by Valen Iricibar and Amy Booth
Prominent activist Facundo Molares Schoenfeld died on Thursday afternoon after police detained him and held him to the ground. The incident took place at the square by the Buenos Aires Obelisk, where the Movimiento Teresa Rodríguez (MTR) social movement was holding an assembly of around 60 people in the Square, witnesses told the Herald.
Social organizations who were present at the gathering say that six people have been arrested. Police did not confirm to the Herald how many are currently detained nor at which precinct.
“We weren’t going to do anything, you can’t gather in a square?” said Delia Delgado, an MTR member. She described Wednesday’s gathering as a discussion about the state of Argentina in the run-up to the primaries on Sunday. She said they were about to head home when the police arrived on the scene.
“They didn’t even say ‘Hey it’s past curfew, why don’t you leave,’ they could have told us if we annoyed them so much. We weren’t doing anything, we weren’t blocking the road,” said Delgado, visibly upset.
The activists had brought a large model ballot box to protest the upcoming elections. One interviewee said that the police suspected they planned to burn it in protest. Toward the end of the assembly, a cordon of police in riot gear advanced south from the foot of the Obelisk into the square and began to push people to the ground.
Two interviewees said it was around 4.40 p.m.
Witnesses described how one police officer knelt on Molares’ neck while another placed a knee on his head. Susi Maresca, a journalist who filmed Molares when he was on the ground alongside other detainees, is recorded exhorting police to stop because Molares is red and “having an attack.” The video captures officers’ initial attempts at CPR and cries for an ambulance to be called.
Molares was a prominent activist and journalist who was not allowed to leave the country due to previous involvement with the Colombian FARC rebel group. Colombia had called for his extradition, accusing him of kidnapping a former council member in 2009, and he was arrested as a result in November 2021. However, the request was denied and the Argentine judiciary released him from detention in 2022. He was also arrested in Bolivia in 2020 while covering the violence following the coup against former President Evo Morales.
In her video, which she published on Instagram, Maresca called out to the other assembly goers being restrained by police officers to say their names before they were taken away: Jimena Cejas, Lucía Machado, Alicia Machado, Horacio Ferreyra, Ruben Yaquet and Hernan Loyola.
“They surrounded him when they realized he had gone into arrest — when they realized he was blue,” said Delfina, 45, who did not wish to give her last name.
Behind her, protesters beat drums and chanted “Asesinos!” (Murderers). The air was thick with the acrid smell of burning plastic, the remains of the ballot box burning in the road in front of the protesters. They set it on fire in protest after the repression.
“I still can’t believe that we live in a democracy and this happens right in the federal capital,” Delfina said.
Molares’ death comes amid a tense run-up to the primary elections on Sunday, with campaign rallies being canceled after an 11-year-old died on Wednesday in a fatal robbery.
Buenos Aires City Police press told the Herald that an “unidentified man between 40 and 45” died of a heart attack due to “risk factors.” When asked about actions carried out by the police, they claimed activists began to attack when told they could not set a ballot box on fire.
“At the time of the four arrests, one began convulsing. An ambulance was called and took him to the Ramos Mejía hospital,” said a police spokesperson.
“This was a political decision of the Buenos Aires City government, they carried out an entire campaign focusing on repressing roadblocks and ending social protests,” Gabriel Solano, presidential candidate for the Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores (FIT), told the Herald. “Buenos Aires City Security Minister [Eugenio] Burzaco is lying, saying that Molares died of a ‘decompensation,’ that’s not the case. He was detained, beaten, and in that context, he died — that’s why it’s the political responsibility of the government.”
Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta is currently running for president for the opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio (JxC).
The group Encuentro Memoria, Verdad y Justicia urged people to gather at the Obelisk on Thursday evening and to protest there on Friday at 10 a.m., condemning Larreta and the actions of city police.
Amy Booth contributed reporting from the Obelisk