The political news cycle was abuzz on Tuesday night after social leader Juan Grabois was detained in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Constitución, during a protest calling for the release of Senegalese street vendors and activists from another social organization – Movimiento de Trabajadores Excluidos (MTE) – who had been detained in a previous police operation.
Grabois is the leader of one of the countries main social organizations, called Confederación de Trabajadores de la Economía Popular (CTEP) and has always been considered a close confidant of Pope Francis.
Ale y Batará, militantes del MTE que hoy ayudan a los trabajadores de la vía pública están detenidos por defender a los migrantes senegaleses de la persecusión policial. En este momento nos movilizamos a la Comisaría 18 (San Juan y Entre Ríos) a exigir su libertad pic.twitter.com/Bc9Y2jEO7s
— Juan Grabois (@JuanGrabois) September 18, 2018
“Ale and Batará, MTE activists who are helping street vendors are detained for defending Senegalese migrants from police persecution. We march to police station number 18 to demand their release,” reads the tweet Grabois posted a few hours before being detained along with them.
According to an activist who witnessed the incident, police began to “indiscriminately detain protesters”, even though he says they were exercising a legitimate right: “About 300 infantry agents arrived by bus and began beating us with sticks, shooting rubber bullets and pepper spraying us. That’s when they detained five social leaders. Grabois was not even on the street when we were blocking it,” the witness said in a TV interview.
Other activists present told La Nación that Grabois had gone to the police station to provide legal council to the vendors, who had been detained after refusing to provide the police with identification and hand over the products they were selling on the street and that police officers intended to seize.
Shortly after his detainment, the CTEP published a video of Grabois along with the workers and activists that were also in custody, in which he assured his detention was random, and placed the blame on the City of Buenos Aires and national governments. “We were beaten and insulted, and have been mistreated and harassed because of our political ideology,” he said.
“We ask people to reject this act of intimidation that takes place in a context where our country is being handed over to the International Monetary Fund, the looting of our resources and the hunger and misery of the popular majorities [by the government],” added Grabois, who was charged with resisting authority.
His accusation was echoed by leaders of different parties across the opposition landscape, especially the Frente Para la Victoria (FpV) and the Frente de Izquierda (FIT), who also marched to the police station demanding his release – and of all detained.
Estamos yendo a la Comisaría 14 a ver a @JuanGrabois y a sus compañerxs detenidxs. Exigimos la liberación inmediata de todxs y le decimos al gobierno de Macri y Larreta que dejen de reprimir a los trabajadores y a los dirigentes opositores. pic.twitter.com/rbXLWB9uEW
— Wado de Pedro ?? (@wadodecorrido) September 18, 2018
“We are going to the Police Station to see Juan Grabois and his detained fellow activists. We demand the immediate release of everyone and tell Macri and Larreta’s administrations to stop repressing workers and opposition leaders,” reads the tweet by Kirchnerite activist Eduardo “Wado” de Pedro.
Repudiamos la detención de Juan Grabois, Jaquelina Flores y Rafael Klejzer Exigimos su inmediata libertad!! Basta de represión!!
— Nicolas del Caño (@NicolasdelCano) September 18, 2018
“We reject the arrest of Juan Grabois, Jaquelina Flores and Rafael Klejzer. We demand their immediate release, no more repression!,” reads the tweet by Frente de Izquierda (FIT) National Deputy Nicolás Del Caño.
Grabois was released two hours later, around 8 PM. Following the incident, City of Buenos Aires government Marcelo D’Alessandro denied the activists were detained because of their political ideology, and indicated the reason was their “violent attitude.”
“Under no circumstance we intend to criminalize protests, but we can’t allow them to break things like they did yesterday. In a situation like this, our limit is the violence. The organization blocked the avenue to demand their release. When the police tries to open up the lane (they had blocked), the clashes begin. They were detained after injuring four police officers,” D’Alessandro said in a radio interview today.
Once released, Grabois took to Twitter to thank the for the support he received from people online and expressed his hope that “the unity that existed today to defend a bunch of workers and social activists from an authoritarian government grows to defend the Argentine people from this looting and planned misery.” The message was retweeted 3,600 times.
One of those retweets came from former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner herself.