Fierce repression by Jujuy police today left a toll of at least thirty arrests and a still unconfirmed number of injuries, including a man who was taken to hospital after being hit in the head with a tear gas canister. The violent episode took place in the surroundings of the legislature building when the police clashed with demonstrators protesting the adoption of the partial constitutional reform approved last Friday.
Union members, teachers, indigenous communities and independent protestors started gathering in the morning around the legislature building, which was fenced and surrounded by police officers. Even though the swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for today at 6 p.m, the event was brought forward and finished near 11 a.m. The repression started around this time.
The severity of the incidents has gotten international attention. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said today they were following the actions in Jujuy with “concern”, and called on the government to respect the right to protest, as well as international standards on the use of force.
Protests following approval
“With this, we consider the task of the Constituent Convention complete, the new constitution of the province of Jujuy to be approved and sworn in,” Jujuy governor for Juntos por el Cambio Gerardo Morales said at the front of the stand in the legislature as the constituents applauded.
Some protesters entered the Legislature building and set fire to parts of its facilities. The repression began shortly after the approval was complete, with Jujuy police infantrymen starting to shoot rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators.
“They were shooting people in the face,” Natalia Gelós, a journalist with Crisis magazine who witnessed the events, told the Herald. “I saw a 70-year-old man who had blood dripping from his eye, and the hospital was closed,” Gelós said. “It was not until people in the street screamed at the entrance that they opened the door.”
Gelós also described people holding blood-stained handkerchiefs, their eyes streaming from the tear gas. Images of the man who was taken to the hospital after being hit with a tear gas canister laying on the ground and bleeding profusely from the head were seen on TV.
“I am hurt and my head is swollen. They hit me with rubber bullets and tear gas cartridges on the shoulder and on the temple,” ATE union leader Fernando Acosta told the Herald. “That last one almost knocked me down.”
“I couldn’t believe that the police were throwing rocks at us,” Acosta said. He also claimed there were undercover police officers posing as protestors, echoing the claims of multiple media reports.
At least thirty people were arrested, including Néstor Mendoza and Eva Arroyo – both members of HIJOS, a social movement made up of the children of people disappeared during the last dictatorship. Union members, teachers, and onlookers were also detained.
The repression didn’t stop the protestors, however, who kept chanting “down with the reform, up with salaries,” in line with the teacher and state workers’ protests for better wages that began almost two weeks ago and started this wave of demonstrations —indigenous communities and others later joined this protest.
“Jujuy’s people are supporting the fight. Usually, when there are road blocks, people insult you. But now, people are honking in support,” Acosta said. “The people’s solidarity is formidable.”
Rights groups call for suspension
The reform has been strongly questioned by national and international organizations, as well as left-wing political parties and indigenous communities. Protests are multiplying all over the country and unions have announced a national strike for next Thursday.
Amnesty International was among the organizations calling for the suspension of the reform yesterday, saying that doing so was “the only effective means of channeling demands and ensuring a necessary, mandatory and participatory debate of all sectors of Jujuy society.”
Amidst the protests yesterday, Morales ratified article 67 of the constitutional reform which, according to him, “bans blocking roads and streets” as well as “the occupation of public buildings.” However, he announced he would submit two articles related to native people’s rights for “reconsideration” after acknowledging “doubts” in indigenous communities.
“There are those who want violence and believe the commission of a road blocking crime is a form of protest, it is not,” he said.
Today, Morales went even further and blamed President Alberto Fernández and Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for the “violent acts” in the province, starting a Twitter feud.