Tragic Hate Crime Shocks Argentina

Last Updated: June 17, 2024By
Tragic Hate Crime Shocks Argentina

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In Argentina, activists are accusing the far-right government of fueling homophobia after a brutal attack left three gay women dead and one seriously injured. Four women were set on fire in what appears to be a horrific hate crime.

Early on May 6th, a man in his 60s allegedly threw burning rags into the women’s shared bedroom in a Buenos Aires boarding house. Neighbors woke to the sounds of the women’s screams as flames engulfed the building. The suspect, Justo Fernando Barrientos, reportedly tried to stop the women from escaping and then fled to the roof to attempt suicide before being arrested.

Pamela Fabiana Cobas, 52, died almost instantly. Her partner, Mercedes Roxana Figueroa, also 52, suffered burns over 90% of her body and died two days later. Another victim, Andrea Amarante, 42, succumbed to burns covering more than 75% of her body on May 12th. The fourth woman, 49-year-old Sofía Castro Riglos, is still in the hospital. The fire also led to the evacuation of thirty residents, seven of whom were hospitalized.

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A Community in Mourning

Argentina, once celebrated for its progressive LGBTQ+ laws, is now in shock. “They were set on fire for being lesbians,” a neighborhood association member told over 200 protesters at a Monday evening rally. Demonstrators carried banners reading “they killed them,” and accused Javier Milei’s government of fostering hate speech and intolerance.

Human rights groups also blame prominent politicians for inciting violence against LGBTQ+ communities. They argue the government is shutting down safe spaces for queer people. María Rachid, head of the institute against discrimination in the ombudsman’s office, described the attack as one of the cruelest hate crimes in recent years, highlighting the rise of hate speech across the country.

Government’s Role in Rising Hate

Argentina’s LGBT Federation has pointed out that the Milei administration has been closing spaces meant to protect victims of homophobic attacks. One of the administration’s first actions was shutting down the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism. Additionally, the self-proclaimed libertarian president has banned gender-inclusive language in the military.

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In a November 2023 TV interview, now-foreign minister Diana Mondino controversially compared marriage equality to head lice, saying, “If you prefer not to bathe and be full of lice, it’s your choice… but don’t complain if there is someone who does not like that you have lice.”

The Argentine LGBTQ+ ombudsman has noted that hateful speech from Milei’s political party during the 2023 presidential campaign has fostered a climate of segregation, rejection, and discrimination—perfect conditions for violence against vulnerable groups.

Demands for Justice

In response to the attack, presidential spokesperson Manuel Adorni faced backlash for saying that while the attack was “terrible,” he would “not like to define it as an attack against a certain group.” Erin Kilbride from Human Rights Watch urged government officials to stop rhetoric that stigmatizes queer women, contributing to a climate where they are targets of violence.

Witnesses reported that the suspect had often insulted the four women and had previously threatened to kill Cobas and Figueroa. He has not been charged yet, and it remains uncertain if hate crime charges will be added to the multiple murder charges.

Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation with a gender perspective to consider the identity of the victims and the motive behind the attack.

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