Women, Gender & Diversity Minister Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta has resigned from the government in protest at what she described as “serious” violations of human rights during a recent security operation.
Gómez Alcorta, 49, presented her "indeclinable" resignation in a harshly worded letter to President Alberto Fernández that slammed the treatment of Mapuche women and children in a recent security operation in Villa Mascardi, Río Nego Province.
The departing minister said the behaviour of the federal security forces and its treatment of members of the indigenous community during their eviction from territory were “incompatible” with her values.
Confirmation of the minister’s resignation reached the press on Saturday morning after rumours she would be stepping down began circulating the previous evening. The Télam state news agency reported that the president had accepted the resignation.
The decision to step down comes in the wake of the operation in Patagonia organised by Security Minister Aníbal Fernández and carried out by a unified command of forces that culminated in the arrest of 12 Mapuche individuals, including seven women and five children.
"The facts of public knowledge unleashed in Villa Mascardi by the eviction ordered against the Lafken Winkul Mapu community, in which women and children were arrested, with the participation of federal forces, are incompatible with the values that I defend as a political project," wrote Gómez Alcorta in her letter.
"A line has been crossed, so I have to step aside," she said.
In the text, the departing minister questioned "the imprisonment, the denial of release for all of them and even more so for a woman who is 40 weeks pregnant, the incommunicado detention and the transfer more than 1,500 kilometres away from their place of residence," arguing that such actions "constitute clear violations of human rights."
Gómez Alcorta is a fierce defender of the rights of indigenous peoples. In her private career as a lawyer before joining the government, she was involved in cases investigating one of the most high-profile and controversial leaders of the Mapuche community, Facundo Jones Huala. She has also defended the head of the Túpac Amaru social organisation, indigenous leader Milagro Sala.
She was one of the government's main promoters of abortion reform and oversaw measures to improve LGBTI+ rights, support victims of gender violence and introduce the country's first non-binary national identification documents.
Five years ago, during the president of former president Maurico Macri, Villa Mascardi was the scene of a similar eviction attempt in which 22-year-old Rafael Nahuel was shot in the back and killed by federal security forces.
Families of Mapuche origin are involved in numerous legal disputes over the region, which falls under the jurisdiction of the provinces of Río Negro and Neuquén. The indigenous community, estimated to number more than 100,000 in Argentina, demands the restitution of territories they were dispossessed of in the so-called "Desert Campaign" (Campaña del Desierto) in the 19th century, when thousands were killed or enslaved by the Buenos Aires government.
Government Spokesperson Gabriela Cerrutti said this week that the recent eviction "was carried out in compliance with all protocols, without the use of lethal weapons, nor any complaint during the procedure."
Human rights organisations including the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociaes (CELS), the Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos (APDH), the Liga Argentina por los Derechos Humanos and lawyers for the Mapuche women sent to Ezeiza have filed a habeas corpus suit in the courts. In a communiqué, the entities considered that "a transfer was carried out in an illegitimate, arbitrary and disproportionate manner by federal police authorities in compliance with a judicial order that was also illegitimate."