Some 200 to 300 agents of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police invaded the grounds of the José T. Borda public psychiatric hospital in the Argentine capital during the early morning of April 26 to guard demolition workers as they bulldozed one of the hospital buildings. When hospital workers, patients and community members gathered later to protest the demolition, police agents used nightsticks and rubber bullets against the crowd. Protesters said some 50 people were injured, including at least 10 patients, seven nurses, three media workers and a member of the city legislature, María Rachid. The authorities reported 36 people injured, 17 of them police agents. Eight people were arrested.
The Appeals Court of Copiapó province in Chile's northern Atacama region issued an order on April 10 completely suspending work at the massive Pascua Lama facility, an open-pit gold, silver and copper mine under construction in the Andes on both sides of the border between Argentina and Chile. The order was in response to a complaint filed by five communities of indigenous Diaguitas in the Huasco Valley; the residents charged that the work was damaging the Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers and contaminating water resources in the area, according to Lorenzo Soto, the communities' lawyer. The Chilean government's National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) and the Environmental Evaluation Service have also found environmental damage from the project. Construction is about 40% complete at the mine site, which is under the control of the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation.
Chilean students held marches in Santiago and about a dozen other cities on April 11 to step up their two-year campaign for free, high-quality education to replace the heavily privatized system that started during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. While the first march of the new school year, on March 28, drew about 20,000 people, some 150,000 participated in Santiago alone on April 11, according to organizers; the authorities put the number at 80,000. Local media said this was one of the largest marches in the capital in two decades. As usual, small groups confronted the police—109 arrests were reported—but in general the march was described as peaceful and even festive.
As of April 1 the Environmental Evaluation Service of Atacama, a region in northern Chile, had imposed a new fine on the Chilean subsidiary of the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation for violations at its Pascua Lama facility, a giant open-pit gold, silver and copper mine being built in the Andes at the border between Argentina and Chile. The fine on the subsidiary, the Compañía Minera Nevada SPA, came to about US$85,509 (expressed as 1,000 Monthly Tax Units, UTM, a special unit Chile uses for mining taxes and fines; it is set this month at 40,125 pesos). This was in addition to a US$256,518 (3,000 UTM) fine the service imposed a month earlier. According to Pedro Lagos, Atacama's regional minister for the environment, the fines are for the company's failure to meet requirements for monitoring damage the mine's construction could cause to nearby glaciers.
An estimated 20,000 Chilean secondary and university students marched through downtown Santiago on March 28 to call for free, high-quality education. This was the first major student demonstration of the new school year, continuing a series of demonstrations that started in 2011 to protest the privatization of secondary and higher education that started during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. At their high point in 2011 the marches brought hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and supporters to the streets and dramatically lowered the approval rating of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera; these were the largest demonstrations in Chile since the end of military rule.
After a meeting on March 21 in Temuco, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Araucanía, indigenous leaders called for the rapid implementation of self-government for the Mapuche, the country's largest indigenous group. The leaders also repeated their rejection of plans announced by the government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera for an indigenous council, a consultation process and a special law for Araucanía. Piñera, Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick and other officials made the proposals in January after an outbreak of violence in the region exacerbated a longstanding struggle between the Mapuche and settlers and forestry companies over lands that the Mapuche claim. Indigenous leaders responded to Piñera's proposal by holding a summit at the Cerro Ñielol park in Temuco on Jan. 16 and forming a new alliance, the Mapuche Pact for Self-Determination.
A group of 40 Argentine environmentalists invaded the Embalse Nuclear Center in the central province of Córdoba on March 11 to mark the second anniversary of the earthquake that caused meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan's Fukushima prefecture, the second-worst nuclear accident in history. The protesters, members of Greenpeace Argentina, "entered [the complex] peacefully, waving flags and wearing orange overalls," according to Greenpeace Energy Campaign coordinator Mauro Fernández. They proceeded to climb to the top of the reactor, where they unfurled a giant banner reading: "Enough with nuclear danger!" The activists were then "beaten and arrested," Greenpeace said, and taken to Río Cuarto federal court, with jurisdiction over the facility.
A court in Argentina on March 12 sentenced the country's last military dictator Reynaldo Bignone to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during his rule in 1982 and '83. The 85-year-old former general, already serving three other terms for similar crimes, was found guilty of killings related to Operation Condor—a coordinated campaign by the Southern Cone dictatorships to eliminate dissidents from one country who sought refuge in another. Federal Oral Tribunal Federal No. 1 in San Martín found Bignone culpable in the deaths of 23 victims, including seven pregnant women, who were abducted to the now-notorious Campo de Mayo clandestine prison. Also receiving a life term was Bignone's armed forces chief and second-in-command as dictator, Santiago Omar Riveros. Three other military men received terms of between 12 and 15 years. (Argentina Independent, Rebelión, Digital Journal, March 13; BBC News, La Nación, Clarín, Gente BA, Prensa Latina, March 12)