A Jujuy court has handed social leader Milagro Sala a three year suspended prison sentence after finding her guilty of instigating a violent protest against the now Provincial Governor Gerardo Morales in 2009, which the court found as the cause behind considerable damage. Two members of the Tupac Amarú organization she heads – Graciela López and Ramón Salvatierra – were also sentenced to three and two years in prison respectively, for being the responsible for the damages as well.
At the same time, the court found her ‘not guilty’ of having threatened Morales in the context of the same event, after upholding a defendant’s request to consider the statute of limitations for the criminal action petition filed by the prosecution had expired. As a result, Sala’s lawyers anticipated that they would appeal the decision on the damages.
One of the testimonies that could have tipped the scale was provided by a former member of Tupac Amarú, Rene Arellano: “This son of a bitch Morales won’t shut up. He’s coming for the houses and the jobs. We have to f— him up and shut him up. If he doesn’t shut up after the violent protest, you will take this gun and shoot his brother, Freddy Morales,” Arellano claimed Sala told him.
She has denied the accusations on numerous occasions: “It’s an absolute lie that we met to do this to Gerardo Morales,” said Sala, who considers this to be a political prosecution against her: “It’s something I’ve been suffering for eight years,” she added.
However, the social leader won’t have to serve time for the crime despite being found guilty. Why? In the Argentine criminal system, a first time offender — which she is — doesn’t actually have to go to prison if their sentence is equal to or less than three years. They usually get parole and have to do community service instead. Sala will have to do precisely this at Cáritas NGO or any other institution she might suggest. The Tupac Amarú is probably not a valid option.
At the same time, this doesn’t mean that Sala will be released from prison either. This is because she has been placed in custody since January as a result of other charges that she hasn’t been tried for yet: initially for camping in a public plaza as a way of protesting the then newly-inaugurated Governor Morales’s policies.
Although Sala was cleared of those charges — misdemeanors — her prolonged arrest was ordered while new charges of fraud, extortion and unlawful association are being investigated. A number of people have accused her of using money the state allocates her organization to run a political patronage system (basically, providing goods and services in return for political loyalty) in the province or having ties to drug-trafficking organizations.
Jujuy’s justice system decided to keep her in prison arguing that there is a likely possibility she will interfere with the investigation. Namely, that she could have the resources and the will to tamper with witnesses of escape in the province, should things start to go south for her.
That’s why several human rights organizations — the OAS’s Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the UN’s group on arbitrary detention among them — have come out to claim Sala’s detention is “explicitly arbitrary” and have requested that she be freed. Both the Jujuy justice system and the federal Government’s Human Rights Secretariat have denied these accusations and refuse to do so.
A week after the UN’s body expressed its disapproval of Sala’s situation, the Human Rights Secretariat led by Claudio Avruj sent these international organizations a 21-page-long report assuring that freeing Sala would “implicate a clear danger for the investigation’s goals.” Nonetheless, the government has invited the UN’s body to visit the country and evaluate the situation on Argentine soil themselves. They have accepted the invitation and will probably make their way to Jujuy next May.
Coming back to Sala’s charges; it is expected another court will rule over the camping incident that got her in prison in the first place. The sentence can start at a fine no higher than AR $4,000 and go up to ten days in prison. Compared with the so-called “mega case” investigating her involvement with the alleged misuse of AR $700 million from the state that was given to build social housing. There are 1850 houses that have not been built at all and 500 left unfinished.