Knock, knock

ARGENTINA has few advocates of freedom of speech more vocal than its president, Cristina Fern__ndez de Kirchner. _Anyone... ARGENTINA has few advocates of freedom of speech more vocal than its president, Cristina Fern__ndez de Kirchner. _Anyone can say whatever they like without fear of repression,_ she said in 2010, and called herself an _icon of where freedom of speech is exercised_ because of the insults she had suffered. Indeed, Argentina has not jailed anyone for speaking out during her presidency. But she has often used other means to silence her critics.

The government_s most blatant move to limit speech took place last year. Since 2007 it has doctored its inflation statistics to keep them below the true rate. That led investors, firms and journalists to consult private economists, who publish their own consumer-price indices.

Ms Fern__ndez tolerated this for years. But once she began preparing for her re-election effort, her officials cracked down. Using a truth-in-advertising law passed in 1983 by a military dictatorship, they levied $123,000 fines on ten economists for purportedly misleading consumers.

The other weapon the government has deployed against detractors is AFIP, the national tax agency. Argentina is rife with evasion_30-40% of the economy is informal_and AFIP cannot hope to pursue most of the country_s cheats. But ever since Ms Fern__ndez named Ricardo Echegaray as its head in 2008, the opposition has accused the agency of devoting an outsized share of its scarce resources to her critics.

The best-known case of apparent abuse of AFIP occurred in 2009, when Clar__n, Argentina_s bestselling newspaper, ran a story on irregularities in public farm subsidies. A few hours later, 200 tax agents showed up at Clar__n_s headquarters. They conducted an extensive search, but the paper was never accused of evasion.

AFIP has also occupied itself with smaller fish. In 2009 Ms Fern__ndez invited Juan Mart__n del Potro, a tennis player, to meet her after he won the US Open. Mr del Potro, who comes from a rural area where the president was unpopular, declined. Ever since then, says Rafael Groppo, Mr del Potro_s manager, AFIP _has been around_ the star_again without finding anything amiss. Roberto Cachanosky, an economist, says he has been audited in four of the past five years, and has been asked to correct a total of $160 of expenses. On March 3rd, he says_the day an article of his criticising the president was published_an AFIP employee hand-delivered an audit notice to him that was dated three months earlier.

The government has scrupulously denied any ulterior motive behind AFIP_s investigations. But on July 11th Ms Fern__ndez herself revealed political meddling. In a widely broadcast speech, she mentioned an estate agent who had been quoted in a newspaper saying that the government_s currency controls had frozen the Buenos Aires housing market. The president then said she had asked Mr Echegaray to review the tax records of the man_s employer. The company had not filed a return since 2007, and AFIP promptly shut it down.

Meanwhile, AFIP may start to go easy on firms favoured by the president. In February it began proceedings to claim a big back-tax bill from YPF, an oil company controlled by Spain_s Repsol. However, the government announced in April that it would nationalise YPF. Since then, five of AFIP_s top investigators have been removed from the case, prompting speculation that it may be dropped or buried. Ms Fern__ndez seems to be taking a lesson from _scar Benavides, a former Peruvian president. _For my friends, anything,_ he once said. _For my enemies, the law._

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