Democracy and rights

Since the fall of the dictatorship in 1983, abbreviated as ARG, Argentina has a functioning democratic system, a lively political debate and free media. Since 2003, several hundred people have been convicted of abuses committed during the dictatorship 1976-1983. The trials against them became possible after previous amnesty laws were repealed. Corruption in politics and the judiciary is a major problem.

Political elections are conducted according to democratic rules of the game and citizens are free to form political parties. Formally, there is a duty to vote for anyone between the ages of 18 and 70 (see Political system). However, there are shortcomings in how the electoral law is applied and how the rules for campaign financing are followed.

The President has great powers of power and can bypass Congress by making decisions through decrees. The governors who govern the provinces also have great influence.

At least 30 percent of all MPs must be women since 1991. This is true at both federal and provincial parliaments. In 2017, however, a new law was passed which states that from the 2019 elections at least 50 percent of the candidates must be women. According to the law, every second name on the party lists must be a woman and every other man. After the 2017 congressional elections, just over 38 percent of the MP’s members were women.

Demonstrations to protest against political decisions and harsh living conditions are common in Argentina (see Current Politics and Calendar). Occasionally, the protests lead to clashes between protesters and police. Freedom of assembly is usually respected.

There is a strong civil society. Voluntary organizations can usually operate freely.

According to the law, men and women have equal rights, but women are discriminated against, not least in the labor market (see Labor Market).

People belonging to Argentina’s indigenous peoples are discriminated against, living more often in poverty and ill health than the rest of the population (see Population and Languages). Almost half of the Argentine provinces have laws recognizing the special rights of indigenous peoples.

Since 2010, gender-neutral marriages have been allowed. Same-sex couples also have the right to adopt children. In 2009, Argentina abolished the ban that prevented homosexuals from getting jobs in the defense. Although attitudes have changed rapidly lost still persecution and discrimination against LGBT -Persons (see Social conditions).

Abortion is prohibited except after a rape (when the victim is mentally ill or has a mental disability) or when the woman’s life is in danger. However, opinion polls suggest that a majority of Argentines are for legalizing abortion (see Social Conditions).

Freedom of expression and media

Argentina has a free press, but it is common for journalists who reveal corruption and organized crime to be exposed to threats and violence. A protracted conflict between former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and large private media companies has long contributed to a tough tone in the debate. After Mauricio Macri took over the government in 2015, the media climate improved somewhat, while lower appropriations weakened state media. Following the change of power in late 2019, when left-wing activist Alberto Fernández became president, a new line was announced when it came to state advertising in the media.

The Argentine media market is dominated by a few large media companies, notably Grupo Clarín, which controls a large part of the TV market and the Clarín daily newspaper, and the smaller La Nación. Under Néstor Kirchner’s reign of 2003–2007, Clarín was the president, who also approved the media group’s purchase of several TV stations. When the 2008 newspaper partied for the peasants in their conflict with the Fernández de Kirchner government, relations deteriorated drastically. The government used state television to throw down journalists and others who worked at the large private companies. The private media, for their part, criticized the government for abuse of power and corruption.

After the change of power, President Macri tore up large parts of a law from 2009 aimed at limiting the influence of major corporations, while at the same time giving other, smaller commercial players such as churches or unions more room. Macri’s government has subsequently been criticized for favoring the large media companies, which are often on his side in the political debate. Ownership concentration also increased after the change of power in 2015.

Macri initiated a new regulatory framework to prevent the state from trying to influence media reporting, which was previously common. At the same time, the state has saved money by reducing its advertising.

In 2009, the Public Prosecution Act was softened and it became easier for the media to report on sensitive topics, in cases considered to be of general interest. Journalists can no longer be sentenced to prison for slander. But prosecution laws are still used to silence uncomfortable voices and fines can be imposed in civil cases.

The authorities have argued that a tightening of the country’s anti-terror law, which was implemented in 2011, was not aimed at the media. Nevertheless, in 2014, a journalist, Juan Pablo Suárez from the newspaper Última Hora, was prosecuted after he published a film in which police officers seized and beat a policeman who led protests against low wages within the police force. The charge of terrorism was later dropped, but Suárez still risks being punished for “rioting”.

The risk of being subjected to violence leads to a certain degree of self-censorship among journalists, especially with regard to subjects such as drug smuggling, human trafficking and other organized crime. In 2016, the Argentine journalist association Fopea reported 65 cases of journalists being subjected to abuse, threats and other abuses.

The Argentines are enthusiastic newspaper readers and there are more than 150 newspapers. Of these, only Clarín and the conservative La Nación reach out across the country. However, the economic crisis has hit hard, especially smaller media companies, of which some 20 have been closed between 2016 and 2018. Over 3,500 media workers lost their jobs while others got their wages lowered. There are also a number of new independent media companies, including several journalist-owned cooperatives.

In 2017, a new law came into force that gives the public the right to access public information. Exceptions are made, for example, for sensitive information relating to defense, foreign policy or trade.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President 2007-2015, often used twitter to communicate with both media and voters, and gave few interviews. President Macri is considered to have a more open relationship with the media and holds regular press conferences. As elsewhere in the world, there is a discussion about the harsh debate climate in social media. Opposition leaders and activists accuse the authorities of being behind online harassment, data that is rejected by the government.

In 2020, Argentina was ranked 64 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders Index of Press Freedom in the World, which was three rankings worse than 2017 (for list, see here).


Corruption is widespread in Argentina, even at a high political level. Legal proceedings have been initiated against several former presidents, including Carlos Menem (who ruled Argentina 1989-1999) and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015). However, both Menem and Fernández de Kirchner have not been able to be convicted as they have been in Congress and thus fall under the criminal immunity that applies to members of Congress. In Fernández de Kirchner’s case, however, the prosecutor has managed to push through certain restrictions on prosecution immunity. The ex-president himself claims that the legal proceedings against her are politically motivated (see also Current policy).

