Soledad Paredes walks towards the place where her son Joaquín fell with a police bullet in the back. She is surrounded by the judges of the Criminal Chamber of Cruz del Axis, the prosecutor, her lawyer, the representative of the witnesses that are minors, those who defend the victimizing police officers, the member of the jury… Further back, from one of the dirt streets and under the watchful eye of the police and firefighters, their relatives, friends and members of the “Justice for Joaquín” collective, are brandishing banners with the slogans: “Enough of the easy trigger”. “I neither forget nor forgive.” “Life imprisonment for all”.
Joaquín looks at his mother from the mural that pays tribute to him and with which his grandmother and her friends usually talk. The first light of the day filters through one of the dream catchers that adorn this ritual site. On another wall it reads: “They are all guilty. Justice”.
Thus begins the “visual inspection” in Paso Viejo, part of the In-Person Oral Arguments that started on July 24 in the Court of Cruz del Eje. The phase of testimony under oath has already ended and final arguments and sentence can happen, beginning Monday the 14th of August. It is a beautiful morning and despite finding ourselves at the scene of the crime, it is hard to imagine what happened at dawn on Sunday, October 25, 2020. Esteban and Beatriz Paredes, Joaquín’s grandparents, have stayed at home. They know that they will not bear to relive those fatal moments in the place.
That night Joaquín and some friends got together in a house near the plaza. At two in the morning they went out to buy drinks in a business that the relaxation of the Preventive and Mandatory Social Isolation order in the interior towns allowed it to stay open 24 hours a day. Then they joined a group of boys who were celebrating Mariano Torres’ 20th birthday. A relative lent them a speaker and they sat in front of the community clinic to drink some wine and listen to music, until a police patrol warned them to leave.
What is hard to imagine is why they did it pointing a shotgun at them and why they later returned with two other police cars, locked them up, shot into the air and when the boys began to run they shot them from behind. Why Joaquín was injured, why neither the dispensary nurses nor the policemen themselves helped him, why he died like this a few days after his 16th birthday. Why 14-year-old Brian received that shot in the arm that did not kill him but murdered his adolescence. Why did they shoot them again when they went to ask for help in front of the police headquarters?
That is why it is so hard to imagine that the agents Maykel Mercedes López (25), Iván Alexis Luna (26), Enzo Ricardo Alvarado (29) and Ronald Nicolás Fernández Aliendro (27) and Sergeant Jorge Luis Gómez (34) are accused. Deputy Commissioner Daniel Alberto Sosa Gallardo (43) is accused only of making threats, because he claimed not to have been present at the second incursion and at the time of the shots. He is the only responsible police authority sitting on the bench.
Present trauma and inconclusive grief
On the mural that Soledad and the judicial group observe, one can also read a dozen names and nicknames of the boys who were with Joaquín on that night. In these days, one by one, they have offered their arduous and painful testimony in the trial, enduring the tricky questions of the defense, which re-victimize, criminalize and update the trauma, sometimes indecipherable for those who have suffered economic, social and cultural exclusion from the cradle, aggravated by what happened on October 25, 2020.
A few days ago, the psychologist Héctor Valenzuela testified. He is, a member of the Ulloa Center, of the National Human Rights Secretariat, which provides “psychotherapeutic assistance and comprehensive accompaniment to victims of serious human rights violations”, of State terrorism and of the institutional or state violence in democratic times.
In this case, help was provided to the fourteen young people who escaped alive from the police shooting in Paso Viejo, who “had survived a very serious situation, one of them wounded in the arm with a projectile,” some even said they wanted to “go with Joaquín , which meant suicide, and there were even attempts.
“The dimension of the damage has to do with the trauma that they have all suffered, due to this disruptive fact in their daily lives, in their emotions and in their psyche, beyond the fact that many kids in the months and years since the incident had been suffering harassment from the police,” Valenzuela said. He also alluded to the difficulties in mourning: “The loss of Joaquín is a permanent presence, because wherever you go in town there is something that has to do with Joaquín. His family continues to talk about Joaquín in the present tense.”
“Young people lose respect because they are not respected, and even worse, because they are mistreated. It is the State that must guarantee mutual respect. It is necessary that the Executive Branch, plus the Ministry of Justice, create the optimal ways for the relationship with the police to work without violence”, he stated in another passage of his speech.
—Do you think there is hatred towards the police? asks one of the defenders.
-No, but there is bronca, anger. And they are very, very scared.
The construction of the marginal youth
The teacher and former parish priest Carlos Julio Sánchez said that the children and adolescents of Paso Viejo must help their families by working in the crops, once were olives, today potatoes and onions. It was not until the year 2000 that the high school opened in town and the boys “while continuing to be workers, learned the trade as students and developed their skills in new contexts”.
When a lawyer asked him if “they are quilomberos, rowdy”, Sánchez replied: “They are not unruly young people, they are irreverent, questioning, they do stupid things from time to time, like any adolescent, like any of us at that age. They can be creative and actively participate in life. But in an educational system in crisis, which does not value their knowledge nor take their interests into account, they are disinterested and apathetic”.
