‘Prostitution Justice’

Argentina Erupts Over Acquittal in Marita Verón Case

Thousands took to the streets across the South American nation to express outrage over the acquittal of 13 people accused of kidnapping a 23-year-old woman. By Scott Johnson.

Alejandro Pagni/Getty Image

They called it “prostitution justice” and by the thousands the protesters took to towns and cities across Argentina this week to denounce it. In Buenos Aires they overturned cars and then set them alight. At least two dozen people were injured and scores more were detained by police squads, who were deployed throughout the country on Wednesday. The protesters threw stones, chairs, and bottles and set garbage bins alight.

Across the country on Wednesday and Thursday people from all walks of life voiced their outrage about a court’s decision to acquit 13 men and women of crimes relating to the disappearance of Marita Verón, a 23-year-old woman who vanished a decade ago. In the years since her disappearance her mother—activist and agitator Susana Trimarco—has fought relentlessly to find her daughter and bring her kidnappers to justice. She and many others believed that Tuesday, when the court ruled to acquit all 13 defendants, was that day. When a three-man panel of judges acquitted all 13 defendants, however, Trimarco’s hopes were dashed. Her supporters cried foul and began alleging that the judges had been bribed. One correspondent for a local newspaper, La Gaceta, wryly commented on Twitter that for the next two years, judges and politicians should avoid going to brothels simply out of respect for Marita.

The case is now taking several new turns. One of the 13 defendants, Jose Fernando “Chenga” Gomez, said Thursday he will sue Trimarco. Calling her “full of evil” for having accused him of Marita’s disappearance, Gomez said it was he, in fact, who had “suffered for 10 years, made to feel I was the worst person in the world, when in fact I’m not.”

Heads are also starting to roll as a result of the high-profile case. On Thursday, Mario Lopez Herrera, the provincial minister of security for the district of Tucuman, was forced out of office. Trimarco had been extremely critical of his efforts—or lack thereof—in searching for her daughter.

“Security in this province is an embarrassment,” Trimarco railed. “Herrera is useless. The law against prostitution is an embarrassment, all the brothels are open for business, but I’m not going to stop fighting. I’m going to give my life because it can’t go on like this.”

Immediately after the decision was read on Tuesday, Argentina’s president Christina de Kirchner called Trimarco. “I can’t believe it,” she is reported to have said. “I can’t believe it.” During a press conference, Trimarco also told reporters that Michele Obama has expressed her continued support. Both first ladies have honored Trimarco with prizes in recent months, helping turn the slight, dark-haired woman into a global spokesperson against the cause of human trafficking.

Kirchner on Thursday also announced plans to convene a special session of Congress to reform a 2008 human-trafficking law, the first in the country’s history. As it stands now, the law requires women who claim to have been trafficked to prove that they were forced into prostitution against their will. Kirchner wants the new reforms to make it less burdensome for victims.

Sergio Berni, Argentina’s secretary of national security, said the authorities had identified one group of “known individuals” who had come with the sole purpose to destroy. But the scope of the unrest and the reactions on social media sites like Twitter indicated that it was a deep sense of outrage and anger over the court’s decision that motivated most of the unrest.

The protests grew more violent as the day progressed. In Buenos Aires, protesters gathered in front of a municipal government office and lit several trash cans on fire, sending huge plumes of smoke into the sky. Marita Verón’s daughter, Sol Micaela, so-named because Marita herself had a passion for the sun, called on her Twitter followers to organize protests from the north of the country down to the tip of the continent, at Tierra del Fuego. Sure enough, in Ushuaia, a group formed and marched in support of Trimarco.