Photo via Telam

Controversial Jujuy social leader Milagro Sala, who has been accused of running a political patronage system in northwestern Argentina, is already serving house arrest. She was taken out of the Alto Comedero prison and moved to the property from which she will continue being in preemptive custody (she’s not serving time, as she hasn’t been sentenced to prison) located in Barrio La Ciénaga, in the outskirts of the province’s capital city.

The judges in charge of the cases for which she has been put in custody made the decision following a request from the Organization of American State’s Inter American Commission on Human Rights, which on July 28 had suggested the authorities to find “alternative measures” to her detention.

However, Sala doesn’t consider this to be a complete victory, as she assures she shouldn’t have to serve any time of arrest at all. In an interview with Página 12, she thanked the “thousands and thousands of fellow activists from all provinces, from other countries,” who made it possible for her to get house arrest, but clarified that she is “being taken from one prison to another.”

“My house has been turned into another prison. I believe that not even genocides [in reference to members of Argentina’s last dictatorship convicted of crimes against humanity] got Border Patrol forces outside their house. That’s why, while I do have a feeling of joy, I am also upset about what they are doing,” she added.

The house from which Sala will serve time
The house from which Sala will serve time

Sala went on to — again — argue that her arrest is motivated by political reasons, and that Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales is behind the move: “As I am their political rival, [the Morales administration] is very afraid of me. I ask Gerardo Morales to free me so we can compete as real political opponents,” she argued.

The leader of the Tupac Amaru social organization, which has been mired in controversy for years, arrived to her house shortly before 4 PM, where she was greeted by her husband Raúl Noro and other family members, along with a welcome home banner.

Sala with her husband, Raúl Noro. Photo via Telam

Sala with her husband, Raúl Noro. Photo via Telam

The Security Ministry informed that forces from the Border Patrol (Gendarmería), and Provincial and Federal Police will take turns to keep her under watch, and the surveillance will be complemented with the placement of an ankle bracelet on Sala: 30 federal police officers will patrol the premises; provincial police will be tasked with keeping tabs on the national route through which the house can be accessed, plus the control of security cameras, lighting and cleaning of the house and its surroundings.

Finally, Border Patrol will be in charge of managing visiting hours: Sala will be able to receive up to 20 people per day on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 AM to 7 PM, although never more than four people at the same time. This restriction doesn’t apply to family members.

Sala’s prison problems started on January 16th 2016, when the Jujuy police arrested Sala for “instigating criminal activity and disorder” after setting up camp in front of the province’s government building demanding that the new government — led by Governor Gerardo Morales, a long-standing political enemy of Sala’s — continue providing funds to the organization she leads, the Tupac Amaru.

Although she was cleared of the initial charges a few days after the events took place, Sala has remained in custody. Further accusations — of fraud and extortion — were brought up against her while she was in prison due to the original charges.

Governor of Jujuy Gerardo Morales.
Governor of Jujuy Gerardo Morales.

Basically, she has been accused of using the money that the government allocated to her organization to run a politicalized patronage system (providing goods and services to “constituents” with the condition of receiving guaranteed political loyalty in return) in the province.

In the past, it was Sala who refused house arrest, saying, “house arrest is for genocides, and I am not one.” But the IAHCR stated that house arrest is necessary to “guarantee her life and personal integrity,” while echoing previous UN statements that Sala’s detention is arbitrary overall.

Of the many charges pressed against her, Sala has so far “only” been sentenced to three years in prison, after being found guilty of instigating and partaking in an attack against Gerardo Morales in 2009. However, she is still in prison as a preemptive measure, as this mentioned conviction wouldn’t have put her behind bars: according to the Argentine criminal code, first time offenders don’t have to serve time if their sentence is of three years or less.

Though she doesn’t lack opportunities to actually get the metaphorical orange jumpsuit: she still faces charges for alleged extortion, unlawful enrichment and defrauding the state, among others.