A Federal Court has sentenced ex-National Security Secretary Enrique Mathov and ex-police chief Rubén Santos guilty over the killing of five people during protests at the height of Argentina’s economic crisis in 2001.
Mathov was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison and Santos four years for manslaughter and causing injuries after police used violence against protesters in the centre of Buenos Aires. Alongside the five fatalities were 117 people injured.
Another seven police officers were given prison sentences ranging from three to six years, while seven others – mostly lower-ranking officers – were absolved.
The historic sentence marks the first time that political figures have been held criminally responsible for police repression in Argentina.
The police violence came during a day of street protests that led to the collapse of President Fernando De la Rua’s government, which had failed to arrest a deepening economic crisis.
At the premature end of his presidency, the country witnessed the worst state violence since its return to democracy in 1983. In total, 39 people died throughout the country, including five at the hands of police in the very centre of Buenos Aires.
The worst of the violence occurred between 3pm and 5pm. By that stage, more hardened protesters were hurling rocks at police, who were no longer responding with just gases and rubber bullets, but firing live rounds directly into the crowds.
In clashes near Av. de Mayo and Tacuarí, three protestors – Gastón Riva (30), Diego Lamagna (27), and Carlos Almirón (24) – received fatal wounds. Soon afterwards, a fourth victim, Gustavo Benedetto (23), was shot in the face after protestors on Av. de Mayo and Chacabuco were fired upon by police and security guards sheltering inside the HSBC building at the corner.
It was only when news that De la Rúa had resigned circulated, around 7pm, that calm began to return to the streets. Even then, there was time for one more killing: Alberto Márquez (57) was gunned down by police as he sat with other protesters on 9 de Julio.