A Peronist leader campaigns from behind bars

Accused of having tortured and killed under Peron, the ex-police captain Luis Patti has been granted permission to enter the legislative elections for June 28. His campaigning begins…from behind bars.


, in Buenos Aires

The Broadway theatre, on the busy Corrientes Avenue in Buenos Aires, is full of youngsters not yet of voting age. But when asked to sing the national anthem of Argentina - followed by a Peronist march – they all break out into chorus, accompanied by large drums. There’s no doubt about it. This is not a child’s chorus; this is a political meeting.


The meeting was organised by “the list of free Peronists” who are throwing their hat into the ring for the legislative elections of June 28. Their leader, Luis Patti, is planning to give a speech from his cell at the Marcos Paz prison, where he is an inmate. Serving a sentence for torture and kidnapping, Patti has gathered followers consisting of people who were pursued or condemned for crimes against humanity between 1974 and 1977.


His speech is unfortunately inaudible. Only little spurts give hints as to his political platform: “Put Argentina back to work,” “obligatory military service, “parental authority.” But his final words are unmistakable: “Vote and witness the fraud!”


Crimes against humanity

The 56-year-old candidate has stood for election before. In October 2005, he was elected deputy of Escobar, where he served as mayor, in the Argentine Chambers of Deputies, but the parliament refused to ratify the results after Patti was accused of participating in torture sessions during the dictatorship. They deemed he lacked the “moral aptitude” to assume the responsibility of the post. The country's supreme court, on the other hand, did approve the election results. But Patti could not serve his term, as he was sent to prison.


On May 26, Argentine courts granted him permission to take part in the legislative elections, on the grounds that “he has not yet been condemned.”


The victims’ families, who have long fought for Patti to answer for his crimes, plan to appeal the judge’s decision. Mariano Gabriel Molinea, a defence lawyer, explains that Article 36 in the constitution forbids the candidature of "anyone accused of attacking the institutional system or the democratic system." For Molinea, Patti's case falls under this law and the charges against him could be qualified as 'crimes against humanity.'


Supported by two ex-presidents


“I’m being persecuted,” said Patti, who remains certain that his election is a reinforcement of democracy. The leader of the “Free Peronists” enjoys the support of Aldo Rico, who attempted several coups d’etat in the late 80s to protest lawsuits against the military of the dictatorship. Patti and Rico plead their case by referring to their new bible: the Pact of San Jose, Costa Rica. This international treaty, often referenced by human rights lawyers, says that “everyone can be in an election so long as they have not been definitively condemned by the courts.”


Patti has the support of the far-right, as well as two former Argentinian presidents, Carlos Menem and Eduardo Duhalde, the latter of whom is a former commissioner adept in political manoeuvring. He benefits from “the support of the population in the suburbs suffering from a lack of safety,” a central theme of his campaign.


Nonetheless, Patti is barely a blip in the polls. Left-wing daily Pagina 12 wrote, “This time, it is nearly impossible that Patti, even if he earns enough votes to win the post of deputy, could perform his duties. For that to happen, he would have to be fully absolved of the charges of crimes against humanity. And his trial approaches."

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