“Strong prejudices weigh heavily on young people. It seems that alcohol and laziness are exclusive attributes of these youth. And if they get together, worse: ‘They will do something bad, they do something or plan to do something, and nothing good’. They are prejudices from the adult world, much more from the police, much more in a pandemic… No chango, young person, is born marginal. Marginality is built”.
The human rights organizations like Justicia por Joaquín that are accompanying the trial publicly questioned the discriminatory treatment towards the young witnesses: “We observed a series of actions that show that this judicial device is not specialized in matters of childhood and adolescence,” they questioned.
In turn, the National Secretariat for Human Rights indicated that “the rights of the victims, witnesses, and family members would be violated,” which “puts the very legality of the trial at serious risk, in addition to generating situations of institutional violence when this type of conduct is what is standing on trial precisely”. Gradually, the Court began to listen to the young witnesses with more patience and to take reject the discriminatory treatment by the defense.
Co-perpetrators and participants in the crime
Meanwhile, another matter also improved during the trial. Or it rather worsened: the attribution of criminal responsibility to the defendants by the prosecution. The Criminal Chamber of Villa Dolores -acting as the appeals chamber- had limited the accusation for “simple homicide aggravated by the use of a firearm” only to former agent López, who along with Luna were also attributed “injuries serious assault aggravated by the use of a firearm”, while Alvarado, Gómez and Fernández Aliendro were only accused of “omission of ex officio duties” and co-authorship of qualified firearm shots and Sosa Gallardo for “qualified threat ”. That is why López is the only one who is on trial while in jail.
But in the hearing prior to the visual inspection last Friday, at the request of the prosecutor Fabiana Pochettino, the Court agreed to consider López and Luna as “co-authors of qualified homicide for having been committed in abuse of their duties by a member of the police force to the detriment of Joaquín Gabriel Paredes” and of “aggravated homicide to the degree of repeated attempt” against the other fourteen youths who were escaping their shots. Alvarado, Gómez and Fernández Aliendro are now considered “necessary participants” in both crimes. In addition, for the second round of shots in front of the sub-station, they are all accused of “qualified abuse of weapons.” Except Sosa Gallardo, to whom the original accusation for “qualified threats for the use of a firearm” is maintained.
The change of the charges, requested by the prosecution after listening to the ballistics experts and the testimonies of Joaquín’s friends, also means that these young survivors have finally been recognized as victims. Even for having been identified as police targets by one of the defendants, who hours before the attack shared a selfie with the shotgun “to hunt saros” in the WhatsApp group of the Paso Viejo police officers. Saros means “the suspects, the blacks,” the prosecutor clarified. And surely the expertise of a suspicious bullet impact “compatible with 9 mm caliber” in the Volkswagen Amarok police van used in the procedure also gravitated.
A town between commitment and fear
In the inspection in Paso Viejo, the judges and the parties went through the place of the “first act” -the land behind the dispensary, where the police shot at the youths and Joaquín died-, then cross the square diagonally towards the area of the “second fact” – the request for help at the police headquarters, unheeded and turned into a fight and stones, answered with more police shots. On the trunks of the huge eucalyptus trees that shade the boulevard leading to the town, you can still see the marks of some of the 112 bullets that were fired that morning.
Meanwhile, the rest of the town continues living in mild mode. The judicial procedure does not alter its routine nor does it have more spectators than those directly affected and their families, and even those at a prudent distance. From the sidewalk of Fernando Crespo boulevard, the only thing that can be heard from the top of the eucalyptus trees is the chatter of the parrots, perhaps disturbed by the visits. Among the neighbors, just the fleeting glances of someone passing by in a vehicle or pushing a wheelbarrow. Maybe they don’t know or don’t care, or for another reason.
—They are still afraid of what happened that night. It was a quiet town and no one expected something like this to happen,” says Soledad.
“How can that be cured?”
—I hope justice is done, so peace returns to Paso Viejo.
Alexis Oliva belongs to Generation X. He received a Bachelor's Degree in Social Communication from the National University of Córdoba, to later immerse himself in journalism marked by research and narrative, social conflict and human rights. Between 2003 and 2010, he collaborated with the research for Horacio Verbitsky's books on the political history of the Argentine Catholic Church. In 2010, he covered for Agence France-Presse (AFP) the "Videla" trial of the political prisoners in the Córdoba prison Massacre of 1976. In 2015, he investigated and wrote the script for the docu-fictional series "Gallos Rojos" (Red Roosters) El Calefón – INCAA). He was a professor of Journalism and Literature and Journalistic Investigation at the National University of Catamarca. Currently, he is part of the Journalistic Writing II chair and is secretary of Production and Transmedia at the Faculty of Communication Sciences at UNC. He writes for the magazine El Sur, El Cohete a la Luna, the collective Diciembre and Agencia Presentes. In 2015, he published with Ediciones Recovecos the book "Everything that power hates – A biography of Viviana Avendaño" and in 2022 "Violence was born with me – Chronicles of lives in conflict".