Argentina — rise of a new repressive order

Image: Carolyn


When two rights collide, it must be politics that determines which one prevails

Since President Javier Milei took office, I have been regularly concerned and alarmed by the restriction of civil liberties, a topic on which I have reflected in successive articles. While I would not be ignorant of the trends or actions of the Western far right in much of Europe or the United States, there is something going on that in recent months has brought my attention to localized restrictions.

The first reason for this alarm came with the security protocol (PS) of the Argentine Minister of Security, Patricia Bullrich, from last December, which I subjected to a detailed comparison with the repressive aspects of the Uruguayan Urgent Consideration Law (LUC), finding similarities disturbing. These similarities expose the scenarios imagined by the governments that wrote them and their conceptions of freedoms and political agendas.

Even if they refrained from deploying them, their mere existence would be extremely serious. But this is not the reality: these repressive resources are applied with increasing rigor. Not only the repressive forces intervene with the corresponding precise directives, but also the judicial power that monitors violations by action or omission, without forgetting the complicity of the hegemonic media.

The conception of freedom that liberalism proclaims is limited exclusively to that of the market, imposing itself with all violence against everything that can limit it, resulting in the violation of rights and freedoms. The vernacular far right distances itself from its traditional predecessors, elevating the repressive aspect to the level of a dark ritual that glorifies coercion, violence and submission. In addition to indignant criticism of the nature of these norms, I exposed specific cases of repressive monstrosities that until a few days ago I considered extreme, as repression ceases to be a means and becomes an end in itself, where each act is celebrated as a triumph of brute force over expressive freedom.

For example, in the arrest and prosecution of Almeida and Darabos' lawyers or in the repression of Argentine retirees and the seafarers' union and teenagers at Liceo Zorrilla in Uruguay. However, today these extremes have been overcome, not only in magnitude, but in the implementation of torture, irrationality and barbarity. Last week's article ended by announcing my participation in the march against the law that was being discussed in the Argentine Senate, in which repression was anticipated.

I don't usually make predictions correctly, but while I was meeting with colleagues to take the subway, our cell phones were full of recommendations to suspend participation due to the violence unleashed. However, it was not an obstacle for us to meet those who were returning and together we crossed Corrientes and Medrano avenues with banging of pots and pans, together with the members of the popular assembly of the neighborhood where I participate. Similar expressions of resistance and solidarity were seen in other parts of the city.

That same night, the first information about the detainees began to arrive and an unusual tweet appeared from the ruling party, extending warm congratulations for the repression that, according to them, restored order in the face of the imminent apocalypse. I prefer to put this tweet in full, literally, in a separate section, along with my own interpretative errata. Based on this tweet, prosecutor Stornelli intervened from federal jurisdiction — modifying the precedents of already absurd interventions in municipal jurisdiction — prosecuting 33 citizens, whose family members and human rights organizations were unable to know their whereabouts during the first 24 hours. The organization issuing the tweet does not exist on the state organizational chart. It's just a social media account. I continue to give it an official character because its content fully coincides with the statements made by the presidential spokesman, Adorni, and by President Javier Milei himself in a report last Tuesday.

The heartbreaking images of arrests that have begun to arrive, captured on citizens' cell phones or television cameras, reflect unusual violence. Most of the detainees, especially men, were thrown to the ground when they stumbled and then carried by five officers, one for each limb and the fifth surrounding them by the neck until they asphyxiated. Most were under the influence of pepper spray in their faces. All report having been subjected to some type of physical and psychological torture when detained or during detention, as well as abandonment.

Most of the detainees are accused of the “crime” of “attack and resistance to authority”, although several are also accused of throwing stones (and consequently of attacking the physical integrity of police officers) without there being any film or photographic record to prove it. . In fact, stones were thrown at the Plaza del Congreso, but many of those detained were arrested at the same intersections, specifically in Lima and México (more than 1 km away from the events) and in Santiago del Estero and Avenida de Mayo (500 meters away).

Several were not even protesters, but rather street food vendors. Some were released by the judge over the weekend, eleven of them just hours after this text was submitted to the editor, while five are still in detention. However, the condition of release also varies, as the Public Prosecutor's Office appeals the measures and requests their return to prison.

