ON THE SAME DAY AS GENERAL PAZ TRAFFIC IS BLOCKED DURING RUSH HOURWednesday, May 21, 2014
Lower House opens debate on how to regulate right to protest
On a day that began with Security Secretary Sergio Berni descending on a road block that immobilized traffic on the General Paz during rush hour, a Lower House committee yesterday began to formally discuss a battery of bills aiming to regulate the right to protest.
While everyone seems to be in agreement that something must be done to stop the proliferation of traffic-blocking protests, there appears to be little agreement on what should be done.
The preliminary discussions that began yesterday in the Constitutional Affairs Committee suggest that despite widespread interest in introducing a framework that regulates street protests and which also guarantees the right to petition authorities, the congressional blocs remain divided on the best way to achieve that goal.
Lawmakers were meeting hours after Berni told radio La Red to “forget about the laws, the anti-protest laws, you only have to read the Constitution” and that “anyone who blocks the General Paz needs be put in jail.”
Amnesty under discussion
Contrasting Berni’s hard-line position, two initiatives to declare an amnesty for the thousands of people currently serving sentences or are accused of committing non-violent crimes during a protest were introduced, spearheaded by Diana Conti and Alicia Comelli (Neuquén Popular Movement) and another by Virginia Linares (GEN) and Nicolás del Caño (Workers’ Leftist Front).
Although still incipient and with details yet to be worked out, it would appear that there is greater agreement between lawmakers on the amnesty initiative. Constitutional Affairs Committee President Diana Conti (FpV) expressed her support for an amnesty, earning the applause of FpV lawmakers after saying that “we want freedom for those stigmatized by criminal complaints against them” for participating in protests.
Del Caño told the committee that the FIT would not trade an amnesty for those accused with greater regulation for protests, in an allusion to the fact that the Victory Front has presented a bill that specifically differentiates between “legitimate and illegitimate” protests, which received strong criticism from the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) when it was presented in April.
UCR lawmaker Manuel Garrido told the Herald there are “hundreds of people who have been unduly incarcerated on an abritrary basis for protests,” but also called the Linares-del Caño bill “too broad.”
There are currently six bills that seek to regulate social protests before the committee, with initiatives from the Victory Front (FpV, co-signed by lawmakers Diana Conti, Juan Manuel Pedrini and Carlos Kunkel), PRO (Federico Sturzenegger and Pablo Tonelli) and Renewal Front (Darío Giustozzi) standing out. These will now be reviewed by congressional advisers before the next Committee meeting on June 10, which will include testimony from stakeholders such as Quebracho, the CTA-ATE union, lawyer Roberto Gargarella and Encuentro por la Memoria, Verdad y Justicia, among others.
For now, differences remain between the blocs although lawmakers were careful to express their interest in finding a consensus project, with the primary points of agreement being a recognition that the matter involved a “clash of rights” and that it was cross-party matter.
For her part, lawmaker Ramona Pucheta (Social Inclusion Front) has a bill that enhances the state’s responsibility to provide “answers” to protests before security forces are authorized to clear any protests.