Nine injured as guards prevent protesters from marching to Lago Escondido
Demonstrators marching for access to Lake Escondido were violently repressed by members of private security for private landowners at a trail leading to the lake where British magnate Joe Lewis built his Patagonia mansion. Nine people were injured.
Under Argentine law, lakes are public and access must be guaranteed. However, Lewis has blocked access to Lake Escondido for years, claiming that hikers cannot access it via the route in question. Local organizations say the alternative routes can only be tackled by experienced climbers and that this is the only direct access.
For the past seven years, local activists have marched to reach the lake every year. The case has been pending since 2005.
Lewis’ estate and the Río Negro Police Department had not released statements at the time of writing.
The march began on Saturday in El Bolsón, a town 100 kilometers from Bariloche, when 150 set out on foot to demand the opening of a path called Tacuifí, which allows access to the lake blocked by private property. When they got to the beginning of the trail, men on horses prevented them from crossing by hitting them with their equipment and throwing stones, the present claimed.
“We walked peacefully two kilometers to reach the gate,” said Alejandra Bartoliche, Telam agency’s Bariloche correspondent. “They started whipping us with harnesses – one young man had his head smashed in with a stick, another had his nose broken,” she said. A Video published by Radio Gráfica showed a protester who said they broke his leg after riding over him with the horses and threatening them all with guns.
Other videos show protesters being chased by mounted men and a man lying on the ground being kicked.
Daniel Gollán, a Frente de Todos Congressman, attended the protest. “Here are people with the Argentine flag defending an Englishman’s seizure of land,” he said, referring to those blocking the path. “They prevent the locals from entering a lake that belongs to them.”
Unions such as Worker’s Central (CTA) in its offshoots – Autonomous CTA and Worker’s CTA – and State Workers Association (ATE) took part in the protest. Party movements such as La Cámpora, the Socialist Labor Movement and Octubres were also represented.
The Sovereignty March is an annual event conducted by locals, politicians and activists who maintain that access to the lakes remains open to the public as opposed to being closed off by private property in the area.
Tensions over land rights have also escalated in recent months as communities protest British business tycoon Joe Lewis’ occupation of Lake Escondido. “We are marching to open the streets [leading to the Lake]and to denounce that there is a British settlement there,” said Julio Urien, one of the organizers of the march.
Last year, a court in Bariloche ordered the province of Río Negro to guarantee access to the lake via the Tacuifí trail. But the provincial attorney’s office and Hidden Lake, Lewis’ company, appealed the verdict and referred the case to the Rio Negro Supreme Court. Local residents are still waiting for a solution to the case.