Argentina: 50 injured as police attack hospital

Some 200 to 300 agents of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police invaded the grounds of the José T. Borda public psychiatric hospital in the Argentine capital during the early morning of April 26 to guard demolition workers as they bulldozed one of the hospital buildings. When hospital workers, patients and community members gathered later to protest the demolition, police agents used nightsticks and rubber bullets against the crowd. Protesters said some 50 people were injured, including at least 10 patients, seven nurses, three media workers and a member of the city legislature, María Rachid. The authorities reported 36 people injured, 17 of them police agents. Eight people were arrested.

Rightwing Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri insisted that the agents, who were equipped with helmets and shields, had to use force to defend themselves from rock-throwing protesters. The protesters cited police attacks that appeared to be unprovoked. Leaders of the State Workers Association (ATE), which represents some of the hospital workers, charged that union delegates were attacked by agents when they tried to mediate the situation. Local legislator Rachid gave a similar account. “I went into the place,” she said, “and when I asked who was in charge of the operation, the police shoved me and beat me.”

The demolished building had housed a rehabilitation and job-training workshop for patients; it was being removed to make way for a new Civic Center, where the city government plans to relocate some of its offices. Opponents of the plan say Mayor Macri, who is linked to construction interests, originally intended to use the space for high-rise buildings; strong opposition forced him to switch to the Civic Center project. The city claims that the building was already empty and that the workshop was being relocated elsewhere. The ATE—an affiliate of the Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA), the more radical of the country’s two largest labor federations—was the only one of the five unions at the hospital to oppose the plan, according to the authorities.

Argentine journalist Stella Calloni writes that human rights groups say the Buenos Aires force includes officers who worked under the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, along with advisers from Israel and the US. The violence at the Borda hospital came a month and a half after Metropolitan Police agents used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to break up a sit-in protesting efforts to privatize part of a public cultural center. (Noticias Argentinas, April 26 via Terra Argentina; Buenos Aires Herald, April 26; La Jornada, Mexico, April 27, from correspondent; Kaos en la Red, April 27)

On April 27 a majority in the Buenos Aires city legislature, including members from rightwing parties, responded to the incident at the hospital by calling for the city’s security minister, Guillermo Montenegro, to resign; only members of Macri’s Republican Proposal (PRO) backed the city government. Center-left Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a longtime opponent of Macri, also condemned the police operation. The ATE will protest the action with a nationwide strike and a rally in Buenos Aires on April 30, according to the union’s general secretary, José Luis Mataza. (LJ, April 28, from correspondent; Buenos Aires Herald, April 26)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 28.