Argentina: four killed in eviction of Jujuy squatters

Four people were killed the morning of July 28 when provincial police forcibly evicted some 700 families from land they had been occupying in the city of Libertador General San Martín in the northwestern Argentine province of Jujuy. The police and the squatters confronted each other with clubs and rocks during the eviction, and the police agents reportedly used tear gas and both rubber and lead bullets. Some witnesses said a few protesters were armed, but Enrique Mosquera—the director of the Jujuy branch of the leftist Classist and Combative Current (CCC) organization, which backed the land occupation—denied this. “Nobody was armed,” he said. “We defended ourselves with rocks and stones, throwing them and then leaving.”

The victims included squatters Ariel Farfán and Félix Reyes and police agent Alejandro Farfán (the two Farfáns were not related, according to news reports). Another protester died from a bullet wound shortly after being admitted to the local hospital. As many as 49 people were injured, and 27 were arrested.

The squatters had been occupying the land—15 hectares belonging to the Ledesma S.A. corporation, which produces sugar and paper—since July 20. According to the Tupaj Katari Social and Cultural Movement, homeless families had been negotiating for the land for five years and decided on the occupation when the local government and the company failed to fulfill an agreement to give them land.

The police violence quickly inspired new protests. Some 3,000 people had reoccupied the land by the evening of July 28. Members of the CCC and leftist parties besieged Jujuy province’s offices in Buenos Aires, breaking windows and painting slogans on the walls. Jujuy governor Walter Barrionuevo, a Justicialist Party (PJ) politician who backs Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, moved quickly to control the political damage: the officer in charge of the police operation was removed, and Pablo La Villa, the province’s government minister, resigned the night of July 28.

On the morning of July 29 CCC members were joined by the Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA), the National Confederation of University Teachers (Conadu Histórica), the University of Buenos Aires Teachers Association (AGD-UBA) and the Association in Defense of the Liberty and Rights of the People (Liberpueblo) in a demonstration at the Obelisk in Buenos Aires to demand an investigation of the Jujuy eviction and the punishment of those who were responsible for the violence. (Clarín, Buenos Aires, July 28; Adital, Brazil, July 29; Buenos Aires Herald, July 29)

The Ledesma corporation, with a total of 157,556 hectares in its possession, is the main landowner in the Libertador General San Martín area, which is experiencing a severe housing shortage. The “La Brecha” Current of Base Organizations (COB), a network of community groups, says there are estimates that just 40 hectares of land would be enough to resolve the housing problem. According to the COB, Ledesma, which is owned by the Blaquier family, has a history of repression dating back to the end of the 19th century and including the killing of protesting sugarcane workers in the company’s early years and crimes committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. (Adital, July 29)

On the evening of July 30 some 100 families of police agents occupied unfinished homes in a housing project started by the provincial government in 2009. “We’re not leaving,” said Analía Wierna, wife of police agent Juan Pablo. “We’re 100 families of police agents from the town itself who suffer from the housing crisis as much as the people who seized the Ledesma estate.” “Who are they going to send to evict us?” asked Hemelinda Magno, mother of agent Fernando Cisneros. “Our husbands and sons?”

Within a few minutes of this action, a group of women nurses from the municipal hospital also tried to occupy some of the project’s unfinished homes, many of which lack plumbing, gas and electricity. “You don’t have more rights than we do just because you’re married to police agents,” a nurse said as she tried to enter the project. “I’m here with my little children, and I’m asking you to let me occupy a house, even if it doesn’t have a roof.” (Clarín, July 31)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 31.

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