A court has found two foremen guilty for the deaths of six people, including five minors and one pregnant lady, in a fire at a textile sweatshop in Caballito ten years ago.
Luis Sillerico and Juan Manuel Correa were sentenced to 13 years in prison for forced slavery and negligence leading to death.
The court also ordered a new investigation into the owners of the clothing brand the sweatshop produced for, as well as the role of the police and city government inspectors.
After years of delays, the historic trial began on 18th April. According to the prosecution’s investigation, more than 60 people – most from Bolivia – were living and working in the building on Luis Viale 1269. They worked from 7am until the early hours of the morning for which they received a negligible income. There was only one bathroom, one shower, and no fridge. According to the investigation, the electrical connections in the property were “precarious” and the people lived among flammable materials.
On 30th March, 2006, a short circuit caused a fire in the workshop, killing Juana Vilca (25 and pregnant), Wilfredo Quispe Mendoza (15), Elías Carbajal Quispe (10), Luis y Rodrigo Quispe Carvajal (both 4), y Harry Rodríguez (3).
“The verdict sets a precedent because it has called to investigate the owners of the clothing brands,” said Myriam Carsen, lawyer for the plaintiffs. “With the police and inspectors it will be more difficult because there was already an investigation – a bad one, but one that was done.”
José Alberto Gonzáles Samaniego, a former Bolivian consul in Argentina, said the sentence offered “a warning to those to trick people from Bolivia into coming here, so that they know they could also end up in prison.”
Samaniego added that: “in this moment, there is probably someone watching this who is being subjected to these types of work conditions in a workshop, but this ruling sets a precedent so that victims will come forward.”
In the city of Buenos Aires alone it is estimated that there are more than 3,000 clandestine textile sweatshops, employing on the black market and ignoring the workers’ rights enshrined in Argentine law.
In April 2015, two children aged seven and ten were killed after a fire broke out in a house that functioned as an illegal textile sweatshop in Flores, Buenos Aires.