Argentina: controversy over jailed prisoners taken to participate in “cultural activities”
A controversy erupted in Argentina following confirmed claims that the government of President Cristina Fernandez appeals to convicted prisoners in support of public presentations and political rallies under cover of cultural activities.
The government admits that the measure, ‘temporary leaves’, is part of a rehabilitation program to prepare prisoners for the social re-insertion when they recover their freedom.
The controversy turned into a scandal when it was filmed that one of those ‘recruited’ by a government political group is Eduardo Vázquez, the former drums player of a band convicted for the fire in a disco that killed 194 youngster back in 2004 and was sentenced to 18 years in jail for also having murdered his wife.
According to the Argentine newspaper Clarin, Vazquez was taken by the Kirchnerite grouping “Vatayón Militante” (‘Militant battalion’), to play at political rallies, although the government describes them as cultural events and with the authorization from the magistrate.
But members of the congressional opposition want better answers and even presented criminal charges before a Buenos Aires federal court.
Opposition lawmaker Carlos Comi said that “people deprived of their liberty because they are complying with judicial convictions or sentences for very serious crimes, regularly abandon jail to participate in political events camouflaged or dressed as cultural activities”.
However President Cristina Fernandez in a speech at Government House defended the activities of “Vatayón militante” and other NGO which, she said, “contribute with the task of social reinsertion, of not isolation, in such a way that they fully achieve their reinsertion with the rest of society”.
“I understand the pain of the victims, mainly because I understand the pain of parents of the girl that died burnt by this young fellow who these groups are trying to make him sociable again, to re-insert him to normal life, but I can assure you that he goes back to his jail every day”, said Cristina Fernandez.
She added that among the prisoners from the federal penitentiary system, “all those that have university degrees, not one of them have re-offended in their crimes”.
Justice Minister Julio Alak said that the prisoners who attend cultural activities outside penitentiaries “do so with the magistrate authorization” and revealed that “over 70% of those at the federal prisons system work and /or study”. Furthermore when they attend those activities they are escorted by police officers in civilian clothes.
Argentina has 70.000 people in jail of which 60.000 belong to the provinces and 10.000 to the federal penitentiary system.
According to Argentine authorities, and confirmed by President Cristina Fernandez at the 32 federal penitentiaries distributed in 14 Argentine provinces, teaching at the three levels takes place and graduates are awarded the same degrees as regular students.