.

Moyano is the Secretary General of Argentina’s largest union umbrella organization, the General Labour Confederation (Confederación General del Trabajo – CGT) and the face of the country’s truck driver’s union. He is also a target of Macri’s crusade against corruption, which has already landed members of previous presidential administrations and other union leaders in deep trouble. Many prominent figures have come under investigation, including for possible links to drug trafficking organizations, and others are already in prison. 

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Moyano and several members of his family, including his son Pablo, the Secretary General of the truck driver’s union, are under investigation for alleged corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. Moyano’s wife and his three stepchildren are also under investigation.

In January, the Attorney General’s Office accused Moyano of tax evasion and money laundering through a network of companies he and his family own. Prosecutors have also brought charges against the union leader for illegally receiving millions of dollars from businessman Patricio Nicolás Farcu, the president of OCA, Argentina’s main private postal service, according to an investigation by Infobae.

Moyano, who is also the President of Independiente football Club, is also accused of fraud in a case involving ticket reselling. Pablo “Bebote” Alvarez, a leader in the club’s fan club “barra brava” and who is now in jail, accused Moyano of complicity in a case of extortion against the team’s players and staff, Infobae reported.

Authorities are also investigating whether funds Moyano used to buy a number of properties in one of Buenos Aires’ most exclusive areas originated from fake invoices given to a number of companies acquiring services from the truck union.

In another case, Glaciela Ocaña, a member of parliament with Macri’s Cambiemos party, also accused Moyano of embezzling union funds through the contracting of companies owned by his relatives, according to La Nación.

Moyano denies all these charges against him and says he is the victim of political persecution by the Macri administration.

InSight Crime Analysis

The long list of charges against Moyano has pushed him into a corner. He seems to have responded to Macri’s pressure with a national strike as a show of force.

Trade unions have historically held enormous political power in Argentina. Truck drivers, in particular, can put the country on a standstill as goods are mostly transported by road after long-distance trains were largely dismantled in the 1990s.

Argentina’s strong unions have benefited workers, but their grip on power has given some of these groups free rein to operate like old-fashioned mafias. This cachet has also allowed them to extend their power beyond their specific sectors — including to the very lucrative soccer industry.

Certain union leaders have been accused of extortion and of using the power to control their respective sectors to pressure politicians at the highest levels to comply with their demands. On occasion over the last few decades, this has been identified as part of the reasons for politicians to leave office.

For his part, Moyano long benefitted from this power. He was close to Macri when the current president was head of government for the city of Buenos Aires, but their relationship soured when Macri won the presidency and tried to negotiate cuts to union benefits amid increasing inflation in Argentina.

Later, Macri began closing in on union leaders facing allegations of corruption, tax evasion and money laundering.

In this new scenario, dynamics between various unions are also rapidly changing. Union leaders who were close to Moyano are now distancing themselves from him and the strike, probably because of fear they will, too, be investigated.

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