Nearly four years after 16-year-old Luciano Arruga was last seen alive, his case has changed status from “whereabouts inquiry” to “forced disappearance” and will now be investigated by the federal justice system. Yesterday’s decision by La Matanza investigative judge Gustavo Banco comes only days after the case’s first arrest, a police officer accused of “severities” four months before Arruga’s disappearance.
Arruga was last seen on 31st January 2009 in his home in the low-income neighbourhood of Lomas del Mirador in Buenos Aires Province. Since then, his family has accused eight local police of torturing and then beating Arruga to death. His body has never been found.
“Luciano’s disappearance brings to a close a series of violent acts in which the police always harass poor young people in a systematic fashion,” declared Arruga’s sister Vanesa Orieta yesterday.
Justice Banco’s decision, in accordance with requests made by Arruga’s family, passes the case to the federal justice system and formally implicates the Buenos Aires Province police. “Now we will wait for the federal justice to decide if it will investigate the cause as a forced disappearance,” stated Orieta, “and in the case that they don’t, the case moves to the Supreme Court.”
According to the Argentine Penal Code, forced disappearance is when a “public official or person or member of the group of people who, acting with the authorisation, support, or acquiescence of the State, in any way deprive one or more people of liberty” and the event is followed by a lack of information. Convictions in which the victim is a minor can sentence a perpetrator to life in prison.
Banco’s decision came after Monday night’s arrest of officer Julio Diego Torales for “severities” imposed on Arruga four months before his disappearance—the first apprehension in the case. Torales admits to having been present at the Gregorio de Laferrere Police Office 2 on 22nd September 2008, but denies having harmed Arruga. Torales is not among the eight officers suspected of participating in Arruga’s disappearance the following January.
According to Arruga’s family, during this incident, the teen was brought to the police station, suspected of having stolen three cell phones, where he was “hit brutally” while his mother and sister stood in the lobby, attended by officer Torales. Afterwards, Arruga was allegedly threatened with death if he issued a complaint. His family took him immediately to a doctor to treat his wounds.
Paula Litvachky, lawyer at the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), explained, “It’s an important step because it strengthens the hypothesis of a disappearance at the hands of the police upon revealing the previous hostilities Arruga suffered.”
The family will hold a memorial gathering in Arruga’s honour on the 26th January on the corner of Avenida San Martín and Avenida Mosconi in Lomas del Mirador in La Matanza. The cultural and artistic event will highlight the importance of protecting the human rights of young people.