The Forgotten Victims of Argentina’s Police State
On Saturday, January 24, Ismael Sosa traveled 750 kilometers from Buenos Aires to Córdoba with his girlfriend to attend a show by La Renga, a local rock group with a cult following. However, Ismael, 24, never returned from the Villa Rumipal aerodrome where the band played to a crowd of between 47,000 and 70,000 people. Instead, his body was found floating in an artificial lake in Argentina’s Córdoba province on the following Monday.
His girlfriend Victoria had been looking for him since that Saturday night, when she’d lost all trace of him while entering the concert. During a checkpoint prior to entry, police had led him away by the throat, and a witness was watching: “I tried to stop them from hitting him,” Brenda told Infojus Noticias.
Ten minutes later, she saw them beating someone up: “They threw him to the ground between them. One was kicking him in the head, so hard you could hear it.”
Although she couldn’t identify the victim “because his head was jammed into the ground,” she stated that his clothing and physical appearance were the same as her boyfriend.
“He said: ‘Stop, don’t hit me anymore.’ ‘You still want to throw bottles?’ one asked him, and he kicked him in the stomach. They kept hitting him while they were carrying him away. Five minutes later they returned, saying: ‘That’s it, we’ve dealt with him.”
Along with Victoria, Ismael’s family believe that the police killed him. “They were hitting him, they went overboard, and they threw him in the lake,” Facundo said, Ismael’s brother.
The following Thursday, Facundo and his mother Nancy Sosa traveled the same 750-kilometer journey. She had just received a phone call telling her that the body found earlier that week in the lake belonged to her son. However, the judge in charge of the case, Andrea Heredia Hidalgo, had failed to inform her due to a simple reason: Hidalgo didn’t receive confirmation until a day after Sosa’s mother.
Impunity in Argentina
When he arrived to Villa Rumipal, Facundo attested to having received a phone call from a person claiming to be a prosecutor Rodríguez. But when he came to the police station, he was told that the caller wasn’t a prosecutor but a police officer. “This attracted my suspicion,” he said.
While an autopsy is scheduled to take place this Friday and supply further information about the circumstances of Ismael’s death, new elements are emerging daily. We learnt On Wednesday, February 4, that a married couple fishing on the coast of the lake saw Sosa alive on the Sunday after the concert.
According to police reports, Ismael approached the couple and asked them for water, saying he was lost, but they didn’t help him.
The conduct of the 1,500 police officers on duty over the weekend is not only under scrutiny over the death of Sosa. An investigation launched before his body was found has discovered that 14 arrests were made during the event, none of which were reported to judicial authorities. In the meantime, investigating authorities have ordered the closure of the police department and have confiscated documentation.
“We must break the official silence over the horrible death of Ismael, probably caused by police brutality,” local legislator and member of the Socialist Workers’ Party Laura Vilches demanded on Wednesday.
“The governor, through his officials, and the police chief must give evidence on the operation carried out on the day that this young man disappeared and was killed,” she added.
The complaints against the police department of Villa Rumipal, with scarcely 2,500 inhabitants, aren’t the first. Earlier in January, the parents of two young people — one of them underage — complained that four police officers had hit them, verbally abused them, and threatened them with their regulation firearms. A motorist had previously made a phone call to the authorities describing suspicious activity by a group of people near the lake, causing the police to investigate.
Between Rock and a Hard Place
Argentinean rock music and police brutality have clashed before. On April 19, 1991, 17-year-old Water Bulacio died after being arrested during a razzia, the name given to the mass arrests made by federal police against gatherings of young people. Bulacio was attending a concert by another big name in local rock music, Los Redonditas de Ricota.
A day after his arrest, he was transferred to a hospital where he was registered with “cranial trauma.” Six days later, he died as a result of his wounds, with the autopsy finding that he had been subject to blows with heavy objects.
His death remains unresolved. In October 2003, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the Argentinean state for its failure to find the culprits. The IACHR ordered officials to reopen the investigation, improve legal human rights protections, and compensate Bulacio’s family with US$335,000.
In 2013, the Argentinean judiciary condemned former police officer Miguel Ángel Espósito to a suspended sentence of three years in jail for the illegitimate privation of Bulacio’s liberty, but not for his killing.
The death in 2009 of Rubén Carballo, 17, at a concert for Argentinean rock giants Viejas Locas confirmed that police brutality remained untouchable. Carbello died as a result of a beating he took from federal police agents. In 2013, the officers involved were discharged, small comfort for Carbello’s relations, who still hope that the agonizingly slow Argentinean judicial system will bring them justice.
While Argentina and the world remain in the dark over the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman on January 19, many other victims of the same authoritarian system remain in the background.
These deaths, without names or faces, are yet to generate the same commotion as the case of Nisman, found with a gunshot wound to the head a day before he was due to level grave charges before Congress against President Cristina Kirchner. But the same thuggish spirit ended the lives of Carbello and Bulacio, and most likely the life of Ismael, all for wanting to listen to some music.
Translated by Laurie Blair. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.