Politics

Kirchner and Fernández camps split on ‘political prisoners’

13th February 2020

By Luciana Bertoia

Kirchner and Fernández camps split on ‘political prisoners’

President Alberto Fernández and Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner put aside their differences to help create a united Peronist front to win the 2019 election. And although Fernández de Kirchner has made a point of not overshadowing or criticizing the President so far, shots between prominent members of each camp were fired this week, as controversy over the former Kirchnerite officials that remain in jail or under investigation escalated to a new level.

</p> <p>The controversy can be traced back to January 13, When Fernández met with a group of human rights organizations at the <em>Casa Rosada</em>. That day, Mothers and Grandmothers of <em>Plaza de Mayo</em>, relatives of the disappeared under the last dictatorship, HIJOS (children of the disappeared) and other groups handed him a document detailing several concerns. Among them was the situation of what they called “political prisoners”.</p> <p>Although Fernández has been a critic of the way in which investigations against former Kirchnerite officials and allies were conducted between 2015 and 2019, the President argued that he did not agree with the claim that there were political prisoners, because such wording implies that they are being held due to a decision of the Executive. Fernández said he preferred to refer to them as “arbitrary detentions”, emphasizing that the abuses came from the Judiciary.</p> <p>That distinction was the spark for a war of words between groups closer to the Vice-President and officials more tightly aligned with  Fernández.</p> <h2><strong>Cases against Kirchnerites</strong></h2> <p>Investigating former Kirchnerite officials and leaders on charges of corruption was one of the courts’ main priorities during Mauricio Macri’s tenure.</p> <p>Fernández de Kirchner accumulated more than ten indictments and seven requests for preventive detention — all of them ordered by Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio, who died on February 4th.</p> <p>On Monday, the Federal Court of Cassation, the country&#8217;s highest criminal court, rescinded the last request to detain Fernández de Kirchner in the investigation that began after the appearance of notebooks from a driver from the Federal Planning Ministry, which allegedly detailed an illegal financing circuit of the Kirchnerite government. In the latest ruling, Judge Ana María Figueroa stated that the preventive detention ordered by Bonadio against Fernández de Kirchner was arbitrary.</p> <p>Although Fernández de Kirchner was never arrested, many of her officials were. Kirchnerite social leaders were also held in custody before being taken to court.</p> <h2><strong>Questions and discontent</strong></h2> <p>One of the most questioned cases is that of Milagro Sala, leader of the Tupac Amaru organization, who was arrested on January 16, 2016 for staging a protest against Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales (UCR &#8211; Cambiemos). Sala was later investigated for corruption. Her arrest led to statements by various United Nations agencies and the Organization of American States. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights demanded the end of her detention. In line with that request, the Supreme Court ordered moving her to house arrest in December 2017. Last month, recordings of the president of the Supreme Court of Jujuy were leaked in which he acknowledged that there was pressure from the governor, other judges and the attorney general to keep Milagro Sala in jail.</p> <p>According to <a href="https://www.infobae.com/politica/2019/09/25/de-74-politicos-y-empresarios-que-llegaron-a-estar-presos-hoy-hay-19-por-que-y-como-evolucionaron-las-prisiones-preventivas/">Infobae</a>, there were 74 Kirchnerite officials and leaders imprisoned. Many of them were arrested after October 17, 2017, when the Federal Court of Appeals of the City of Buenos Aires validated the pre-trial detention of former Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido. The ruling by Judge Martín Irurzun, president of the Federal Court, argued that due to their connections as former officials, suspects could hinder ongoing investigations if they were not pre-emptively placed under arrest.</p> <p>That decision set a precedent leading to the imprisonment of several other former high-ranking officials, including former vice-president Amado Boudou, who is currently under detention in the Ezeiza facility. And although Fernández questioned those arrests, there is palpable discontent among many in the Kirchnerite camp that think he should be doing more.</p> <h2><strong>Two camps in the cabinet</strong></h2> <p>&#8220;It bothers me that they say I have political prisoners because I don&#8217;t,&#8221; Fernández insisted this week in an interview with Radio Continental.</p> <p>&#8220;It&#8217;s such an unnecessary discussion we&#8217;re having. If there is anyone who questioned the judicial procedures, it was me,&#8221; the president said. &#8220;I went by myself to see Milagro Sala on December 31<sup>st</sup> (2016). What part of that don&#8217;t they understand?&#8221; he added.</p> <p>Fernández&#8217;s uneasiness came following the friendly fire that was aimed at his Cabinet Chief, Santiago Cafiero, after he denied the existence of political prisoners. One of the most critical was De Vido, who took to Twitter to lash out at Cafiero and Foreign Minister Felipe Solá, who held the same position as Fernández.</p> <p>De Vido is not a part of the administration and has had differences with Fernández de Kirchner as well. But other important members of the ruling coalition have also publicly differed from Fernández and Cafiero&#8217;s position. Among them were Interior Minister Eduardo &#8220;Wado&#8221; de Pedro and Women, Gender and Diversity Minister Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, both of them close to the VP&#8217;s camp.</p> <p>De Pedro is the son of disappeared parents and one of the leaders of the youth group La Cámpora. He is also one of the closest allies of Fernández de Kirchner, even though he has built up ties of trust with the President as well. De Pedro was the first to defy the President when he called for the release of Milagro Sala on January 16. &#8220;We don&#8217;t want any more political prisoners in Argentina,&#8221; he wrote on Twitter.</p> <p>Gómez Alcorta was Milagro Sala&#8217;s lawyer and was a member of a committee for the release of so-called political prisoners. &#8220;I have no doubt that Milagro Sala is a political prisoner,&#8221; she said.</p> <p>Fernández de Kirchner spent the last days in Cuba, visiting her daughter Florencia &#8211; who is undergoing medical treatment on the island &#8211; and presenting her book <em>Sinceramente</em>. The vice-president did use the term &#8220;political prisoners&#8221; directly but she again denounced “lawfare”: the persecution of political leaders by the courts.</p> <h2><strong>Supreme Court still far</strong></h2> <p>Several voices indicate that the key to the review of trials against Kirchnerite officials lies with the Supreme Court. Among them are former judge Raúl Zaffaroni and jurist Graciana Peñafort, a lawyer for Boudou and legal advisor to Fernández de Kirchner in the Senate.</p> <p>Both Fernández and her Justice Minister Marcela Losardo said it was important that the Supreme Court reviewed “arbitrary” rulings, as it did in December in the case of Cristina Vázquez, who was held for more than 11 years for a murder without any evidence of her involvement.</p> <p>&#8220;Fernández cannot say there are political prisoners because if he said so, he would have to pardon them,&#8221; a Supreme Court source said. &#8220;Justices are not having any kind of debate on the existence of political prisoners,&#8221; the source added in conversation with <em>The Essential</em>.</p> <p>At the central courthouse, the situation remains complicated. The five members of the highest court are having difficulty reaching agreements.</p> <p>Other Court sources said there were no cases advanced enough to reach the Supreme Court. Moreover, the same sources explained that they will only review cases against Kirchnerite officials if all five members of the court are in the same position. They also explained that the one who can bring the issue to the agenda is Chief Justice Carlos Rosenkrantz, but they doubt he will do so because they identify him as aligned with Macri.</p> <p>

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Luciana Bertoia

Luciana Bertoia is a journalist specialized in judicial, political and human rights issues. She has published in Ámbito Financiero, Página/12, the Buenos Aires Herald and the International Justice Tribune.