Over the weekend, Argentina was rocked once again by the violent murder of yet another young woman. 21-year-old Micaela García, who was found strangled to death on Saturday after a weeklong search, is the latest victim to be added to a worryingly fast-growing registry of femicide fatalities.
- Read more: Pain And The Pursuit Of Justice: Argentine Community Reeling Over Murder Of Micaela García
According to statistics released on Tuesday by the civil association La Casa del Encuentro, a total of 329 adolescents between the ages of 16 and 21 have become victims of femicides in the last nine years in Argentina. The analysis, presented by Ada Rico, president of La Casa del Encuentro and director of the Femicide Observatory in Argentina, also revealed that these cases alone have left 125 children motherless and that in only 21 percent of the femicides was there no apparent link between the girls and their killers.
The figures are stark and, naturally, the latest tragedy, involving the sexual assault and death of 21-year-old student and women’s rights activist Micaela, has added more fuel to an already raging Ni Una Menos fire. However, Micaela’s murder has not only prompted new discussions about femicide prevention in Argentina, but the case has also stimulated debate about the best way to fight crime and deal with criminals in general. The involvement of high-profile political personalities in the aftermath of the teenager’s death, such as the former Supreme Court judge Raúl Zaffaroni, has revived long-standing disputes about the Argentine penal code – far from ideal from the current government.
On Tuesday, as Micaela’s family and friends said their final goodbyes at a vigil that took place at the Centre for Physical Education in Conception de Uruguay, Entre Ríos, the National Government ordered the creation of a “working group” for the development of “policies for prevention and investigation” into femicides and “protocols and guidelines for taking action” for security forces, in order to “adapt the current intervention procedures to the highest standards of efficiency and respect for human rights.”
The resolution, signed by Security Minister Patricia Bullrich and published officially on Tuesday, empowers the Office for the Implementation of Gender and Diversity Policies to invite representatives from other national and provincial departments, as well as from civil organizations, to take part in the specialized task force. Alongside the proposal, the motion included perturbing figures from 2015 (from the National Supreme Court’s Office for Domestic Violence), underlining the urgency and importance of instigating some drastic measures: “The latest report for 2015 revealed that the total number of victims of femicides was 235, and only seven of the individuals charged with the crimes were actually convicted.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, repeat offenses of gender violence are far from infrequent – and, by all appearances, there seems to be no exception to this in Micaela’s case. Sebastián Wagner, who confessed last night to murdering the young woman during a sexual attack, alongside his boss, did in fact already have a history of violence: he has been accused of three violent acts in the past, and was sentenced to nine years in prison for two of them. The prosecuted incidents involved two victims, both students from the same city as Micaela, and occurred in July and November of 2010. The third case against him was dropped after DNA testing was complicated when he implicated his own twin brother in the crime.
After serving two thirds of his sentence, Wagner was granted parole on 1st July 2016 by Judge Carlos Alfredo Rossi, against the counsel of specialists. At the time of Micaela’s disappearance on Saturday 1st April, he was still on said parole. This has, of course, caused outcry among members of the public and politicians alike, and countless criticisms have been launched against the Entre Ríos judge, both on social media and more formally. While the judge has requested a leave of absence for 20 days “due to depression” and stress, following the news of Wagner’s latest crime, the Entre Ríos provincial Legislature has received at least two requests to subject him to a political trial in order to remove him from office, including from the current Justice Minister Germán Garavano.
Likewise, Argentine president Mauricio Macri himself has weighed in on the situation, saying: “Either the system was wrong or Judge Rossi did not understand the scope of his task, but we cannot have a type of judge like that. We cannot have a judge who believes that what one can do in life is up for debate. One has to be sure of the decisions he makes.”
Twisting the knife further, the former Supreme Court judge Raúl Zaffaroni offered his own take on the situation over the weekend, which has proved nothing less than controversial. Zaffaroni, who is known for his close ties to the Kirchner family and has notoriously given ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner legal advice for various cases in the past, maintained: “If the project that we proposed three years ago were in effect now, this would not have happened.” Big claim.
Zaffaroni was, of course, referring to a Penal Code reform bill that was presented to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner during her presidency by a commission headed up by the Supreme Court judge himself. The reform, which boasted garantismo, was widely criticized for being too abolitionist – too soft an approach to crime, focussing too much on the perpetrators instead of the victims – and was eventually frozen by the ex presidenta before it was due to be sent to Congress.
Among other policy changes, it proposed the elimination of life imprisonment, instead supporting the implementation of a proportional system of penalties in accordance with the gravity of the offense committed, with the highest prison sentence at 30 years. Zaffaroni’s committee also asked for prison sentences to be given in combination with a system of alternative sentences (house arrest, reparation fines, community service), while probation and suspended sentences would be eradicated all together.
Now, seizing Micaela’s case as an opportunity to reopen the discussion, Zaffaroni has defended his stance one more: “We have a system of repeat offending that is crazy, irrational. All crimes are considered the same: writing a check with insufficient funds, rape, shop lifting.”
“Not all rapists are repeat offenders or sexual psychopaths, but some are,” he added. “Cases of rape happen in different circumstances. Not all rapists are sex-psychopaths – some are – but they are all criminals. This is where one has to be careful and rely on expert opinions. One cannot play with these things, when what we are dealing with is human life.”
Of course, the Kirchnerite’s comments were not going to be left without a response. Speaking on LN+ on Monday evening, current Argentine Justice Minister Germán Garavano reminded his audience that “Cristina herself did not want to take the Zaffaroni project to Congress because it had a series of very serious structural defects.”
Stating his opinion that Rossi should no longer be able to practise as a judge, the politician went on to state that judges must place more of their focus on the victim and society, rather than on the perpetrator: “For the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a criminal law doctrine that’s hidden the victim and society and concentrated on the criminal as a victim of society and not as a person who has violated the law and committed crimes.” Garavano also speculated that judges tend to give lower sentences than they should for these types of crime due to a “tradition of machismo.”
Turning his attention to Zaffaroni, he added that the judge was “an advocate of Cristina, a figure closely linked to the previous government” and he is carrying a politically charged message.
If one thing is for sure, this is not an ideal time for Macri’s government to face a kirchnerist debate about crime and punishment, particularly as the current administration is trying to start a conversation about lowering the age at which defendants can be tried as adults.