December 11, 2017
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cracks emerge within parties on Penal reform

A scene from more united times when lawmakers and Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni publicly unveiled the bill to reform the country’s Penal Code last month.
Some members of PRO, UCR voice opposition to Zaffaroni-led commission

More opposition voices started to speak up yesterday against the Penal Code reform that a commission led by Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni handed over to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner yesterday.
Several party leaders appear  not want to be left behind after Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa’s harsh criticism of the reform, leading to a conflict within both the Radical Party and Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri’s PRO, which were represented in the drafting commission shared with the Kirchnerite FpV and the Broad Progressive Front (FAP).

Several members of PRO party also said they will not be voting for the new Code if the government takes it to Congress this year, as the president indicated during her state-of-the-nation speech on Saturday.

Congressman Miguel Bazze even went as far as to say his entire party would end up opposing the proposed reform of the Penal Code.

“The Radical party is not going to support any initiative for impunity nor to benefit criminals,” he said in a press release.

This is likely not how Zaffaroni thought the process would unfold.

In 2012, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner created a drafting commission in charge of overhauling the Penal Code, which was adopted in 1921and has undergone more than 900 amendments. Justice Zaffaroni, the country’s top criminal-law expert, was appointed to head the commission and decided to call on members of all the main political forces in Congress.

His goal was clear: avoid writing up a bill that would result in a stalemate in any of the houses of Congress due to opposition demands.

As Zaffaroni told the Herald last month, his idea was not new nor revolutionary. He was in fact following Rodolfo Moreno’s idea, who, during Hipólito Yrigoyen’s presidency, headed a commission to write the Penal Code. Moreno, a conservative opposed to the Radical president, invited two Radical lawmakers and two Socialist legislators to discuss the Penal Code.

For his part, Zaffaroni made sure to include representatives from the main political parties at the moment the commission was formed. María Elena Barbagelata (Socialist Party), former Buenos Aires province Security minister and member of the court that led the trial against the junta members León Arlsanián, Ricardo Gil Lavedra (Radical Party) and Federico Pinedo (PRO) joined Zaffaroni for two years to finish the work they handed over to the president last month.

Renewal Front

That left Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa as one of the few who could oppose the bill and truthfully claim that his political force had nothing to do with the reform that would put an end to life imprisonment. (Life imprisonment violates the Constitution, Zaffaroni explained.)

Massa criticized the reform presented by the commission headed by Zaffaroni because it eliminates the recidivism, which means it ends the possibility of imprisoning someone for longer because he or she commits the same crime more than once.

“So it’s the same to steal once or 10 times,” the former Tigre mayor complained yesterday. On Saturday, Massa also said that he was going to promote a referendum to ask citizens if they agreed with the amendments.

From the ruling Victory Front (FpV), it was Senator Aníbal Fernández who directly responded to Massa’s criticism.

“Does lawyer Massa know that Article 39 of the Constitution and the third article of Law 24,747 prevents any popular initiative regarding a criminal issue?” Fernández pondered sarcastically on Twitter.

Former president Eduardo Duhalde agreed with Massa.

“This is not the right moment to discuss the overhaul of the Penal Code,” Duhalde said and added: “This bill is going to be presented by a government that only has one year left in office.”

Radical Party

Massa was not alone in his crusade against the Penal Code bill. In spite of Gil Lavedra’s presence in the drafting commission, some iconic members of his party also expressed concerns.

Cobos repeated the same words he uttered after the president’s speech to open the legislative year.

“The bill reduces prison penalties for the crimes that worry our society nowadays,” the current member of the Lower House said yesterday, agreeing with Massa. Cobos complained about the reduction of penalties for homicides, robberies, human and drug-trafficking.

Gil Lavedra rejected the criticisms claiming that the reform is necessary but that lawmakers are not contributing to constructive discussion.

Cobos’ rival for the leadership within the party, Ernesto Sanz, yesterday played down the discussion over the Penal Code bill.

“The discussion over the Penal Code is just for fun and only benefits those who do not want to discuss crime control,” the UCR chairman said. “The problem is not whether there is a higher or lower penalty. The problem is fighting organized crime.”

Congressman Miguel Bazze also closed ranks against the bill and warned the entire party was going to follow his lead in opposing the Penal Code reform.

“The Radical party is not going to support any initiative for impunity nor to benefit criminals,” he said in a press release.


Zaffaroni’s strategy was always risky. While on the one hand, having a multi-party commission could contribute to a more cordial discussion of the bill, reaching consensus would not be a simple task and some of the members would not be happy with the final outcome.

Pinedo yesterday confirmed that he had some disagreements, mainly linked to the removal of life imprisonment.

PRO lawmaker Laura Alonso yesterday said that she had some differences with the bill and with Pinedo himself, her party’s representative on the commission.


Broad Progressive Front leader Hermes Binner was one of the few who backed the work done by the commission in which Barbagelata took part. Binner welcomed the possibility of opening a debate on criminal issues.

Herald staff with Télam, DyN, Online Media

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