In addition to the images of violent arrests that social media has been multiplying, we must add acts of vandalism that I consider shameful, unacceptable and contrary to any manifestation of protest or social mobilization: burning cars and a public bike path, breaking tiles to throw stones, between others.

I doubt that there are progressive or left-wing sectors that demand and implement them, but if there are, they have my most complete and absolute repudiation. I recognize, however, that I have participated in debates in popular assemblies or at university level, firmly opposing the celebration of physical combat with repressive forces.

Not only because of the unequal proportion of forces and the consequent risk for those who participate, but also because of the visceral opposition to all forms of physical violence and the — I hope involuntary — disincentive to this path that participation in the protest association implies. I’ve even heard some retirees exultant about being able to “cobrar a la cana”,[I] as they say in Rio da Prata. An illusion at the same time childish, given the impossibility of causing any physical damage to a repressor since nothing of his body is exposed, considering the total coverage offered by the current technological armor of this century, replacing the heavy medieval ones.

A late document from the CGT not only repudiates the criminalization of the protest, but also states that the acts of vandalism were perpetrated by “undercover professionals”, which would not surprise anyone. But I would be confirming that, in the cross-accusations of various union factions, the information and warning that the security forces themselves would provoke riots from 15pm onwards, the moment in which the main column decided to begin the withdrawal, was recognised.

None of those detained are accused of setting fire to vehicles when at least the first, belonging to a television network, was vandalized in front of a police cordon, which remained unabated, including motorbikes less than 50 meters away. The Public Prosecutor's Office also does not investigate the identity of those who set it on fire, despite their faces being photographed in close-up by television cameras. Only the detainee Calarco Arredondo is accused of setting fire to the bicycle station, although this should have already been proven or discarded because this fact was also recorded on television. The other four are still being investigated for alleged assault with stones or, in one case, for possession of an old smoke grenade.

Returning to the affirmation of the complicity of the judiciary with which I begin these lines, the articles of the Penal Code common in repressive antecedents (art. 239, resistance to authority or art. 237, attack on authority) are enhanced by the unofficial tweet and this encourages the diligent prosecutor to pursue higher criminal charges. The extreme of these accusations would be crimes “against public powers and the constitutional order” (art. 226) and/or “disruption of order in sessions of legislative bodies” (art. 241), among others.

These are faced in tension, for example, with art. 144 bis, which sanctions employees who commit acts of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or art, or art. 18 of the Constitution, which establishes that no inhabitant of the Nation may be arrested except pursuant to a written order from a competent authority. Furthermore, art. 75, inc. 22 grants constitutional hierarchy to international human rights treaties, reinforcing the protection of citizens against abuses of power.

When two rights collide, it must be politics that determines which prevails. This is what is being done in this case. The dominant political force, called “Advances of Freedom”, contains a literally paradoxical omission, as it advances towards a state of exception. It is parole advancing on constitutional validity in chains.

Official tweet: “The Presidency of the Republic congratulates the Security Forces for their excellent performance in repressing terrorist groups that, with sticks, stones and even grenades, tried to perpetrate a coup d'état, attacking the normal functioning of the Argentine National Congress.”  
Errata for full reading of official Tweets and Argentine hegemonic media  
Where does it sayShould say
President's OfficeTroll strange to any government organization chart
Security forcesshock forces
parabénsExaltation of inhumanity, sadism, savagery or barbarism
Excellent actionSowing terror
terrorist groupsCitizens protesting
TwigsFlag and banner fixing elements
stonesLine A metro station
PomegranatesSlogans, flags, posters and banners. Possible pyrotechnics.
CoupPacific Protest
Normal operation of CongressImposition of a law through gifts and/or direct purchase of votes: bribery
Try it nowTweet
DetainedKidnapped, hostages
DissuasionShooting, gassing, chase
Smart answerintelligence services
Police interventionwar operation
peaceful evictionViolent attack
Verified informationNew tweet, intelligence services
Violent protestersCitizens, sausage sellers
TerroristsPedestrians, empanada sellers
SecurityParanoid hypocrisy
Restoration of orderCrushing dissent
Ensure orderMilitarization of public space

*Emilio Cafassi is senior professor of sociology at the University of Buenos Aires.

Translation: Arthur Scavone.

Translator's note

[I] The meaning of “charge a la cane” is to say that we managed to land blows on the repressive police forces.

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