Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn News / June 24, 2017
15 years ago, two young activists were murdered by the Argentine police in Buenos Aires. Their names were Maximiliano Kosteki and Dario Santillan, and their senseless deaths have not been forgotten by the Argentine people.
On June 26, 2002, social organizations and left-wing political parties were protesting in the Pueyrredon train station. The Argentine economic and political crisis that had unleashed in December 2001, causing a social outburst that caused the President to resign, had affected the poor the most.
They protested because the government had stopped funding welfare for people in need, because unemployment subsidies were insufficient, because schools and emergency rooms in poor neighborhoods lacked supplies to properly function, because people didn’t have enough food (they proposed to implement a food program under control of unemployed workers), and because the justice system was persecuting social leaders and the police was repressing people whenever they claimed for their rights. They also brought a communique by the workers of the emblematic Zanon factory, which was functioning under worker control after the owners had declared bankruptcy. They were a beacon of resistance for the entire country, and they were being threatened with eviction.
The government of Eduardo Duhalde, who had been elected president by the Legislative Assembly to fill the political vacuum and contain the social outburst, had decided to send an unequivocal signal to Argentine society: disruptions would not be tolerated. Banks had been bailed out, but people wouldn’t be. They’d better accept their fate in silence. But they were also causing their own demise.
The government had decided to prevent the protest to reach the end point of their march: the Pueyrredón Bridge, which is on an important highway that connects the southern peripheries with the capital. The operation involved three federal forces—Gendarmerie, Prefecture and the Federal Police— and the City Police. Deploying over two thousand units, they militarized all accesses to the capital.
Their plan culminated with the intentional, cold-blooded murder of Maximiliano Kosteki and Darío Santillán in the Avellaneda station, and dozens of wounded people. In the first hours after the tragedy, the government tried to convince the general public that protesters had killed each other.
But the truth was revealed in chilling pictures taken by photojournalists, which showed the sequence of events: Maximiliano Kosteki lies on the floor, mortally wounded. Santillán, who didn’t know Kosteki, kneels besides him to help him. He takes his pulse and raises an open hand, palm facing the police. “Stop”, he was signaling. He was trying to protect the fallen comrade. His noble gesture, captured in that picture taken moments before his death, immortalized him in the collective memory of the Argentine people.
After shooting Santillán, armed agents drag him across the floor and place his legs vertically against a wall, to cause blood to flow to the open wound in his chesty. Another—infamous—picture shows principal Carlos Quevedo kneeling besides Santillán’s dead body. But not to help him. He is smiling openly to the camera.
After this cold-blooded murder, another thing caused indignation in Argentinians: the fact that media immediately erased any attribution of agency or responsibility to the government in this story. One newspaper cynically reported the news under the title: “The crisis caused two more deaths”.
The uproar of the country led to the anticipation of presidential elections and the end of Duhalde’s government.
Darío and Maxi weren’t forgotten. They are part of the collective memory and of the history of social struggles of Argentina. Their image is painted on countless walls across the country. And every 26 of June the streets are filled with social movements honoring their lives, claiming for justice and denouncing the government, the repressive forces, the justice and the media for the murders and their complicity.
Last Monday, thousands of people marched to the Pueyrredón bridge to claim for justice, and also for the same slogans that Darío and Maxi had mobilized for in that fatidic day: to save the poorest from hunger, to stop repression and stop the criminalization of social movements. Because they gave their life for these values, and we will continue to fight for them.
Images of the homage and demonstration: