Political Repression in Jujuy, Argentina


“The repression currently being carried out in Jujuy has to be seen in the context of a more generalised attack on human rights in Jujuy that started nearly eight years ago.”

By Adriana Montaño Critelli and David Gorman

For the last few days, the government of Jujuy, a province in the north of Argentina, has been brutally repressing demonstrators protesting against a recent constitutional reform which, amongst other things, weakens the right to protest. As far as we can tell, nothing on the question has appeared in the international media, while the greater part of the Argentinean media groups support the repression passionately.

In the Provincial elections a few months ago, the incumbent governor of the province of Jujuy, Gerardo Morales, president of the political party, Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civic Union), held onto power.

This year is election year in Argentina and Morales’s organisation forms part of the right-wing coalition, Juntos por el Cambio (Together for the change). With the intention of forming part of the presidential formula of that coalition, Morales included in the primary elections a referendum for the modification of the Provincial Constitution without explaining what changes would be made.

On 31 May, the teachers’ unions staged a protest to ask for an increase in their salaries, which currently amount to less than 20 dollars a month.

This protest was joined by the indigenous peoples who had discovered that the constitutional reform that would be sworn in today (20 June) included articles in which their rights to the lands they have inhabited for five generations were ignored.

This contradicts the National Constitution of the Argentine Republic, whose article 75 recognizes the possession of the lands on the part of the original peoples

Mass marches including teachers, representatives of indigenous peoples and public health unions were held.

The marchers also pointed out that one of the articles of the revised provincial constitution limits and criminalizes social protest, pickets and roadblocks, the latter being a common form of protest in Argentina and the only one which guarantees that the national media cover the protest.

The prohibition of protest generated more tension and last Sunday, June 18, the provincial police began to carry out a series of acts of repression. The fact that the swearing in of the revised provincial constitution took place behind closed doors only served to increase social discontent.

Since 18 June, Governor Morales has been blaming the national government for the demonstrations and the violence.

Today, 20 June, both the President, Alberto Fernández, and the Vice President, Cristina Kircher have condemned Morales for the repression taking place in Jujuy. Pointing out that Morales is himself responsible for the violence, they have demanded that, as the head of the provincial state, he take responsibility for and resolve the situation.

On the other hand, Morales has the broad support of his political alliance, since the two pre-candidates for the presidency, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Patricia Bullrich, have expressed their support for the repressive measures he has taken in defense of “order.”

The brutal repression has led so far to the imprisonment of several demonstators, a 17-year-old adolescent has lost an eye and one protester is gravely ill in hospital and it has not yet been revealed how their condition is developing.

The repression currently being carried out in Jujuy has to be seen in the context of a more generalised attack on human rights in Jujuy that started nearly eight years ago.

No sooner had Mauricio Macri, the Presidential candidate of the the right wing coalition which was then known as Cambiemos (“Let’s change”), assumed office in December 2015, than Gerardo Morales placed under house arrest Milagro Sala, the political activist and representative of the Tupac Amaru group from Jujuy, an organisation whch was very close to the governments of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner. Milagro Sala remains under house arrest to this day.

Miracle Sala’s defence considers that her imprisonment was a political maneuver carried out by Morales to remove the leadership of an organisation that might obstruct his project of making changes that would harm the poorest social sectors of the province of Jujuy.

For their part, a number of human rights groups have taken the case of Milagro Sala to different judicial levels, since they consider that crimes she has been accused of have not been proven, but rather that she is victim of a lawfare operation. In 2016, the United Nations declared the detention of Milagro Sala to be arbitrary and demanded that the Argentinean government release her immediately, but to no avail.

Milagro Sala, who years ago promoted the construction of houses and social neighborhoods in Jujuy, today remains in prison and without the possibility of appealing the different rulings made by the very system of justice that in Buenos Aires protects the most powerful economic sectors in the country.

In writing this report, we are taking into account an international context which is in favour of extractivism and the concentration of power in economic groups and consequently, of the policies of the savage repression of those who demonstrate against this, the most emblematic case being in January of this year in Peru, with the murder of at least 50 protesters.

We fear that the repression currently being unleashed in Jujuy in northern Argentina is possibly the beginning of a similar repressive policy throughout the country, especially if the right wing coalition, Juntos por el Cambio, or forces even further to the right, such as La Libertad Avanza (“Liberty Advances”), takes power in the this year’s presidential and congressional elections, as seems increasingly likely.

Featured image: The blockade of Route 9 in Purmamarca was heavily repressed on Saturday June 17. Photo: Edgardo Valera

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