President Alberto Fernández has sparked outrage among the opposition after visiting jailed Túpac Amaru leader Milagro Sala in hospital and calling on the Judiciary to revise her case.
Reacting to the state of Sala’s health, Fernández travelled on Wednesday to Jujuy to see her and show her, in his own words, that "the rule of law makes itself present."
"My concern for Milagro Sala is not new," said the Frente de Todos leader in statements to local media, as he declared that the social leader is a victim of "political persecution."
Deploying clear criticism of the Supreme Court, provincial justice and Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales, the president affirmed: "Remanding in custody for prolonged periods and before guilt has been established are ways of violating human rights."
After his surprise appearance, Fernández recalled his visit to Sala on the last day of 2016, which led him to report to the Organisation of American States that he had identified "persecution" by the administration of Mauricio Macri, which he alleges invented charges of "illegal association to prevent people from being released from prison," thus contradicting the Argentine legal system based on the principle of innocence until the contrary is proven and free until a final verdict determines guilt.
Along the same lines he hailed the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordering house arrest for the Túpac Amaru leader, pointing out that this decision was ratified by the Supreme Court, upon whom he called to "begin amending its barbarities."
"On arriving from Germany, I found out that Milagro’s health was delicate and worried about her situation. My stance is humanitarian, calling for the rule of law to apply everywhere in the world. When they overthrew Evo [Morales], I made sure that I saved his life by getting him out of the country and when [Luiz Inácio] Lula [aa Silva[ was persecuted, I took care to travel and visit him in jail, asking the Pope to accompany us," he continued.
"In our rule of law, courts should function other than they do in Jujuy. I ask Jujuy judges to leave aside all the theories and doctrines of the years prior to our government and contradictory to the essence of the rule of law. And I ask the Supreme Court which has been analysing the case of Milagro for over two years to tackle the issue since she has been deprived of her liberty for more than six years.”
The president admitted to political differences with Sala in the past, explaining that he was not requesting her innocence but for her to be "tried respecting the law in trials without political pressures and persecution."
"Those who know me know that I never got on well politically with Milagro but that does not matter because human rights are for everybody," he declared.
After a telephone conversation with Sala’s husband last Tuesday, the president resolved to travel to Jujuy the next day to talk to her and monitor her health. There the doctors told him that the social leader is suffering from deep vein thrombosis in her left leg, along with a general psychological deterioration with the decline in the quality of her family life as a product of prison.
Via an open letter Jujuy Province Governor Gerardo Morales criticised the president for not visiting him as well, considering his action “a lack of respect” towards the people of Jujuy.
"It surprise me that with the situation of the country on the brink of the abysm, with inflation out of control, with the lack of fuel and certain inputs for production, with restrictions strangling our economy, among other serious problems facing the country, you take the time to come to Jujuy to visit Milagro Sala," read a text bearing the signature of the Radical party chairman.
"What worries me most is that you continue turning a deaf ear to the desperate appeals of the hundreds of victims who suffered the most aberrant violations of their human rights during the reign of violence and corruption exercised by Milagro Sala during over 10 years of parallel government,” he declared.
Morales concluded: "Mr President, Milagro Sala is a criminal convicted for corruption and for having enslaved the poor with violence. I appeal to you to govern for all the Argentine people and not just for a faction."
Argentina’s main opposition leaders also questioned the president harshly, pointing out that instead of governing, his activities centred on "staying on the good side" of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
On her Twitter account, PRO chair Patricia Bullrich pointed out that "with the parallel dollar at its historic peak and over half the country without diesel, instead of meeting his Cabinet and his economic team, the president abandoned his responsibilities and travelled to support a corruption convict.”
High-profile social leader Juan Grabois called on the president to pardon Milagro Sala, declaring: "It’s time to pass from words to deeds. Pardon is the only alternative.”
"When we say that Milagro Sala is a political prisoner, we must give that a political response,” said Grabois.
In statements to C5N television news channel late Wednesday, the president said: "I appeal to all comrades who ask me to pardon Milagro Sala to read the Constitution. I cannot pardon Milagro Sala because she has been convicted by provincial courts so it is up to the provincial governor to pardon her, I cannot.”
"Don’t ask me to make a political gesture which contradicts the Constitution because I respect constitutional rights and the rule of law. I won’t do anything so crazy. I’m on Milagro’s side and always was," he stressed.
Following the visit President Fernández will be meeting with her defence lawyers next week to plan how to secure her release.