Argentina protesters facing charges include family selling sausages, man leaving subway

Dozens of people were arrested on Wednesday as they protested President Javier Milei’s Bases Law outside Congress

Santiago Adano arrested during protetss against Argentina President Javier Milei's Ley Bases debate, June 12 2024. Credit: Mariano Fuchila

By Facundo Iglesia and Amy Booth. Cover photo: Mariano Fuchila

At least 33 people arrested during protests against the Bases Law on Wednesday have been accused of crimes including attacks on Argentina’s constitutional order. 

Argentina’s presidential press team has called the protesters “terrorist groups” who attempted to “perpetrate a coup d’etat” — allegations prosecutor Carlos Stornelli quoted in his charge sheet. But relatives of the detained say some were arrested while leaving peacefully, while others had only attended to sell food.

Their situations raise questions about the proportionality of charges, the criminalization of protest in Argentina, and whether those arrested played any role in the violence.

The Bases Law, previously known as the omnibus bill, is President Javier Milei’s broad-reaching flagship reform package. It strips away many economic and labor regulations, permits the privatization of numerous Argentine state companies, and courts investment from large multinationals. It was passed by the Senate late on Wednesday night, although the final version depends on whether deputies approve modifications introduced by the upper house.

Social movements, community assemblies, trade unions, rights organizations, and outraged citizens protested in Congress Square as senators debated the bill. Demonstrators threw stones and sticks and burned garbage dumpsters. A massive police operation responded with tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullets. Hundreds of people were injured and five opposition deputies were hospitalized after being tear gassed. At least one car was flipped onto its roof and incinerated.

He wasn’t doing anything but they took him

Matías Leonel Ramirez was selling sausage sandwiches from a grill. He had driven to the protest. When the police advanced, he stayed with his car to protect it. “He couldn’t leave because he couldn’t get the car out,” said Yesica Maciel, Ramirez’s wife. “A squadron of federal police came by and took him for no reason. He never threw any stones, he’s not with a political organization, he has no criminal record.”

Since his arrest, Ramírez has been transferred to a prison. Maciel and Ramírez, who live in the suburb of San Fernando, have a 17-year-old daughter and are also raising Ramírez’s niece. 

“He didn’t run, he didn’t resist when they grabbed him, because he thought that since he wasn’t doing anything, they weren’t going to take him. But they took him anyway,” Maciel said.

“All my husband wanted was a couple of pesos so we could eat, because we have a family and our money isn’t enough to live from day to day.”

Musician Santiago Adano, 38, went to the protest with his local community assembly. They left the protest when the situation started heating up. “They have that logic of looking after themselves, because there are retired people in the assembly, so logically, they left,” said his sister, Lucila Adano. “I was chatting with him, and suddenly he stopped replying. Then friends started sending me videos, and it was him.”

He was arrested leaving the subway station, as his friend returned to the square to check on his car. Video footage of Adano’s arrest shows at least 16 officers carrying him away. “They dragged him for like a block,” Lucila said. “They were squeezing his neck, he was completely red and saying he was suffocating, and would they please let him go?”

Footage of Santiago Adano’s arrest from C5N news channel

“The last thing I saw was him fainting.”

Other detainees include three generations of the Ocampo family — father, daughter, and granddaughter. Like Ramírez, they were selling food at the protest.

The detainees have been in custody since Wednesday night. Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli has asked Judge María Servini to order all of the detainees be placed in pre-trial detention. Her decision was pending at the time of writing.

Stornelli has charged the detainees with fifteen different crimes including inciting collective violence against institutions by instilling public fear, arson, possession of explosives, and attacking the constitutional order to disturb the free exercise of the Senate. The last charge is punishable by up to 25 years in jail.

The Security Ministry said it would file a legal complaint over “damages it suffered to its equipment” and said that more arrests are to come. Vice President Victoria Villarruel said the Senate would also file a legal complaint against “the criminals that yesterday attacked the democratic institutions.” 

“We are going to make them pay for all the material damages directed towards the historic buildings and sidewalks of the National Congress,” Villarruel said in a post on X. “ The Argentina of sedition and anarchy is over.”

Manipulating concepts adulterates facts

Human rights groups have called the move a criminalization of protest. “The arrests were made at random. The government posted that there was terrorism and coup d’état, the prosecutor made accusations, and 35 people are being used to generate fear to go to a march,” the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) posted on X. “The goal is political: to instill fear in anyone who mobilizes against the government,” they added.

CELS called on Servini to release the detainees.

Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International Argentina, wrote in an Instagram post that the violence during the protests aimed to “cause damage and disturbance” — but rejected the state’s classification of the events as an attempted coup. 

“A coup d’etat has the aim of overthrowing a government and its institutions. Manipulating the definition of concepts is a way of adulterating the facts,” Belski wrote. “At such dramatic moments for society, this attitude only adds confusion and impoverishes public debate.”


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald