On the 20th October 2010, Mariano Ferreyra was killed after a dispute involving railway workers escalated into violence in the southern Buenos Aires district of Barracas.
A member of the Partido Obrero (the Worker’s Party) or PO, the 23 year-old was shot in the back along with three others, Elsa Rodríguez – a mother of three – Nelson Aguirre and Ariel Benjamín Pintos, all of whom survived the incident.
The murder brought widespread anger throughout Argentina with 50,000 people attending a protest in Buenos Aires demanding justice for Ferreyra a day after his death.
José Pedraza is the former head of the railway union Unión Ferroviaria (UF) – an affiliate of the largest trade union movement in Argentina, the CGT – and stands accused of being the instigator of the crime along with his right-hand man Juan Carlos Fernández.
In total, 17 people have been indicted for the homicide. 10 are a part of – or affiliated with – the UF, while six are police officers, including the metropolitan police superintendent Hugo Lompizano.
The suspected shooters are Cristian Favale and Gabriel Fernando Sánchez, both of whom are linked to hooligan groups.
The trial of members of the UF began in October 2012 and continues to this day, while the case against the police officers continues to be developed.
On the day of the murder, Ferreyra along with around 200 other members of the PO marched in solidarity with outsourced workers (tercerizados), who laboured on the General Roca railway line.
The tercerizados were protesting against the recent dismissal of over one hundred fellow workers and demanded an increase in pay to bring them in line with what UF union workers received. Contract workers received only 30-50% of the pay of the union employees.
The day’s events remain disputed by both side with the prosecution claiming several hundred UF union members formed a counter protest to block off the protesting contract workers, which led to two confrontations between the rival factions, the second of which resulted in the fatal shooting of Ferreyra.
The trial took an unprecedented turn when a witness for the prosecution was abducted 24 hours before he was to appear in court. Enrique Alfonso Severo was beaten and then released with those responsible warning him not to “mess with the railway unions”.
In his book, ‘Quien mató a Mariano Ferreyra?’ (Who Killed Mariano Ferreyra?), Diego Rojas argues the murder is just another example of unions using violence and intimidation to protect their interests and cites numerous examples down through the years, going back to the assassination of Rosendo Garcíá in 1968.
Meanhile, accused of failing to render assistance, many view the actions of the police as highly suspect and worthy of greater investigation.
The officers made no attempt to stop retreating protesters after the shooting, which could have meant recovery of the weapons used, while the police video failed for six minutes during the day’s operation; precisely the six minutes during which the shooting took place.
The murder is among a number of highly controversial and suspect murders in recent years in Argentina.
Just last month, a key witness in the Once train crash – which claimed the lives of 51 people – was shot and killed. Leonardo Ariel Andrada testified that the train was running 20 minutes late, which meant the conductor drove the train faster than legally required, resulting in the crash. No one has as of yet been charged with his murder.
The result of this trial could prove an indictment of Argentina, where such a verdict would mean sections of two of the most powerful institutions in the state – the unions and the police – colluded in the murder, and subsequent cover-up, of a political activist who was using his democratic right of protest.
But, ironically, such a result could prove a positive outcome. If those accused are the genuine perpetrators, harsh sentences would mean corruption at the higher levels of power has its consequences.
Transparency International ranks Argentina 102nd out of 176 countries for corruption, saying of its judiciary “lack of transparency and clear rules in the selection of judges in Argentina suggests that parts of the judiciary may suffer from political influence”. With such a backdrop, a fair and honest decision in the case of the murder of Mariano Ferreyra is what the Argentine public needs to build trust in its state institutions.