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Cablegate: Argentina: Supreme Court Overrules Congress and Reinstates

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #0504 1091843
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 181843Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0815
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 000504

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KJUS PHUM AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINA: SUPREME COURT OVERRULES CONGRESS AND REINSTATES
DEPUTY ACCUSED OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

1. (U) Summary: The Argentine Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the
Congress acted illegally when it refused to seat Luis Patti, the
former mayor of Escobar who is accused of committing human rights
violations as a police officer during the 1976-83 military
dictatorship. The decision opened the way for another court to
order Patti's release from prison. Patti then announced his
intention to take his seat in the Chamber of Deputies, which he won
in the October 2005 elections. Following Patti's election, the
government-dominated Chamber declared him "morally unfit" and barred
him from taking office. Many Deputies and human rights groups
oppose the Court's decision, and constitutional experts come down on
both sides of the issue. Patti, who had been under arrest since
late November 2007, was released April 16 on the grounds that, as a
sitting member of Congress (the Supreme Court's decision), he
enjoyed immunity from arrest and prosecution. The Chamber of
Deputies is looking for ways to remove Patti should he take his
seat, and has begun to discuss bills that would prevent people
accused of human rights violations from running for office. This
issue has sparked a "conflict of powers" discussion concerning the
Argentine legislative and judicial branches. End Summary.

2. (U) In the October 2005 mid-term legislative elections, Luis
Patti won election as a national Deputy for the Province of Buenos
Aires. At the time, Patti, a former Buenos Aires provincial police
officer, was under investigation for his alleged involvement in the
kidnappings and killings of leftist militants during the 1976-83
military dictatorship. Based on this, the government-controlled
Chamber of Deputies voted to prevent him from taking his seat in
Congress, declaring him "morally unfit." On November 22, 2007, a
federal judge ordered Patti's arrest. Patti filed a law suit to
have the Chamber's decision overturned, and on April 8 the Supreme
Court ruled 4 to 3 in favor of Patti, opening the way for him to
take his seat in Congress.

3. (U) The Supreme Court decided that the Chamber of Deputies can
remove a legislator from office with a two-thirds majority vote, but
only after he has taken his seat. Many deputies disagree with the
Court's decision and oppose Patti's re-entry into Congress.
Analysts and constitutional experts are split on the subject, some
claiming the Supreme Court's ruling subverts the autonomy of the
legislative branch, others arguing the Chamber overstepped its
boundaries in negating the popular vote and barring Patti's entry.
Deputies opposed to Patti's entry are considering removal
proceedings.

4. (U) Government-allied Deputies Miguel Bonasso and Victoria Donda
have introduced bills to ban from public office "all those who were
convicted of committing or covering up crimes against humanity."
(Embassy notes this would not apply to Patti, who has not been
convicted of crimes against humanity.) FPV-PJ Deputy Graciela
Camano stated that "the bill aims to clarify a situation that is
very clear to deputies but not to members of the Supreme Court."
Donda, the Legislature's youngest member at 26, and the first child
of a "disappeared" couple to obtain a seat in Congress, stated that
"criminals should be in prison, not in office."

5. (U) With the Court's ruling in his favor, Patti's lawyers
appealed his arrest. The Court of Appeals, citing the Supreme
Court's decision, stated that Patti enjoyed parliamentary immunity,
could not be arrested, and therefore ordered his release on April
16. However, he remains under investigation.

6. (U) Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez told the press that the Patti
case had created a "conflict of powers" between the legislative and
judicial branches. While he declared that the current
administration had an "opinion" on the Supreme Court ruling, he
declined to comment, instead assuring the media that the
administration "respects the separation of powers." While Fernandez
claimed the government had nothing to say on the topic, former
president Nestor Kirchner declared that he believed Patti should
"prove his innocence before assuming his seat."

7. (SBU) Comment: Prosecution of the military dictatorship's Dirty
War human rights violators has been a cornerstone of the Kirchner
administrations. Barring Patti from taking his seat in Congress,
and in the process overturning the large popular vote in his favor
(even though his service as police officer and the allegations
against him were well known), was considered a victory for Kirchners
and their human rights supporters. They are not likely to let Patti
peacefully resume his seat on the opposition benches. In this
ruling, the Supreme Court made a legitimate argument for the
sanctity of due process and also demonstrated unusual independence
in its willingness to go against the administration. End Comment.

WAYNE

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