On January 16th 2016, Jujuy police arrested controversial leader Milagro Sala for “instigating criminal activity and disorder” after setting up camp in front of the province’s government building to demand that the new government — led by Governor Gerardo Morales, a long-standing political enemy of Sala’s — continue providing funds to her organization, Tupac Amaru.
Although she was cleared of the initial charges a few days after the events took place, Sala has remained under arrest. Further accusations — of fraud and extortion — were brought against her while she was in prison due to the original charges.
Basically, she has been accused of using the money that the State allocated to her organization to run a politicalized patronage system (providing goods and services to “constituents” but with the condition of receiving guaranteed political loyalty in return) in the province.
Today, a year after her arrest, a political organization campaigning on Sala’s behalf, “Front for Work and Dignity”, blocked a lane of Pueyrredón bridge leading into Buenos Aires from 1pm in protest against what many have called an ‘arbitrary detention’, including international organizations such as the UN and the OAS. The protests were also replicated throughout the country by other political, social and human rights organizations.
Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner posted a video on Twitter calling for her release as well.
Hoy se cumple un año de la privación ilegítima de la libertad de Milagro Sala, presa política. pic.twitter.com/tdyBkrwYZf
— Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina) January 16, 2017
“Today is the one year anniversary of Milagro Sala’s illegitimate deprivation of freedom. A political prisoner,” wrote Fernández, alongside the video in which political and social leaders place folded pictures of Sala’s face in front of their own.
The video finishes with a message that reads “We are all Milagro.” Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Sala’s husband Raúl Noro and former Economy Minister Axel Kiciloff are just some of the people who appear in the video.
The main demonstration took place at the Tupac Amaru headquarters in the City of Buenos Aires, where political and human rights leaders as well as journalists held a press conference to once again demand her release.
In the conference, Sala’s lawyer, Elisabeth Gómez Alcorta, suggested that she will file criminal charges for influence peddling and failing to fulfil the duties of a public official against Governor Morales’s lawyer, Federico Wagner, and Jujuy’s General Public Prosecutor, Mariano Miranda, amongst other public officials. The basis of these charges lies in an exchange of emails between the individuals listed, which was made public by journalist Horacio Verbitsky. In the emails, they agree to come up with a strategy to host the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which was set to evaluate Sala’s case in May, and put them in contact with people who claim to have been threatened by the social leader.
“They prove what we have been saying for a year: Milagro has been arrested under the orders of Jujuy’s executive branch, rather than the judicial sector.” The other speakers gave speeches with similar messages in which the word “political prisoner” was the common denominator.
At the end of last year, several human rights organizations — the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention among them — spoke up to claim that Sala’s detention was “explicitly arbitrary” and 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 expressed its disapproval of Sala’s situation, the Human Rights Secretariat led by Claudio Avruj sent the international organization a 21-page report, asserting that freeing Sala would produce “a clear danger for the investigation’s goals.” Nevertheless, the Government has invited the UN’s working group to visit the country and evaluate the situation for themselves on Argentine soil. They have accepted the invitation and will probably make their way to Jujuy next May.
At the end of last year, Sala was tried in two cases in which she had been indicted. She was sentenced to a three year suspended prison sentence after the court found 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.
A few days after, another judge ruled to issue a AR $3,700 fine for the camp and, more significantly, to prevent her from being part of any social, cultural or athletic association that needs Government authorization — i.e. Tupac Amaru — for three years. However, she is still in prison while the case for she was placed in custody over continues its course — even though she hasn’t actually been formally charged yet.