Pot-banging returned to the streets of Buenos Aires on Thursday evening, as angry citizens staged a cacerolazo protest to reject the release of inmates from prison amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The protest, organised via social networks and promoted by opposition lawmakers and those critical of the government of Peronist President Alberto Fernández, was heard loudly in various parts of the capital, most strongly in Belgrano, Núñez, Retiro, Recoleta, San Telmo, Villa Urquiza and Flores. Residents took to their balconies, opened their windows and stood in their gardens, respecting social distancing rules.
Digital media outlets reported that pot-banging was also heard strongly in provincial cities such as Santa Fe, Rosario, Mendoza and Salta, among others.
The demonstration is a response to a host of stories in local media outlets on the potential release of prisoners from Argentina's overcrowded penitentiary system, amid fears that the Covid-19 novel coronavirus may sweep through the country's jails. The first confirmed cases – wardens, prisoners and guards – were confirmed last weekend.
Opposition politicians have taken to social networks this week to suggest that President Alberto Fernández and members of his coalition are seeking to release a large number of prisoners. Other unconfirmed reports have suggested violent criminals, including rapists and murderers, may qualify for temporary release from institutions.
The Frente de Todos leader said in a thread on Twitter this week that the Executive branch had no rule in deciding whether temporary house arrest orders were granted and to whom, saying that the decision was exclusively made by the Judiciary.
"No0one agrees with taking rapists or murderers to the streets," Justice Minister Marcela Losardo said in statements to the C5N channel on Thursday.
Losardo said the transferring of prisoners to house arrest was to be carried out "by applying electronic anklets to them," with the intention that they finish serving their sentences.
"There will be no pardons, no amnesties, and no commutation of sentences," he said.
The minister said that countries like "the United States, Spain, others in Europe and Latin America have made even stronger decisions of this type."
"Of the 12,579 detainees in the federal system, only 320 were granted domiciliary for the coronavirus," Losardo specified.
Another 80,000 inmates in Argentina are housed in provincial jails.
A recent high-profile riot at the Villa Devoto prison in Buenos Aires ended with an agreement that judges would consider cases of detainees who have not yet received a confirmed conviction or are at high risk from death, should they be infected with Covid-19.
A total of 4,428 people in Argentina have been infected with the virus, with 218 fatalities to date, according to the Health Ministry.