An accident between two buses and a truck that occurred on Highway 3 in the province of Chubut has caused at least 14 deaths and 40 injuries. Nine of the fatalities were national gendarmes who were sent to the area to intervene in a dispute at Cerro Dragón between union workers and Pan American Energy, an oil field operator associated with China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).
The gendarmerie had arrived in the area by plane and were returning via bus, when an oncoming truck crashed into it. A second bus then collided with the first. Initial reports from the scene suggest the truck driver, who also died, may have fallen asleep behind the wheel. Victims were brought to Hospital Isola in Puerto Madryn, where 25 of the injured were said to be in critical condition.
In the past week, violence had escalated at Cerro Dragón, the largest oil field in the country, as 400 union workers took control of the site and demanded higher wages. Photos from around the internet showed the charcoal skeletons of overturned cars, as strikers were accused of damaging the company’s installations.
On Monday, union workers finally halted their occupation of the oil field after receiving confirmation that authorities would begin salary negotiations. But the CEO of Pan American Energy, Oscar Prieto, continued to voice concern that no one had been taken into custody for wreaking havoc.
In response to the incident, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner today declared a national period of mourning and said that the national gendarmerie would no longer get involved in conflicts that are the responsibility of provincial governments.