Taser debate in Argentina rattles ghosts from the 'dirty war'

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Argentina's executive and judicial branch are split over the police's use of Tasers after a high court has cleared the way for one of the country’s biggest security forces to carry the electro-shock weapons.


Human rights groups and lawmakers allied with leftist President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner strongly oppose the use of Tasers, arguing they would harken back to the dark days of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

But an appeals court in Buenos Aires has ruled the Metropolitan Police can move ahead with plans to acquire the controversial weapons — a decision that drew an immediate rebuke from a top presidential aide.

“The national government doesn’t agree with the notion that Tasers help to better control society, they amount to torturing it,” said Anibal Fernandez, the president’s chief-of-staff. "There is nothing positive about them. It's torture, it's a terrible gesture in terms of dealing with society."

The issue of whether to equip the capital police with Tasers has been tied up in Argentina's courts for years. Police conduct remains a sensitive topic in the country after the "dirty war" of the 1970s and 80s, when the military waged a systemic crackdown that included the murder, kidnap and torture of political opponents.

Andres Perez Esquivel, a security consultant and critic of the court ruling, said the devices recall ‘picanas,’ or the electric prods used in torture sessions during military rule.

"Allowing Tasers would be legalizing the use of the 'picana,'" he told daily The Buenos Aires Herald.


The sentiment was echoed by some Argentines on Twitter.


"In a country with a history like Argentina’s, the use of Tasers should not only be prohibited by the courts, but also by society in general."

Others, however, said they believe Argentina has moved beyond its dark past.


"I’d like someone to explain to me how it would be possible in Argentina today to torture someone with a Taser."

The debate in Argentina comes as Tasers face renewed scrutiny in the United States. Critics say a series of incidents, including the 2013 death of a Miami Beach teenager after he was tasered by police, have highlighted the potential dangers of using the device.


A Fusion investigation last year found there is no U.S. federal agency or organization tracking the number of Taser incidents and the use of the weapons. Taser International says it provides police officers with clear guidelines for the devices.

In Latin America, Tasers are used by law enforcement and military agencies in Brazil and Colombia, according to Taser International.


Several Argentine rights groups and activists said they intend to challenge the court ruling.

"We will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court," Demian Konfino, a lawyer with the Buenos Aires City Rights Observatory told the Herald. "No police force in this country can use a tool like the 'picana' to fight crime. There is no difference between torturing someone in an interrogation room and doing it during a demonstration."