South America Living

Justice in Argentina – Something to Be Commended

by Molly McHugh, Former Editor/Publisher of South America Living.     About the Author

Argentina fought hard (and is still fighting) to bring justice for victims of the Dirty War in South America (approximately 1973-1985) that occurred on its soil, and to punish perpetrators of the crimes. An important facet of that goal is, of course, to have laws on the books that hold criminals accountable, allowing prosecutors and courts to jail and punish them.

In Uruguay this never happened. Perpetrators of criminal acts (kidnapping, torture, rape, murder) committed by Uruguay’s police and military forces were allowed to walk free, set-up ranches in the countryside or elsewhere and live the rest of their lives without repercussion. More information here: Police in Uruguay.

How does that play out in present-day reality? In Argentina, crimes are punishable by law and many offenses are successfully prosecuted similar to in the U.S., Canada and other First World countries.

Recently (August, 2011) an eleven year old girl was kidnapped. News reports were aired nightly while she was missing showing photographs, interviews with distraught family members and friends… the entire country up in arms trying to find her. After nine days she was found murdered.

It took police a little over 2 weeks to make arrests of suspects, some of which have confessed to taking part in the kidnapping: Argentina News Report. How it will play out and whether her murderers will ever be charged and punished is of course dependent on a multitude of factors… yet the system is in place to achieve that goal.

Compare this to a not too long ago event in Uruguay (July 2010), where 12 prisoners burned to death and three were sent to the hospital in critical condition when a jail cell caught on fire. CNN reported on the story here: Uruguay officials to investigate deadly prison fire.

In the article it reports that “judge with jurisdiction over the investigation, Vital Rodriguez, will look into complaints that officials were slow to react to the fire.” And that the decision to prosecute or not prosecute, was up to the judge. No further reports – by Uruguayan media or American – were online.

What the artiicle didn’t tell you was that the ‘jail attendent’ or police officer in charge refused to open the jail cell and move the prisioners across the hall to the other jail cell. There was no ‘slow to react’ reality involved, he deliberately watched, listened and refused to act while 12 human beings were torched to death and others injured.

How do I know? We lived in the area at the time, what occurred and the facts of the incident spread afterwards as quickly as the fire. The inmates across the hall begged the attendent to move the men out of the cell but he said he did not have orders that allowed him to do so.

What human being – much less someone Uruguay put in a uniform with the responsibility of maintaining peace and justice within the country – with an ounce of consciousness in their soul could stand by and refuse to assist those being burned to death in a supposedly accidental fire?

My son’s friend had a friend who was in jail for the crime of ‘selling marijuana’, was given a 3 months sentence and scheduled to be released the following day. He was one of the 12 killed; heartbreaking.

As far as I know, the situation was shoved under the rug as quickly as the funerals that occurred days after the event.

Argentina should be commended for its recovery and transition to a First World justice system after a sinister time in its history. Uruguay?




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