Argentines staged loud protests in Buenos Aires and most large cities on Thursday evening, banging pots from balconies, and later applauding, in a show of opposition to the government's release of prisoners, allegedly to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The protests across the capital were organized through social networks for this Thursday at 20:00 hours and received strong support from lawmakers critical of the government of President Alberto Fernández.
Since Monday, some 1,000 prisoners have been released in Argentina after Fernández, a law professor who is against pardons, said the government should consider granting house arrest to inmates who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 given the overcrowding of prisons in Argentina.
Faced with the advance of the pandemic and the social distancing measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, and following World Health Organization recommendations, defense attorneys requested the courts grant house arrests to vulnerable individuals at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Likewise a week ago, the first confirmed COVID-19 cases inside an Argentine prison included prisoners and guards were reported. Shortly after rioting and arson broke out in some prisons demanding the release of prisoner over fears of contracting the virus.
On response to the request an Appeals court recommended that the so called prison risk population, above 65 years, pregnant women or with previously existent disease, and responsible for minor crimes, non involving violence could continue their conviction under home arrest.
According to official data, since the recommendations were implemented less than 1% of the prison population in Buenos Aires province, 439, have been benefited. Similarly 320 inmates from federal prisons.
However there have been claims that some violent inmates also managed to be sent to continue their convictions under house arrest. Feminist and rape victims groups were the most vocal on the issue.
But the whole move also has a political ingredient which can't be overlooked. Several former officials from ex president Cristina Fernandez administrations with firm sentencing and conviction, have been sent to their homes, alleging they are also part of the vulnerable population.
This includes ex vice president Amado Boudou, with no symptoms of having been exposed to COVID-19, but who considers himself a political prisoner, following on current vice president Cristina Fernandez line of thinking, who argues they were sentenced because they belonged to her governments. She herself has several court cases pending for corruption.
The fact that some of the fat cats were released added to the anxiety of thousands of inmates who are now expecting similar treatment. No wonder then that law abiding citizens are extremely disappointed and scared of some of president Fernandez policies. It won't be the first time that a populist government in Argentina empties prisons.
Pot banging on Thursday evening went for over fifteen minutes and a peoples' organization web Change.org, revealed that in only three days it had collected some half a million signatures protesting the release.