December 4, 2013
22 years later, illegal detention trial begins
Buenos Aires City Federal Oral Court Number 29 began examining yesterday the detention of 17-year-old schoolboy Walter Bulacio during a rock concert in 1991.
Bulacio’s case is not just a judicial issue, as it has become a banner that anti-repression activists have been flying for years. The 17-year-old Bulacio died in the hospital several days after he was released from detention, allegedly having told a doctor who treated him that he had been beaten by the police.
Bulacio’s death has long been seen by activists as an iconic case of police brutality, which targeted mainly youngsters and low-income sectors.
Graciela Scavone, the mother of Walter, arrived at the court building in Paraguay street yesterday without any great hope that her family would finally see justice.
“We have no expectations,” María del Carmen Verdú, Scavone’s lawyer, told the Herald yesterday. “We know that Bulacio was killed by police officers,” added the leader of the CORREPI association that fights against police brutality.
The only defendant in the case is Miguel Ángel Espósito, the former police chief who had a leading role in the security forces until 2008, when he was dismissed. Espósito is the only one charged with the illegal imprisonment of Bulacio. The charge itself is seen as a relatively minor accusations considering that Bulacio died. Illegally detaining someone can be punished with up to five to six years in prison. Verdú told the Herald that Espósito has never been in jail for Bulacio’s death.
Appearing via video link, Espósito refused to answer questions. He did, however, insist he should be exonorated: “Because of the wickedness of (then-Justice minister) Aníbal Fernández I suffered a heart attack.”
In 1991, Walter was 17 years old. He was in fifth year at the Rivadavia National School. His parents and his grandmother said he liked writing short stories. He was thinking of studying law and was a fan of San Lorenzo football club and of Patricio Rey y sus Redonditos de Ricota, a popular rock band.
On April 19, 1991, the band played at the Obras Sanitarias stadium in Buenos Aires City’s Núñez neighbourhood and Bulacio went there with a group of friends. His grandmother had given him money to buy a ticket but there were no tickets to be had. The children tried to sneak into the stadium but they were quickly arrested.
Walter, along with 70 other youngsters, was taken to the police station even though the detainees were minors. Espósito was furious and, according to witnesses, vented his anger against Bulacio by hitting him on the head. Walter then began feeling sick in his cell. His cellmates gave him a chair but he soon stopped talking. The rest of the boys assumed Bulacio was just frightened.
The police never called his parents to tell them that Bulacio had been arrested nor informed a judge. They were following the instructions outlined in a memo issued by the federal police, which established that policemen did not have to inform magistrates if they arrested minors.
After his release, the 17-year-old boy was taken to the Pirovano Hospital and then to the Fernández Hospital while his parents were trying to find him. When they found him at the Pirovano Hospital, he could not speak.
Doctor Fabián Vìtolo later declared that he had asked Walter if someone had beaten him on the head. He replied: “Yes, the cops.”
On April 26, 1991, a week after his arrest, Walter died at the Mitre Clinic. On May 3, 1991, Verdú and his parents filed a criminal complaint.
In 2002, more than a decade after Bulacio’s death, a judge said that the criminal complaint had expired. His parents, his lawyers, as well as the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) took the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which in 2003 condemned the Argentine state for the lack of action in the Bulacio case, established that the case could not have expired and assimilated what had happened to the schoolboy into crimes against humanity because it had been committed by employees of the state.
In 2008, the Inter-American Court again demanded the Argentine authorities prosecute the case. Meanwhile, the Argentine Supreme Court said that the Inter-American Court rulings were compulsory for the country.
Twenty two years after his death, for the first time, an Argentine tribunal will have to rule over one of the crimes committed against Bulacio. A sentence could be delivered by November.