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Transvestite shot in the legs with plastics bullets by police. Name withheld for security reasons.
Argentina

in ARGENTINA, 01/01/2004

Cry for my Sisters, Argentina

All I knew about Argentina was its recent turbulent relations with the International Monetary fund, its dark and sad period of military junta, “Tango” and that Argentineans eat lots of beef. So I was not surprised when I saw a restaurant called “Siga la Vaca” in Buenos Aires, which means follow the cow.

Buenos Aires is a fantastic city. I am told it is older than Helsinki. It sure feels like a sophisticated European City on the one hand, and certainly a Latin City on the other. Buenos Aires does not feel to a foreign visitor as if it’s a city with big economic and unemployment problems. It is cheaper than most large metropolitan areas of Europe, and it has some beggars and homeless on its streets. But no more than London, Brussels or anywhere else that I know in Europe.

“Comunidad Homosexual Argentina” (CHA), “Sociedad de Integracion Gay-Lésbica Argentina” (SIGLA), “Grupo de mujeres de la Argentina”, and “Other Sheep” are some of the ILGA member organisations in Argentina; and there are also some individual members there. I spent six days talking with them and also meeting with many leading Argentinean politicians and activists, presenting ILGA’s positions on lgbt rights generally and ILGA’s position on the “Brazilian Resolution” specifically.

CHA at the moment seems to be the most active ILGA member organisation in Argentina. Cesar Bartolome Cigliutti, President of CHA recently married Marcelo Suntheim, the Secretary of CHA and caused a storm in Argentina as well as making legal history. And those of you who have attended the Manila Conference will remember delightful Pedro Paradiso Sottile, CHA’s Legal Co-ordinator. Accompanied by this very competent team of activists, I was able to make my most important two meetings in Argentina, first at the Argentinean Human Rights Commission with Dr. Rodolfo Mattarollo, “Jefe de Gabinete, Secretaria de Derechos Humanos, Minsiterio de Justica Seguridad y Dereches Humanos de la Nacion”, and then with Dr. Rafael A. Bielsa, “Ministro de Relacones Exteriores, Comercio Internacional y Culto”; the secretary of foreign affairs in the national government. Then SIGLA, another longstanding ILGA member organisation, organised a series of meetings for me with many “Deputados de la Nacion”, members of the parliament (MPs) both of the government and opposition. ILGA longtimers will remember Rafael Freda, SIGLA’s front man and activist for many years in the movement. Accompanied by Rafael, I was able to speak with Laura C. Musa, José Alberto Roselli, Juliana Marino, and Dra. Margarita Jarque, all MPs at the national parliament of Argentina. Some of these MPs have important strategic positions in their consecutive parties, and they all support lgbt rights.

In order to begin to understand Argentina, one needs to take into consideration two important factors to start with: the Military and the Church. A long and ugly hold on power by the military scarred this nation’s politics deeply. Until the six-months old present government, even many years after passing of the power to civilians, successive Argentinean governments couldn’t dare to bring the laws that will prosecute the criminals, which committed hieneous crimes under the junta. The Catholic Church ruled this country with an iron rod for as long as one can remember. It is only now that a democratically elected executive and parliament can exercise a degree of democracy, thanks to the diminishing powers of the Church and the military. The military is by and large discredited, and the role which the Catholic Church played during these dark junta days discredited the Church, too. However, it has by no means disappeared. Discredited or not, the military in the minds of many Argentineans and the Catholic Church still meddle very much in the day-to-day running of the country. So much so that even the most daring politicians and activists can only criticize the hierarchy of the Church and not even the “right of the Church” to interfere in the decision-making of the elected politicians! The government officially incorporates the Church by having a ministry called “Culto”. In this kind of political climate one of the worst things in Argentina is the position of the police. The Argentinean police has been and still is a law unto themselves. Like many other countries, which suffered lack of democracy, Argentinean police from time to time see themselves above the law and cannot be made accountable. During my visit to Buenos Aires, I was taken to a house which is known as the “Hotel” by the Community, in which many trans people live. It was a very interesting place which was built by the efforts of many trans people of Buenos Aires, especially those trans people who came from outside of the City. The building was decorated and maintained by the inhabitants, and people are living a semi-communal life in it. It is a trans version of a modern scouting movement. However, I was told that the police regularly raid it on the flimsiest excuse. My visit coincided a day after such a raid, and I heard the stories of maltreatment by the police; and there was even an accusation of money being stolen from the bedrooms. These were the accusations. I have, however, seen with my own eyes beaten up bodies and faces, and worst of all plastic bullet marks on the legs of one of the inhabitants of the Hotel. The good people of the Hotel were upset and angry, but the worst feeling they had was of despair. They were hopeless because they thought that they have no possibility of getting any justice. One sister said, “Our word against the word of the police. In Argentina no court or official will take us serious enough and have courage enough to tackle police. We get beaten, robbed and even raped by the police; and there is nothing we can do about it.”
There is, however, a faint light at the end of the tunnel. The present Government, even though they have been in power a short time, seems to be determined to bring Argentina to the third millennium as a democratic state, respecting human rights for all. They managed to pass a law under which the criminals in the junta may now be brought in front of the courts. They are prepared to listen to the lgbt community. Provided that they can do what their conscious dictates and can vote freely without undue pressure from the Vatican and fear of the army, they can do great things for Argentina and all those discriminated against groups. The upcoming debate at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) on the “Brazilian Resolution” will be an important test for the resolve of the Argentinean government, not only for human rights but also for democracy.

Kursad Kahramanoglu
January 2004
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