What’s Argentina’s Current Situation Regarding Human Rights?
It would take an extremely cynical person to say that Argentina’s situation regarding human rights since the fall of the last dictatorship hasn’t improved, and most drastically in the last decade or so under the Kirchner dynasty.
But there is still a long way to go, according to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and any other HR group we might mention. Here’s what HRW says about Argentina at present:
“Argentina’s human rights record remains mixed. While many basic freedoms are protected, there are still ongoing concerns, including threats to freedom of expression, lack of comprehensive freedom of information legislation, police abuse, poor prison conditions, barriers to accessing reproductive health products and services, and failure to protect indigenous rights.”
So what is the next President going to do about it?
As The Bubble reported last month, only two of the five presidential candidates — Margarita Stolbizer and Nicolas Del Caño — signed a Public Commitment pledge drafted by Amnesty International Argentina to defend all human rights in Argentina.
The other candidates, who all happen to be older, male and more conservative, have so far dodged the issue and failed to sign the pledge. So from the outset they have their work cut out even more than Del Caño and Stolbizer to convince us they have good human rights credentials.
Diverging a bit from our other candidate stance guides (read about income tax, vulture funds, foreign affairs and abortion), we’ve broken down the following according to HR issues rather than candidate.
When we say that human rights have improved drastically in Argentina, it has a lot to do with Argentina’s recent history — which included a seven-year fascist dictatorship between 1976 and 1983 — and how successive governments, particularly from Néstor Kirchner’s election onward, decided to confront its legacy.
The Kirchner I and II administrations did this from 2003 by working with Congress to revoke the Amnesty Laws that were put in place by ex-President Carlos Menem in the late ’80s as part of a “Full Stop” policy to supposedly “ease” the transition to democracy and protect those involved in the abductions, tortures and killings that took place on such a large scale.
Many of the guilty parties pardoned by Menem were re-convicted and put behind bars, and many more stood trial and were convicted, old age notwithstanding. The idea was that showing that human rights abuses would not go unpunished could help defend them in the future and help all those still suffering as a result of dictatorship-era crimes.
As the Victory Front (FpV) candidate, Daniel Scioli has the weight of his party and its positive legacy of bringing former oppressors to justice.
He also has the remarkable ability to make us all forget that he was completely opposed to the revoking of the amnesty laws when Néstor first mooted the idea. In fact, it led to a bitter row between the two, since Scioli was his Vice President at the time.
Indeed, this reactionary Menemite streak in Scioli’s politics has bloomed late on in the campaign and underlined a steady slide to the right in the weeks and months leading up to this election, drawing Scioli further away from the radical Kirchnerite brand of Peronism espoused by many in the FpV after Néstor and Cristina. Not for nothing did La Cámpora disown his closing rally and attempt to upstage it a day beforehand.
What about the others? Neither Cambiemos’ Mauricio Macri nor A New Alternative’s Sergio Massa have inspired confidence that they will uphold this key Kirchnerite legacy if elected. Both, in fact, have suggested that we — including, presumably, those parents of children disappeared during the dictatorship still waiting for answers and justice — put the past behind us and wind down the trials of ex-dictatorship oppressors.
Meanwhile, sixth-placed Adolfo Rodríguez Saá of the Federal Commitment has a better track record than his fantastically stuffy campaign would suggest. During his few nanoseconds as President in 2001, he shocked conservatives everywhere by welcoming the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo into the Casa Rosada.
The smaller Progressives and Leftist Workers’ Party (FIT) (at least, the various factions that now make up these coalitions) all generally supported the revoking of amnesty in Congress when Néstor first proposed it, and have slammed the complicity of the mainstream groups represented by Scioli, Macri and Massa regarding the ongoing shadow of the dictatorship and Cesar Milani FpV appointment and resignation, in positions of authority.
Having already covered where the candidates stand on abortion this week (Stolbizer and Del Caño are the only two promoting legalization), we’ll look at other issues affecting women’s rights.
The number of femicides in Argentina each year is high and has stayed that way under 12 years of FpV rule.
However, Scioli can point to his support of legislation introduced in 2012 enforcing stricter punishments for those who kill their partners or children, even if this has had very little impact in stemming the tide.
Macri meanwhile, has vocally spoken in support of the anti-femicide movement, hoping to channel anti-government sentiment in this way during the campaign. Further, his appointment of Gabriela Michetti as running mate and María Eugenia Vidal as Buenos Aires Province governor points to elements of female empowerment within his broad center-right coalition, even if strict opposition to abortion like Scioli does not.
Del Caño’s FIT coalition also has impressive credentials regarding the campaign against femicides that has taken off in Argentina this year. The FIT was one of the biggest influences on making the first #NiUnaMenos march that heralded the arrival of the anti-femicide movement as an important political force in Argentine politics, and has outlined a plan for state-funded emergency aid in cases of femicide and gender-based violence which includes numerous subsidies and support.
FIT is also the only group promising to implement gender pay equality in the workplace.
The Progressives, meanwhile, led by Stolbizer as the only female candidate for President, have also stood out in championing women’s rights during the campaign. Aside from her comprehensive plan to legalize abortion, Stolbizer joined the Progressives with the Ni Una Menos campaign and boasts further impressive feminist credentials that outshine her opponents’.
Scioli is inevitably tarnished with the FpV legacy on this, which is at odds with the movement’s decent HR track record in other areas.