Former Finance Minister and Vice President Amado Boudou is serving a prison sentence for corruption (see Calendar) August 2018. Several other ministers have also been convicted of crimes.

According to the organization Transparency International index of perceived corruption in the countries of the world, Argentina 2020 ranked 66 out of 180 countries (for list see here).

Judicial system and legal security

Courts exist at both federal and provincial levels and are, according to the constitution, independent. Corruption and lack of efficiency create major problems in the justice system, especially in the provinces. Politicians at all levels are accused of interfering with the work of the courts.

The Supreme Court can, however, largely act independently and has on several occasions made rulings that went against the government, both the current and the one led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Confidence in the justice system is usually low, and many crimes are not cleared up, not least the terrorist act against a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994 (see Foreign Policy and Defense) or Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death in 2015 (see Calendar).

There are accusations that people in the judiciary and police cooperate with drug smugglers. At the same time, growing drug trafficking has increased the violence in society, and courts and employees in the judiciary are threatened.

The death penalty was abolished in peacetime in 1853 and in wartime 2009.

Police are accused of assaulting suspects of crime. Few police officers are punished for the abuse. The country’s prisons are overcrowded. Conditions there are miserable and violence against the interns is common, even torture occurs. The Macri government has promised to take measures to prevent the torture of prisoners.

Legal processes for abuses committed during the dictatorship

In 2003, a process was initiated that has allowed the prosecution of persons who committed abuse during the military dictatorship 1976-1983. Laws of 1986 and 1987 giving military amnesty for murder and other abuses were repealed. But it was not until the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that amnesty law violated the constitution that it became possible to convict someone for the crimes. According to domestic law authorities, more than 3,000 people had been prosecuted and 867 people had been convicted of abuses committed during the dictatorship until November 2018. 110 people had been acquitted.

One of the first cases involved former police chief Miguel Etchecolatz who was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 1986, but was granted amnesty after serving a few months of his sentence. In 2006, the case was reopened and he was then sentenced to life imprisonment for involvement in torture and multiple murders. Shortly thereafter, a principal witness disappeared against Etchecolatz before testifying. Later came reports that threats were directed at judges, prosecutors, human rights activists and witnesses in connection with other legal processes.

Former Junta leader Jorge Videla was sentenced in 1985 to life imprisonment for torture and murder, but he was pardoned in 1990 by then-President Carlos Menem. Together with other junta leaders, Videla was again arrested in 1998 accused of kidnapping and adopting infants whose parents were political prisoners who “disappeared” or were killed during the dictatorship. A total of over 400 children should have been adopted into families connected to the military. In 2001, Videla was also indicted for involvement in Operation Condor, in which six Latin American regimes in the 1970s jointly persecuted and killed left-wing activists.

In 2007, a court revoked the pardon of Videla and he was moved from house arrest to prison. In May 2010, he was charged with 49 cases of kidnapping, torture and murder since new forensic evidence was presented. The trial for 31 of the murders began the same year. In 2010, Videla was sentenced to life imprisonment for these murders. Two years later, Videla and General Reynaldo Bignone were sentenced to 50 years and 15 years in prison for their role in the kidnappings of 34 infants in the 1970s. Another nine people were sentenced to long prison terms for their role in the scandal surrounding the stolen children. Of the 300 to 400 children adopted in this way, 128 have been found. Videla died in prison in 2013.

Bignone, who served as president during the vacuum of power that emerged after Argentina’s defeat in the Falklands War in the summer of 1982 (see Modern History), has also been convicted of abuses he committed when he was head of the country’s largest torture center in the late 1970s.

Héctor Febres, who had worked at Esma, the Navy’s mechanical school, one of the most notorious torture centers during the military dictatorship, was on the verge of sentencing at the end of 2007 when he was found dead in his cell. Several people, including Febre’s family and two prison guards, were arrested. It was unclear whether he had taken his own life with cyanide or if he had been murdered. According to press reports, many people were believed to be revealing to others involved in announcing the verdict against him.

Former Navy Captain Alfredo Astiz, who is suspected of, among other things, the murder of Swedish-Argentine Dagmar Hagelin, and his colleague Jorge Acosta, was released in 2008 after a ruling in the Court of Appeal. They had then been detained without trial for five years (Argentine law stipulates that no one may be detained for more than two years without trial; however, there are certain options for extension for one year at a time). Astiz was sentenced in 1990 in his absence to life imprisonment in France for his involvement in the disappearance of two French nuns in Argentina. The same sentence was sentenced in 2007 by an Italian court.

A new trial against Astiz was launched in Argentina in 2009 and in the fall of 2011 he was sentenced and another eleven former military and police officers to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity. Astiz, who is usually called the “blonde angel of death” and the others worked at Esma in Buenos Aires, where about 5,000 prisoners were taken, most of whom were killed at the scene. A new trial against 67 other ESMA employees was launched in 2012. This was the largest trial for crimes committed during the “dirty war” held in Argentina. In November 2017, 52 of the defendants were sentenced to long prison sentences, including those of Astiz and Acosta who were convicted of crimes against humanity.

In December 2012, the former Interior Minister of Buenos Aires Province, Jaime Smart, was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity during the military dictatorship 1976-1983. He thus became the first civilian to be convicted of participating in the “dirty war”. In his case, it is about participation in torture and murder of opposites in illegal detention.

There are several independent human rights organizations. Most famous is the now-divided Madres de Plaza de Mayo.

Argentina Crime Rate & Statistics

Argentina Democracy and Rights
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