Argentine province’s anti-Covid measures at center of HR controversy

By Rodrigo Garcia

Buenos Aires, Jan 27 (efe-epa).- The health strategy of the Argentine province of Formosa to obligate people showing any symptoms of Covid-19, and even those without symptoms, to enter detainment centers has sparked heated nationwide controversy with citizens’ protests, accusations of human rights violations and warnings from Amnesty International.

By far, Formosa, which borders on Paraguay and has about 600,000 inhabitants, is – according to the national Health Ministry – the province that has been least affected by the coronavirus pandemic with 814 confirmed cases and just 10 deaths, according to locally gathered figures, and it is far behind the province with the second-lowest number of cases, Misiones, which has detected 3,781.

It was three months after Argentina detected its first Covid-19 case that Formosa registered its first positive result in June 2020, and right from the start the policy pursued by Gildo Insfran, the Peronist governor who has been in office for 25 years, has engendered controversy for its rigidity and criticism from opposition sectors who accuse him of acting like a type of feudal lord.

“The detentions concern us, the humiliations of the residents of the province, and of course we’re concerned by the lack of democracy. We cannot allow freedoms to continue to be subjugated, while the governing party fawns on Insfran’s management and the president stays quiet,” said the Together for Change coalition, which opposes President Alberto Fernandez, who is of the same political party as the Formosa governor.

Last week, Gabriela Neme, the Peronist councilwoman for the provincial capital but a dissident from the provincial government, was briefly arrested on accusations of public intimidation along with another councilwoman then released after leading a protest against the isolation centers.

“Here there are crimes against humanity, a police state, political persecution, violence, overcrowding (and) no human or constitutional rights of Formosan citizens are being respected,” Neme said Wednesday at another demonstration.

Among other requirements, including presenting a negative Covid test performed within 72 hours prior to crossing the border, anyone wanting to travel to Formosa must make a written request to do so, await authorization and then quarantine for at least 14 days at one of the isolation centers set up by the provincial government.

There are also centers that house people who, although they were already within the boundaries of Formosa, had been in close contact with confirmed Covid cases.

When they enter one of the centers, people are only allowed to bring personal items and those things that they bring in cannot be taken back out again. People there can only receive items to take care of their basic needs.

Although people may leave the centers “at any time” they must then leave the province immediately if they have not completed the required quarantine or tested negative.

According to provincial government personnel, since the start of the pandemic, 19,000 people have passed through these centers and currently more than 2,300 people are housed there, “the majority of them without any problems.”

But Amnesty International said that it had received numerous complaints about the poor conditions at the centers due to overcrowding, lack of hygiene, poor ventilation, “scanty” poor quality food, and either metal bars separating men, women, the elderly and children or no separation at all among the different cohorts within.

The NGO said that people who do not have the Covid virus are being housed with people showing slight symptoms or who are asymptomatic, thus exposing them to infection. The obligatory quarantines are lasting more than 14 days regardless of the test results, since even if some people receive negative test results they are still not allowed to leave the centers.

Last year, AI asked Formosa to comply with the Supreme Court ruling obliging the province to accelerate the access of thousands of citizens who were stranded awaiting permission to enter the province, some of them in their vehicles on the highways without access to hygienic and healthy conditions and sleeping out of doors.

Insfran, meanwhile, said Tuesday on Twitter that his administration has “nothing to hide” and the province has showed “the best results in the country” in the fight against the pandemic, claiming that opposition forces and the “communications media” have launched a “deceptive campaign” against the province.


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