Nine injured as guards prevent protesters from marching to Lago Escondido

The annual march demands British business magnate Joe Lewis respect Argentine laws on the public’s right to access Patagonia’s pristine lakes

Protesters marching to demand access to Lake Escondido were violently repressed by members of private security for private landowners at a path leading to the lake, where British magnate Joe Lewis built his Patagonian mansion. Nine people were hurt.

Under Argentine law, lakes are public and access has to be guaranteed. However, Lewis has for years blocked access to lake Escondido, claiming that walkers can’t reach it via the route in question. Local organizations say the alternative routes can only be completed by skilled mountaineers and it’s the only direct access. 

Every year for seven years, local activists have marched in an attempt to reach the lake. The case has been under litigation since 2005.

Lewis’s estate and the Río Negro police department had not released statements at the time of writing.

The march started on Saturday in El Bolsón, a town 100 kilometers from Bariloche, when 150 started walking to demand the opening of a path called Tacuifí to access the lake, blocked by private property. As they arrived at the start of the trail, men on horses prevented them from crossing, by hitting them with their gear and throwing rocks, as the present claimed. 

“We walked two kilometres to reach the gate, peacefully,” said Alejandra Bartoliche, Bariloche correspondent for the Telam Agency. “They started whipping us with horse gear – a young man had his head smashed with a stitck, another had his nose broken,” she said. A video published by Radio Gráfica showed a protester saying that they broke his leg, after riding over him with the horses and threatening all of them with guns.

Other videos show marchers being chased by men on horseback and a man lying on the ground being kicked.

Daniel Gollán, a Frente de Todos Congressman, participated in the protest. “There’s people here with the Argentine flag defending the land usurpation of an Englishman,” he said, referring to those who blocked the path. “They’re stopping locals from accessing a lake that’s theirs.” 

Unions like Worker’s Central (CTA) in its ramifications – Autonomous CTA and Worker’s CTA–, as well as State Workers Association (ATE), took part in the protest. Party movements like La Cámpora, the Socialist Worker’s Movement and Octubres were present, too. 

The Sovereignty March is an annual event carried out by locals, politicians and activists who claim that the access to the lakes stays open to the public, in opposition to the blocking created by the private property in the area. 

In recent months, tensions over land rights have also intensified as communities protest the occupation of Lago Escondido by British business magnate Joe Lewis. “We’re marching for the opening of roads [leading to the Lake], and to denounce that there’s a British settlement there,” said Julio Urien, one of the organizers of the march.

Last year, a court in Bariloche ordered Río Negro province to guarantee access to the lake through the Tacuifí path. But the provincial prosecution office and Hidden Lake, Lewis’ company, appealed the ruling, sending the case to the Superior Court of Justice of Río Negro. Locals are still pending a resolution in the case. 


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald