Violence by the federal security forces: Six officials convicted of torture

Six members of the Naval Prefecture were convicted of torturing Iván Navarro and Ezequiel Villanueva Moya in 2016. The national Security Ministry must stop the violence by security forces in the southern neighborhoods of Buenos Aires city.

A criminal court in Buenos Aires sentenced six members of the Argentine Naval Prefecture to prison terms of between eight and ten years upon finding them guilty of having tortured two young men, Iván Navarro and Ezequiel Villanueva Moya, in September 2016.

Leandro Adolfo Antúnez, Orlando Ariel Benítez and Osvaldo Alberto Ertel were sentenced to 10 years and 6 months in prison, while Eduardo Sandoval, Ramón Falcón and Yamil Marsilli received 8 years and 11 months. They were all convicted of the crimes of torture, illegitimate deprivation of liberty, minor injuries and aggravated theft. Iván and Ezequiel were represented in court by Gabriela Carpineti and Nahuel Berguier, from La Poderosa, and Agustina Lloret and Florencia Sotelo, from CELS.

The judicial process that ended today put a spotlight on the police harassment and humiliation inflicted daily on the young men of the Villa 21-24 and Zavaleta shantytowns. In some cases, this abuse leads to extreme situations such as the torture suffered by Iván and Ezequiel. Most of these incidents go unpunished because they are not known and not reported. But in this case, something different happened, thanks to the presence of an organization like La Poderosa, which is capable of making such incidents visible; thanks to judicial officials who took the young men’s account seriously from the very start; and thanks to the evidence pointing to the veracity of their testimony. These factors enabled the gathering of solid and convincing proof that demonstrated the participation of the accused and their criminal responsibility for these acts.

In the two years since Iván and Ezequiel were tortured, at an outpost of the Prefecture and on the shore of the Riachuelo river, police violence in the neighborhood has worsened. The national Security Ministry, the political organ that should oversee the Prefecture’s actions, has taken no measures to prevent such abuses from happening again. Prefecture officials continue to act without any outside control. Neighborhood organizations receive dozens of reports of arbitrary detentions, trumped-up charges, beatings and humiliations. A few weeks ago, the rising violence by the Prefecture led to the murder of Cristopher Rego, a 26-year-old man shot by an agent of that force, apparently because he did not stop at a vehicular checkpoint. Today, while the last hearing of the trial took place, the relatives of another young man, Ezequiel Demonty, paid tribute to him on the shore of the Riachuelo. Sixteen years had gone by since the day Federal Police officers took three young men there, tortured them and forced them to jump into the water. Ezequiel Demonty, who was 19 years old at the time, was unable to get out of the water and died.

This violence was also suffered by Iván and Ezequiel in their capacity as victims and witnesses, since they were intimidated more than once by members of the force in the neighborhood. Even judicial officials had to put up with the threatening presence of a heavily armed group of Prefecture officials, when they went to inspect the site of the torture alongside the Riachuelo. This affected both the young men and their families, who were present at the time.

The Security Ministry relieved the six agents who were convicted today of their duties. However, it has done nothing to change the Prefecture’s violent routines, despite the fact that the force’s abusive practices are confirmed in everyday accounts and in this court decision. The problematic relations between members of the Prefecture and young people in the neighborhood do not figure among the authorities’ concerns. The result is the persistence and intensification of institutional violence in the south of the city.