Argentina’s security forces cracked down hard on demonstrators outside Congress protesting President Javier Milei’s reform package known as the omnibus bill on Thursday evening.
Police used water cannon, rubber bullets, and tear gas to clear the protesters, hitting demonstrators, journalists, and deputies. Members of the Military Police, Naval Prefecture, Federal Police, and City Police participated in the operation.
Photojournalist Nicolás Ramos, from the Anred news outlet, showed TV channel C5N a wound on his calf where he had been hit with a rubber bullet. Over 25 journalists were injured in the crackdown, according to journalists’ union SiPreBA.
Martín Vega, a 50-year-old photojournalist working for Crisis magazine, was hit by two rubber bullets — one in his finger and the other in the leg. “Everything was calm,” he said. “Nobody was trying to block the road, or insulting anyone, or anything.” He said that the situation at the protest did not seem particularly tense when Federal Police officers started to shoot people, both in the square in front of Congress and on the sidewalks. “It’s like, at a given moment, they made the decision to shoot.”
He saw some children among the protestors, he added.
The crackdown started when a large group of people left, Vega said. “[The Federal Police] started to do a dance with their motorbikes, then they started to shoot anyone on sight — they shot a lot of people, one in the head.” Vega hid behind a trash container, trying to take photographs, and then he felt the bullets in his leg and finger. He thinks they ricocheted off the floor.
The advance of the security forces, including the use of fire trucks, took place in two stages in the late afternoon.
Inside Congress, Romina del Pla, a deputy from the left-wing party Frente de Izquierda called for the session to be suspended because of the violence outside. The head of the Unión por la Patria bloc, Germán Martínez, endorsed the proposal and also asked for a recess, but the motion was rejected.
Thursday’s events marked the second night of protests outside Congress, as demonstrators demanded that lawmakers reject the omnibus bill, which proposes giving Milei some legislative powers, declaring a state of emergency in some issues, the mass privatization of Argentina’s state companies, and wholesale economic deregulation.
At least six people were arrested during Wednesday’s protests. Four women were released on Thursday morning after spending the night in a police station. Ivana Bunge, a Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) activist whose arrest was shown on TV, said as she was escorted to a police SUV that she and her friends “were just sitting on the street, singing the National Anthem.”
Photographs taken at the scene showed that security forces were using a U.S.-made combination of OC gas (pepper spray) and CS gas (tear gas) to disperse the crowd. Franco Capone, a doctor and activist with the Socialist Workers’ Party who assisted over 150 people who were sprayed with it, said that the gas is new in Argentina. “It generates an acute pain when in contact with the skin,” Capone said in a post on X.
“Press freedom is a fundamental pillar of democracy, which must be defended, guaranteed and respected by all powers of the state and by all political and economic sectors that make up our society,” SiPreBA wrote in a statement condemning the repression.
The police crackdown is taking place after Security Minister Patricia Bullrich launched a new anti-protest protocol that bans protesters from blocking roads, among other provisions. Three United Nations special rapporteurs warned last week that the protocol does not comply with international human rights standards.
Photographs of a Federal Police officer with a Gandsen rattlesnake sewn to his uniform, a symbol of the U.S. far right adopted by Milei followers, were circulated on social media on Wednesday.
That day, people also shared pictures showing officers of the Naval Prefecture throwing tear gas at a group of protestors, including left-wing deputy Alejandro Vilca. The leader of the Polo Obrero social organization, Eduardo Belliboni, said to media outlets in the streets that the police hit him when he was protesting peacefully by sitting down in the street.