Formosa in the north of Argentina, next to Paraguay is one of the poorest provinces in the country and has been under the iron fist control and patronage of governor Gildo Insfran, who rules as a feudal lord, with virtual control of the three branches of the local government and excellent relations with the federal government in Buenos Aires where his deputies and senators support the ruling coalition in exchange for fat checks that ensure his perpetuity.
However this March, more precisely Friday 5 March, the people of the province said enough is enough, and for the first time, allegedly in twenty five years took to the streets to protest a new Phase One confinement, because of 17 Covid cases, but which in practical terms means closing down the economy and the condemnation of the private sector.
In effect following the Kirchnerite model in Santa Cruz province, some 70% of employees in Formosa work for the provincial government, and just in case Insfran approved this week a 42% pay increase for the bureaucracy, including for his over a thousand strong force of spies and goons.
When the peaceful protests took off, the Isfran administration reacted immediately, as when serfs disobey the master, water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons, plenty of batons and arrests, at least 74, including eight women and fourteen minors. A woman councilor had her elbow broken plus six rubber bullets while his underage son received nine impacts. The accusation, damaging government property, and allegedly attempting to storm Government House.
However as surprising as the uprising was, given years of submission, was the intensity and ferocity of repression which broadcast on Argentine television, and following on the VIP vaccinations scandal, triggered strong statements and warnings from the United Nations, Amnesty International, the Inter American Human Rights Committee, Human Rights Watch, among others.
Formosa has been in the news lately repeatedly. On the one hand Argentine president Alberto Fernandez visited the province, had pictures taken next to Insfran and congratulated him on the management of the pandemic, described as an example for all Argentina. However the other side of the coin is that some 8,500 Formosa residents were blocked from returning to their homes, alleging sanitary reasons. A Supreme Court ruling finally facilitated the entry, but they had to comply with expensive quarantines in minus two stars hotels and hostels, mostly out of the reach of the impoverished residents of the province and without any sanitary guarantees..
This also fired a strong condemnation from Amnesty International as did the fact that outside of the province journalists were banned from entering also on sanitary reasons given the impeccable record of very low cases of Covid 19. A Supreme Court ruling finally opened the way for Buenos Aires media.
Meanwhile a late reaction from the Alberto Fernandez administration's Human Rights minister and the cabinet chief called for an end to violence, respect for institutions. But in the following lines blamed the hegemonic media, the ill intended opposition and the overall campaign against the regime of Insfran for triggering the situation and rioting. Likewise there was a resounding silence from such human rights organizations, onetime honorable, such as Mothers of Mayo and Grandmothers of Mayo and Nobel Peace Prize, Perez Esquivel, all of them closely aligned with the government of Alberto Fernandez and vice president Cristina Kirchner
Later on Friday, most women were released, the councilor had to have her arm plastered, a journalist in the group, described how she was beaten while trying to picture teen agers been kicked by police on the floor, another, the daughter of a police officer who partly organized repression also showed the several impacts of rubber bullets on her body. A lawyer in the group displayed a tear gas canister which expired in 1985, but still were used against protestors, and apparently can be far more toxic..
When night fell and the demonstrations continued with caravans of vehicles blowing their horns and flying Argentine flags, the Insfran Home Secretary twitted, Despite the organized plot, Formosa will never surrender.
Formosa might never surrender, but the extent of repression, on live television, and the fact it was the first time anything like that happened in the subjugated province, could mean Insfran regime is weakening and may be too expensive for the Argentine government to defend politically, particularly since the vaccination scandal, which surfacing evidence is showing was not limited to the Ministry of Public Health or a hospital in Buenos Aires, but similar schemes existed, (exist?), in all those provinces, cities and municipalities, where the Kirchnerites are the ruling force, privileging the faithful and militants.
The official list made public included 70 VIP names but the missing vaccines are several thousand, and in many provinces less than 70% of health staff have received the shots. Opposition in Congress has asked for a full report, and international pressure is expected to increase.