A cinematic police chase. A shoot out. Two men killed. Sixteen police officers and five civilians arrested. Fifteen firearms confiscated. Alleged extortion and harassment. The sleepy tourist and agricultural village, Tafí del Valle, in the mountainous province of Tucumán, has well and truly lost its serenity.
Confusion surrounds the events that took place here on Sunday afternoon, when Oscar Marcelo Moreno, 53, and his son, Oscar Martín 28, were shot dead by police.
Dramatically different version of events have emerged. Police claim that the Morenos were shot after reacting violently to traffic controls. Family and friends of the Moreno say they were ambushed and killed for refusing to pay a bribe to local police officers.
According to police, things turned sour at a traffic checkpoint southwest of Tafí de Valle, after the Morenos were unable to provide registration papers for their Volkswagen Vento. Reacting angrily to the request for papers, the Morenos got out of the car and fled the scene, before angrily returning with a number of other people. They then assaulted police officers, stole a firearm, got back into the Vento and sped off, accompanied by others in cars. Police claim they then pursued them until San Cayetano, where the Morenos got out of their cars and opened fire. Police fired back and the Morenos were killed.
The family strongly disputes this version of events, instead painting a sordid picture of extortion and police corruption.
There was never any traffic control, according to the widow of Oscar, Maribel Zenteno. Instead, the family went to watch their neighborhood football team, Peñarol, play, as they did every Sunday. Soon, the police arrived, and said that if the Moreno’s didn’t pay them a fee, they would have to seize the Vento, as the Morenos did not have the car title. The Morenos left, before returning later to reclaim the Vento. At this moment, the police ambushed and shot them, claim the Morenos.
“It could have been a massacre,” said the lawyer for the family, “they started to shoot without pity.’ Natalia García Salemi claims the backdrop to the violent events is an extortion by local police officers: “they killed them because of a bribe.”
“They bought a second-hand Volkswagen Vento, and a man named Velasco, who is a commissioner in Simoca, acted as the debt collector. This Velasco charged them the instalments for the car every month, and he added another fixed amount which was a bribe to not take the vehicle from them. At the same time, Dardo Romano, the commissioner of Tafí del Valle, also demanded money in exchange for not confiscating the car because the transfer hadn’t occurred,” said Salemi.
In a tearful interview, Eleanora Moreno, sister and daughter of the victims, said that “they [the police] have told so many lies,” and claimed the police struck on Sunday because they believed the family had money: “They wanted to get money off us because now it’s the lettuce harvest.”
The case has raised more questions than answers, and ripped apart this small community of some 15,000 farmers and tourist operators. 16 police officers and 5 civilians were arrested and are giving testimony.