Controversy over the judicial status of a number of Kirchnerite figures raged on Monday, after President Alberto Fernández denied in an interview that Argentina had so-called "political prisoners."
“It bothers me that they say I have political prisoners, because I don't have them,” the president told journalist Diego Schurman on Monday during an interview with Radio Continental.
Debate over imprisoned former officials and others facing investigations in the courts are at risk of creating a deep fault-line in the Frente de Todos coalition, with Peronist leaders seemingly split over whether ex-Kirchnerite figures should be defined as "political prisoners." A number of former officials and political leaders – including Fernández's current vice-president, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – have alleged that cases against them in the courts were pushed by the Mauricio Macri administration.
In the interview, Fernández warned that debate on the issue distorted Argentina's image abroad. "We have to be cautious because someone may think that our government is arresting people without cause," he said.
The president's comments come just four days after his Cabinet chief, Santiago Cafiero, told Infobae that for the government, there are no political prisoners. There were, however, “arbitrary detentions” during the Macri administration, said Cafiero.
“It’s a semantic argument…I don’t have anybody detained,” Fernández told Radio Continental. “We have to tell our partners not to be silly, they want to divide us. I don’t know what we are arguing [about].”
The Peronist leader underlined that, as president, accusations that political prisoners existed were tantamount to criticism of his own leadership of the nation — charges he desperately doesn’t want to have attached to his name as he courts support around the world for Argentina's bid to restructure its debt burden.
"If in the world they hear that there are political prisoners, they think that Alberto Fernández has [political] prisoners,” he said.
He described the debate as an "unnecessary discussion," defending his own stance on the issue. "If there is anyone who questioned the procedures and arbitrary detentions it was me, because in 2018 many of those who are alarmed today were silent.”
One Kirchnerite-aligned figure was quick to comment on the president's declarations. Milagro Sala, the leader of the Túpac Amaru Neighbourhood Association – who was arrested in 2016 on charges of fraud and criminal conspiracy – responded forcefully to the president, declaring that "whatever you want to call it, arbitrary detentions or political prisoners, [the government] needs to resolve our situation."
The Jujuy social leader, who is currently detained under house arrest, has often defined herself as a "political prisoner," saying that her detention was for "everything that has been happening over the course of these four years," a not-so-hidden reference to the Cambiemos government led by Mauricio Macri.
In a dialogue with the FutuRock radio station, Sala reflected that the "semantic" discussion about her procedural situation is "a pretext" for not resolving the case.
Nonetheless, Fernández has been firm in his support for Sala in recent years.
"I went to see Milagro Sala and told her that she endured an arrest because of her political status…it is a very painful judicial doctrine that allows excessive preventive imprisonment without a firm sentence, " the president said Monday.