A fire in a police station located in the district of Esteban Echeverría in the Buenos Aires Province has so far resulted in the death of eight people who were being detained there. Four others are injured, one in critical condition.
Human rights organizations informed of severe irregularities surrounding the events, taking as a standpoint the fact that it is not legal to hold inmates in police station, as any person under detainment for an extended period of time has to be taken to a prison.
This particular prison had had its jail foreclosed by both a court and an administrative resolution, but was active anyway. Even if this had not been the case, the station would have been legally able to hold ten people. Yet, at the moment of the fire there were 27 in custody.
The versions given by police and both the organizations and the inmates who survived are contrasting: police indicates that events unfolded after two inmates tried to escape and, when found by them, set blankets and papers on fire to start a mutiny.
On the other hand, the Comisión Provincial por la Memoria (Provincial Commission for Memory) argues that, according to the testimony of different inmates, police shut off electricity after a group of interns refused to stop playing music. “That decision, aggravated by the degrading conditions inmates were in, such as the lack of mattresses, led to a protest with fire. It was at that point when police officers deliberately shut off the water supply to the jail, something that would have prevented the deaths from happening,” the commission states.
The body went on to indicate that several survivors claim officers told them they would “now burn like the rats you are.”
The tragedy brought back to the spotlight the problem of prison overpopulation in Argentina, as well as the controversy over the use of pre-trial arrest, especially taking into account that 60 percent of all people imprisoned in the country have not been officially convicted. According to a report by the National Prison Administration of Argentina (NPA, or Procuración Penitenciaria de la Nación), the Argentine federal prison system had an occupancy to capacity ratio of approximately 130 percent in the second quarter of 2018.
Moreover, the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) informed that despite the illegality of holding people in police stations for an extended period of time, there are currently 4,052 people in this situation in the Buenos Aires Province alone, and that between September and October saw a nine percent increase, leading to the highest figure in 10 years.
“By October 31st, there were 331 foreclosed police stations, that is 68 percent of the total. However, there are 1,835 people held in them regardless,” the CELS added.
With this last death, the event became the worst tragedy in a provincial station in history: the previous one had taken place in the district of Pergamino, where seven people died on October 2, 2017, also in a fire.