The current occupation of the Don Quixote Plaza on 9 de Julio Avenue by indigenous groups led by Félix Díaz, who’ve been there for almost eight months now, shows the lack of action from the FpV and the current government over the issue, which is largely due to the absence of land rights of Argentina’s indigenous population in the northern provinces, Neuquén and Río Negro.
According to Amnesty, there are 183 distinct and unresolved conflicts in Argentina involving the land rights of indigenous people at present.
Despite a handful of token meetings set up by the Human Rights Secretariat with indigenous representatives, no significant progress has been made and the situation of indigenous peoples in Argentina has continued to look bleak under the FpV. Indigenous communities and activists have been forced into direct action to get their concerns about land rights heard. Scioli has barely even touched on the issue during the campaign.
Macri, meanwhile, has offered almost no evidence of his concern over the issue or the estimated 1 million Argentines it affects, as far as The Bubble can discern at least, outside of some opportunistic point-scoring following the death of a young indigenous boy in Chaco province from apparent malnutrition.
On the other hand, his rival for second place, Massa, believe it or not met with Díaz during the campaign last year and promised to back the claims of the Qom in Formosa, specifically during his barnstorming tour of the North in August/September.
“I talked with Sergio on this issue and said he would support and accompany indigenous claims. What we want is him to give us a hand, help us out of this situation. He’s a guy who listens, is very attentive and that to me is very positive,” Díaz said of Massa.
Stolbizer and the Progressives have supported the demands for dialogue of the indigenous groups currently occupying 9 de Julio and met with their representatives earlier in the year before the government did.
Del Caño meanwhile has been strong on addressing the inherent links between poverty and the indigenous minority in Argentina when has discussed the issue during the campaign, something played down shamefully by the FpV and their selective use of poverty statistics, though his Trotskyite focus on the traditional working class focused his attention away from the cultural discrimination at the heart of the debate.
Saá for his part has come out in favor of devolving power to indigenous communities in Argentina during the campaign, though his suggestion that solving the problem with such a plan would be “simple” did not inspire confidence as to his appreciation of the nuances involved in the issue.
PRISONS, POLICE AND REPRESSION
All three main candidates are suspect regarding this issue, since all three have failed to address it as a serious HR concern. In fact, they all lean heavily on the political rhetoric of a strong police force, on the “tough on crime” mantra and all three can be expected to expand federal police power and numbers if elected, while none have addressed the corruption and violence embedded within it.
Over the eight years he has governed Buenos Aires Province, Scioli has expanded the federal police force by some 100,000 people without addressing the issue of illegal repression in any meaningful way. Amnesty and HRW continued to report myriad cases of police repression and violence in the province and beyond under FpV rule which has not brought progress on the issue or even addressed it in a serious way at all during the campaign.
Then again, Macri and Massa seem to be two shades of the same lukewarm opposition. Both slammed Scioli and the FpV whenever an instance of repression at the hands of the federal police has occurred, for example in Tucumán recently, but have tainted credentials themselves.
The metropolitan police under Macri has repeatedly been accused of racism, repression and even forced disappearances during the eight years he’s been mayor of Buenos Aires City, while the PRO party’s criticism of Scioli’s rapid expansion of Federal Police in Buenos Aires province was impressive.
Macri promised to remove federal police from Buenos Aires City completely if elected President, but when we examine his current relationship and joint legacy with the Met police itself, would this even improve the situation regarding the abuse of police authority at all?
Massa, meanwhile, has potentially been even more concerning than his main rivals in that he has not only similarly failed to suggest a robust reform of the police in order to combat repression, but has gone one step further and actually wants to amalgamate the federal police with the Army in his nonsensical and over-zealous War on Drug Trafficking, something opposed by all the other candidates.
Stolbizer for her part has spoken out against corruption at all levels of the Argentine police, surely a more positive approach from a human rights perspective since suspected corruption can be linked with the fact that so few police officers involved in abuse cases end up on trial. She also slammed the expansion of the federal police in BA Province under Scioli and the ongoing problem of overcrowded prisons touted by Amnesty but shunned by the main three candidates:
“What are the results of having the province full of policemen and prisons overflowing with inmates? We have more crime, more violence and more dangerous, organized criminals,” she said.
Del Caño and the FIT reflect a similar position as the Progressives in that, as with many HR issues across the campaign, they have wisely channeled Shakespeare’s Mercutio and attacked the main established forces equally for being complicit in police repression.
The FIT are unconcerned about pandering to the popular tough-on-crime rhetoric espoused by the front runners, not least since they are not directly targeting the median Argentine voter this election who, it is widely accepted, considers dealing with crime of paramount importance. It is not just strategic though. Ideologically, the FIT disagrees with the black and white assumptions promoted by the main three contenders regarding an inherent goodness of the police forces in Argentina and have pointed to the lack of reform of the police since the last dictatorship as proof.
Last but not least, Saá has basically said he supports what the FpV is doing regarding domestic security and the police in Argentina. How original of him.
Here’s what Paula Canelo, a researcher at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (Conicet) and the National University of San Martín (Unsam), told the Buenos Aires Herald recently regarding the issue.
“While Rodríguez Saá has called on [the government] to continue the current tasks of the security forces, Stolbizer and Del Caño have become the only two candidates who have vowed to deal with this problem in a comprehensive way,” the sociologist said.
As with many of the other relevant HR issues we’ve looked at, it is left to the fringe parties with little hope of reaching the Casa Rosada to defend human rights concerns during the presidential campaign.
Whatever happens on Sunday, it will therefore be their responsibility to put pressure on the main political forces in Argentina to be more proactive on human rights in Argentina.