Bullrich announces controversial new ‘anti-protest protocol’

The protocol authorizes federal forces to clamp down on any form of roadblock and criminalizes protesters attempting to hide their identity

by Valen Iricibar and Facundo Iglesia

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich announced an anti-protest security protocol that authorizes federal security forces to clamp down on protests or marches carrying out any form of roadblock. The type of demonstration, the degree to which traffic is being affected and the existence of alternative routes will not be taken into account, with heightened surveillance and invoicing social organizations for security force expenses. 

“The law cannot be half-enforced,” Bullrich said in a press conference she gave on Thursday in the ministry. “It is enforced or it is not — and we are going to enforce it.”

The minister, who called protests “an extortion” from which Argentines should be freed, said that the four federal forces under the government’s purview  — Federal Police, National Military Police, Naval Prefecture, and Airport Security Police — and the penitentiary service would intervene when “cuts, pickets or blockades” take place in federal territory. She also urged provincial governments to apply the protocol in their territories with their own security forces.

Bullrich, a hard-liner who formerly led the PRO party, also tried to implement security protocols to crack down on social protest during her tenure as security minister for former President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019).

“When we heard the news about the press conference we thought ‘not this again’ because in February 2016 [Bullrich] attempted something similar,” said María del Carmen Verdú, head of police watchdog group CORREPI. She told the Herald that because the 2016 protocol violated the right to protest, among other issues, organizations were able to present habeas corpus to halt it in practice.  “In the end, that protocol couldn’t be fully implemented.”

“What she announced today is more or less the same with the added caveat that all four security forces will intervene directly [and] there is no distinction between the types of demonstration,” Verdú said.

The protocol heightens surveillance of protesters generally. Bullrich said that people who attend protests, alongside “accomplices and instigators,” will be reported to different authorities once identified: foreigners reported to Migrations and cars used to attend seized if the owners have infractions. There will also be a new registry of social movements and their spokespeople — who are expected to foot the bill for any security force expenses.

 “We will send an invoice to the organizations or individuals,” she said. “The state will not pay for the use of security forces.”

“This is all forbidden by international law, which are norms that are folded into our National Constitution which ranks higher than any law or protocol,” said the human rights non-profit Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS, by its Spanish acronym) in a thread on X. “Blocking roads is not a crime.”

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The protocol also includes surveilling train stations for people who have “sticks, their faces covered, or ways of participating in a demonstration and not being recognized by the security forces.”

“We’re involved in many cases against protesters who hide their identity and carry sticks, usually in Buenos Aires City, and every time we’ve won acquittals because it’s not a crime,” Verdú told the Herald. “It’s not codified as a crime.”

Bullrich also said that the ministry would sanction parents who go to marches with their children. Asked about if the police how the police would act with them, she clarified that it would not be in the same way that with adults. However, she said that “the first responsible party of the child is the mother, the father, or whoever carries them.”

“People who use the children as human shields will suffer from grave consequences,” she said. In response, CELS said on X that this measure criminalizes parents who protest for better conditions for their families and marginalizes caregivers.

Verdú told the Herald that by not defining the target of the new protocol beyond any form of cutting off the streets, Argentina’s culturally important protest dates could be affected — including March 24’s march to honor dictatorship victims and December 20, to commemorate 39 people killed in the 2001 massacre during police crackdowns on nationwide protests.

“It’s a real provocation to announce this just before a date that has taken root over the past 22 years in our collective memory,” said Verdú, who lost her partner Carlos ‘Petete’ Almirón in 2001. “I’m not going to keep from going to Plaza de Mayo and remembering Petete on December 20 because Bullrich says I can’t.”

According to Verdú, as in 2016, several organizations are analyzing what paths can be taken to block the implementation of the new protocol through institutional and judicial means.

“Faced with this resistance, there’s our awareness that we have to take care of each other, we have to keep each other safe and nothing will be done in such a way that will put us at risk,” said Verdú. “And the responsibility falls entirely on the government.”


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald