Protests and repression in Jujuy
On 13th August 2023, Argentines participated in the presidential primaries known as the Primary, Open, Simultaneous and Mandatory elections (PASO) to choose the candidates who will run in the main presidential election on 22nd October 2023. In a surprising result, candidate Javier Milei and his party La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) won 30% of the vote, overtaking far-right candidate Patricia Bullrich of Juntos por el Cambio (United for Change), who came in second with 28%. Sergio Massa of Unión por la Patria (Union for the Mainland) came third.
Milei has described himself as libertarian and anti-abortion, claiming that global warming is a “socialist lie”. He says students in Argentina’s free public education system are “hostages to a system of state indoctrination”. Among other proposals, he wants to dollarise the economy and promised to close Argentina’s central bank.
A few days before the presidential primaries, Argentina was shaken by the murders of 11-year-old Morena Domínguez in a robbery and photojournalist Facundo Molares in an incident with Buenos Aires police, as explained in the Peaceful Assembly section.
Protests and repression in Jujuy
On 15th June 2023, a constitutional reform proposal introduced by Governor Gerardo Morales was approved in Jujuy, without public participation or consultation.
One of the aspects of the constitutional reform most questioned by protesters was the inclusion of an article restricting social protest. This article establishes the "prohibition of total road and highway blockades, as well as all other disruptions to the right to free circulation of inhabitants of the province and their legal consequences.” The new constitution also allows for the acceleration of forced evictions in the case of land confiscations, which groups opposed to the reform say is aimed at affecting the rights of indigenous communities, “especially in a context of increased disputes over land rights regarding the extraction of lithium by multinational corporations in the province.”
After its approval, demonstrations against the reform took place in various locations around the province along with ongoing demonstrations for teachers’ salary increases. According to civil society reports, the police responded with excessive force, resulting in hundreds of protesters being injured.
As a result of these incidents, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement calling on the State:
To respect the right to freedom of expression and inter-American standards on the use of force and to engage in an effective, inclusive, intercultural dialogue that respects the rights of trade unions and indigenous peoples -
In addition, the South American office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) said it had received complaints "about the inappropriate use of force by police officers, reports of arrests and prosecutions of protesters, indigenous leaders, a provincial deputy and journalists, and obstruction of the work of human rights defenders".
Amnesty International issued a preliminary findings report after visiting the region, and found that there was “unnecessary and excessive use of force, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets” by the authorities, including cases where the police “fired rubber bullets directly at demonstrators’ heads.” In addition, the organisation also noted “multiple accounts of arrests of individuals for simply participating in the demonstrations, which constitutes an arbitrary measure of deprivation of liberty.”
“Our investigation indicates that the provincial authorities have created a hostile environment that inhibits the people of #Jujuy from exercising their right to peaceful protest,” said @AnaAmancay https://t.co/A2t62Pdz2K— amnestypress (@amnestypress) October 5, 2023
In this context, on 13th July, Alberto Nallar, a lawyer from Jujuy representing indigenous communities, was detained and charged with the crime of sedition. Nallar represents indigenous communities in Caspalá and other localities.
On 14th July, civil society organisations Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) and Abogados y Abogadas del Noroeste Argentino en Derechos Humanos y Estudios Sociales (ANDHES) submitted a request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for precautionary measures to protect the freedom and integrity of a group of human rights defenders from Jujuy. Among them are members of ANDHES, CEDEMS, HIJOS Jujuy and indigenous representatives of the Puna and Quebrada networks, as well as a group of lawyers.
In the previous days, collective arrest warrants had been issued for more than 40 people. According to the organisations, the measures were requested by the public prosecutor's office and, although they were arbitrary, disproportionate and without justification, they were not reviewed by the courts of guarantee. Community members and organisations reported situations of surveillance, police checks and unjustified searches.
On 25th July, hundreds of representatives of Jujuy's indigenous communities travelled to Buenos Aires to demonstrate in what was called the “Tercer Malón por la paz” against the express reform of the Jujuy provincial constitution, approved at the end of June. After travelling more than 1,500 kilometres on foot and in vehicles for a week, on 2nd August they marched through the streets of Buenos Aires to demand that the Supreme Court declare the reform unconstitutional and that Congress "take measures for the federal intervention of the province of Jujuy". The "Malón" is a march of native people from the north of Argentina that first took place in 1946 to bring demands to the national government in Buenos Aires; the second was organised sixty years later, in 2006. This is the third Malón for Peace that crosses the country.
47th anniversary of the Night of the Blackout
In another development, on 20th July, students and human rights organisations, together with trade unions and political forces, mobilised across the country to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the Night of the Blackout, to remember the more than 400 arrests and 33 disappearances committed by the last military dictatorship between 20th and 27th July 1976, and to express solidarity with the struggle of indigenous communities for their territories in Jujuy. There were also mobilisations in Jujuy and Rosario, among other places.
Journalist dies during pre-primary election protests
The primary elections for presidency were marred by violent incidents. In light of this, Security Minister Aníbal Fernández expressed concern about the holding of the elections.
On 10th August, left wing militants marched towards the Obelisk in opposition to the primary elections. Facundo Molares Schoenfeld, photojournalist and former member of Colombia’s demobilised FARC guerrilla group, suffered a cardiac arrest after being pinned to the ground by police. Despite resuscitation efforts, he died in the hospital. An independent autopsy is under way to establish the exact cause of his death.
On 11th August, thousands of individuals rallied around the Obelisk in Buenos Aires to call for justice for the journalist’s death. During the protest, a small group of masked individuals hurled a molotov cocktail at a police station and pelted stones at law enforcement personnel. However, the remaining demonstrators swiftly disavowed them as "infiltrators" and isolated them.
A period full of mobilisations and marches
Argentina has witnessed a period of extensive mobilisation and protests, with citizens rallying around various issues across the country. A summary of some of the major protests is presented below.
On 18th August in San Juan, citizens expressed their dissatisfaction with the economic measures and their consequences that followed the PASO. One factor was the change ordered by the Minister of the Economy, Sergio Massa, who ordered a 22% devaluation. His economic team later confirmed that this step was taken at the request of the IMF. In San Juan, retailers increased their prices and local hardware dealers expressed their reluctance to sell due to the constant rise in prices. Pharmacies reduced their sales rate because they are unsure of the cost of medicines in the short term. Moreover, the price of gasoline has risen by an average of 13%.
On 24th August, the Frente de Lucha Piquetero organised a nationwide protest to request help for soup kitchens, social programme expansion and the provision of resources to keep self-managed work going. During the rally, they emphasised that government officials had proclaimed that there was a resolution to assist the millions of struggling workers affected by a social crisis, but said that there was no decision yet regarding the programme enhancement or the deadline for food distribution. They announced that they are in a "mobilisation and assembly state" and confirmed "the social requests we uphold in response to the social crisis, which is worsening due to austerity measures and oppression, claimed to be mandated by the International Monetary Fund.”
On 20th September, street blockades and demonstrations were held in different parts of Buenos Aires. The Corriente Clasista y Combativa (CCC) marched around the Obelisco demanding the opening of the Potenciar Trabajo programme, a fixed sum of $75,000 (USD 215) for all social programmes and for the rights of retirees and pensioners. Meanwhile, the State Workers’ Association (ATE) protested before the Ministry of Economy. Another rally took place at Retiro Belgrano Norte Station, led by the Union of Education Workers (UTE), the Confederation of Education Workers (CTERA) and the Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina (CTA), demanding the tenure and job stability of workers in the socio-educational area.
On 28th September, thousands of people marched in Buenos Aires in defence of legal abortion, which protesters said "is in danger" if Javier Milei wins the presidential election. Most of the demonstrators, including activists from feminist movements and trade union leaders, wore green clothes, flags and scarves, a symbol of the struggle for the legalisation of abortion, as well as signs with slogans against "the right wing".
💚🇦🇷Así arranca la marcha #28S en las calles de Buenos Aires. En el Día de Acción Global por el Acceso al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito, marchamos para decir Ni un paso atrás, #LaLibertadEsNuestra. Contra las derechas, el ajuste y el FMI pic.twitter.com/K7xkSazSzO— Agencia Presentes (@PresentesLatam) September 28, 2023
Legislative proposals threaten freedom of expression
The Asociación de Entidades Periodísticas Argentinas (Adepa) warned that the process of reforming La Rioja's constitution could result in restrictions to the freedom of speech and press freedom. At the start of talks on constitutional reform in La Rioja, Governor Ricardo Quintela announced that the amendment would regulate the independent press. He believes that the reforming Convention should focus on "freedom of expression and governance". As reported by the press, Quintela told the convention's constituent members: "We want to discuss freedom of expression and governance", and then asked the media to be "aware of their role in the formation of public opinion and constructive debate, knowing the serious consequences of transmitting biased, malicious or slanderous messages, by sowing hatred and false news".
Months ago, Quintela himself had already criticised various national media, saying that they broadcast "rotten information" that could not be "verified", and called for the capacity to "block them" in the northern provinces of the country and set up a network of TV channels of their own.
