The coastal city of Mar del Plata has been at the forefront of the political conversation during the past few weeks. Not because it is the main destination chosen by tourists who want to spend their holidays at the beach, but because former dictatorship-era police office Miguel Etchecolatz was granted house arrest on December 28.
After the announcement was made, protesters have marched numerous times throughout Mar del Plata to condemn the decision and demand he be sent back to a common prison due to the calibers of the crimes for which he has been convicted. The local Municipal Council have also expressed their unhappiness with his presence there.
Another demonstration took place yesterday, with protesters marching from the entrance of the residential neighborhood he’s living in – known as Bosque Peralta Ramos – towards his house. According to the media (and social media), the turnout was massive. Clarín reported that the demonstration stretched through five blocks, as many of them wore Jorge Julio López masks (a dictatorship victim who disappeared in 2006 after testifying against Etchecolatz in a human rights trial). Others hung human-shaped cutouts from trees with names of some of the people who disappeared during the last dictatorship, as well as cutouts shaped as pregnant women and babies.
The Cassation court – the highest criminal court in the country before the Supreme Court – decided that Etchecolatz be granted house arrest based on medical grounds – it ruled that there was a “progressive decline in the health and general clinical state” of the prisoner – something that lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the cases in which he has been convicted have actively disputed.
Protesters ended the march with an event outside the house where Etchecolatz is staying. “We will keep fighting so perpetrators of genocide end up in regular prisons. So our 30,000 disappeared get all the remembrance, truth and justice they deserve,” said Nora Cortiñas, co-founder of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo organization.
A photographer covering the march for Página 12 captured a moment in which someone was allegedly taking pictures of the protesters from inside the house, in what could have been an intimidation tactic to deter them from protesting again. The person’s identity could not be established.
Etchecolatz has been convicted of a series of crimes against humanity and is serving life sentences but has been on a campaign to obtain house arrest since last year.
Etchecolatz was the head of investigations for the Buenos Aires Province police force during the military dictatorship and led 21 underground camps where “insurgents” were tortured and murdered by the military government.