Tupac Amaru leader Milagro Sala was arrested this weekend. Photo via the Mendoza Post.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has accepted the Argentine government’s invitation to visit the country, following the organization’s demand for the release of the social leader. Sala has been in prison since January as a result of active fraud and extortion charges against her. These charges have not been proven or confirmed by a court of law to date.

The international organization’s visit would take place next May but according to its head, Roland Adjovi, “there can’t be a visit that is exclusively about the Milagro Sala case.” “It would be a follow up visit, but since the last visit of the kind was so long ago [in 2003], a complete visit would be more appropriate. The matter will be solved once we set a date,” he told AFP agency.

On October 28th, the working group which is part of The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) handed a 25-page document to the Foreign Ministry classifying Sala’s detention as being explicitly “arbitrary”.

Adjovi went on to praise the government’s invitation, but clarified that it alone can’t be an answer: “the only satisfying answer is the release.” He also questioned the Macri administration’s strategy of arguing that Jujuy’s judiciary is the only jurisdiction in charge of dealing with the case.

“The federal government has obligations to the international scene… Argentina’s federal nature can’t be an excuse to escape its obligations,” Adjovi pointed out.

Roland Adjovi. Photo via UN
Roland Adjovi. Photo via UN

In a press conference during the national government’s “spiritual retreat” in the beach town of Chapadmalal this weekend, Macri said that, in his opinion, “most Argentines support Sala’s arrest” but also requested the Jujuy government inform about the case’s conditions:

“Most Argentines believe there’s a number of important crimes that Sala committed, which justify all the cases open against her. It’s important the rest of the world has this information as well,” he said.

Moreover, he asked Jujuy Governor, Gerardo Morales, as well as the province’s judiciary to “inform what has been done, and to transmit clearly and without second intentions what has happened in Jujuy.” Sala’s lawyer, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, said Macri’s argument was “quasi-fascist and anti-republican” because he, as a representative of the Executive Branch, was interfering in matters that belong to the judiciary: “Macri’s sayings prove two things. On the one hand, he uses the first person when saying he understands Milagro has to be imprisoned, because he believes she committed many crimes.”

“And secondly, which is worse, that she has to be imprisoned because most Argentines believe she has committed crimes. Thinking a citizen’s arrest will depend on what most people believe or not, that’s a serious problem,” she said.

Shortly before the UN’s body was known, Jujuy’s Justice Minister Agustín Perassi also weighed in and said that Sala is in prison because the judges investigating the case believe her capability for “violence and the exercise of pressure” — i.e witness tampering — can interfere with the investigation.

Sala in the Alto Comedero prison in Jujuy. Photo via Clarín
Sala in the Alto Comedero prison in Jujuy. Photo via Clarín

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,” looking into fraud and extortion charges concerning the way she ran the organization she is in charge of during the Kirchner administration.

If you’re hazy on what the whole controversy regarding Milagro Sala was about, here is the rundown:

Sala, a prominent and controversial leader from the northern province of Jujuy, was arrested on January 16th for “instigating criminal activity and disorder” after setting up camp in front of her province’s government capital building to demand that the new government continue providing funds to her organization, Tupac Amaru. The organization provides employment for, and seeks to improve the living conditions of, the people of Jujuy, many of whom are of indigenous descent.

Though Sala was cleared of the initial charges, she has since remained under arrest while being investigated for fraud and extortion — she is accused of using money the State allocated her organization with to run a politicalized patronage system (basically, providing goods and services to “constituents” but on the condition of getting unquestioned political loyalty in return) in the province.

The judiciary can legally keep a suspect in prison while the charges are being investigated: to do so, officials must prove that there’s either a risk the suspect will flee or that he or she will interfere with the investigation, like tampering witnesses, for example. This is not an uncommon practice when cases involve powerful political figures — businessmen with ties to Kirchnerism Lázaro Báez and former Transportation Secretary Ricardo Jaime are in the same situation — but Almagro, clarifying he is not opposed to the main investigation, requested Sala be released until the Jujuy court investigating her issues a definitive ruling. He, as well as other international organizations, argue there’s no risk of flee or interfering.