In addition to deploring Quintela's remarks, Adepa warned of the serious risks to the democratic and republican system in the country if such restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press were to be included in the constitutional reform of La Rioja.
Bill in Salta
The Asociación de Entidades Periodísticas Argentinas (Adepa) is deeply worried about a new bill passed by the Chamber of Deputies in Salta. The bill introduces fines and arrests for anyone spreading fake news in the digital space. The most serious of the articles included in the bill is number 50, which imposes penalties of arrest of up to twenty-five days or fines "on anyone who creates or disseminates false news, knowing it to be false, within the digital spectrum, with the aim of instilling panic, discrediting persons or official authorities or generating disorder or tumult.” Adepa stated that blanket bans on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous concepts, including "fake news", are incompatible with international standards on restrictions on freedom of expression and should not be included in any legislation.
The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) expressed concern about legislative efforts by the governments of Salta and La Rioja. IAPA President Michael Greenspon conveyed his concern, saying "I regret that in a country with so much history and jurisprudence on freedom of expression, in which the national constitution safeguards freedom of the press, ghosts of the past are returning to try to tie down the media and muzzle citizens' freedom of expression."
Greenspon recalled the Chapultepec and Salta declarations, the latter of which was passed in the Argentine province that is now pushing the controversial law. Those documents enshrine the principles that should govern freedom of the press and call on governments to refrain from creating laws or regulations that negatively impact on the natural right to freedom of expression.
Preocupación de Adepa: Proyecto en Salta que impone sanciones penales ante difusión de “noticias falsas” ▶️ https://t.co/tYV5auOl1F— ADEPA (@Adepargentina) July 28, 2023
Attacks, threats and intimidation against journalists
On 15th September, journalist Pablo Duggan was assaulted and threatened while he was having lunch with his family in a restaurant in Tigre, Buenos Aires province. According to the journalist, the attacker threatened to kill him and linked the violent incident to his professional work. The attacker was identified and arrested by the provincial police.
The Foro de Periodismo Argentino, FOPEA (Argentine Journalism Forum) has expressed its concern about the smear campaign against Mendoza journalist Ricardo Montacuto with Mendoza Post and Radio Nihuil, and warns that these disinformation practices can lead not only to self-censorship but can also have an impact on the quality of the information received by the public.
On 21st September, journalist Marco Bustamente Benavente and cameraman Rolando Bazán of Crónica HD were attacked in unclear circumstances. The workers were travelling along Route 3, in the city of Cañuelas (Buenos Aires), to prepare a report on the state of the roads and trucks, when two men began to insult them, shouting "don't film me". In addition, the colleagues' work equipment was damaged, and the men threatened them by saying "get out of here because we are going to run over you with the truck".
On 25th July an unknown user began to threaten journalist Diego Brancatelli of C5N through the networks saying that he was going to kill him and then intensified the harassment and threatened to kill his son. Brancatelli filed a complaint and, on 19th September, after an investigation led by the Specialised Prosecutor's Unit for Cybercrime Investigations (Ufeic) of San Isidro, the aggressor was arrested and placed at the disposal of the courts.
FOPEA has denounced that Tucumán journalists Mariana Romero, Leonor López González, Ivana Jorge, José Inesta and César Juárez suffered under a campaign of stigmatisation and aggression. The Canal 10 journalists and the former host of the Supercanal news programme were harassed through personal and private complaints by a local forum lawyer, Gustavo Morales.
Journalist Danilo Fernández, director of the NotiMach website in Machagai, Chaco province, was insulted and threatened with legal action by the mayor of that town, Juan Manuel García, after the journalist reported on the alleged organisation of looting, quoting information provided by a source who requested that his name be withheld.
Journalist Valeria Villalba, of Radio Televisión Neuquén, was summoned by the attorney general for economic crimes and general proceedings of the province's judiciary, Pablo Vignaroli, after she broadcast a commentary pointing to alleged protection in a case of abuse for which an official of the judiciary was being investigated. Although the journalist did not name names, 40 minutes after she had finished her commentary on the air, she was notified that she had to appear at the Neuquén Public Prosecutor's Office, without any explanation as to why. The journalist went to the office, accompanied by authorities of the company where she works, and ratified her statements without any further questions, objections or charges.
FOPEA expresses its solidarity with MDZ journalist Jorge Caloiro from Mendoza, after the NOVA news agency published, without citing a source or giving details, an article about alleged legal action being prepared against the journalist. Caloiro covers the criminal trial currently under way in Mendoza against the Federal Judge in electoral jurisdiction Walter Bento accused of illicit association, illicit enrichment, bribery and money laundering.