In a poor suburban Buenos Aires neighbourhood, the families of the dead and hospitalised from consuming what is believed to have been contaminated cocaine range between fury and hope. They hope that this incident “serves” to remind the authorities to privilege assistance for drug addicts, not punishment.
"That it serve! That it serve for us to do something!" exclaims Beatriz Mercado outside the Hurlingham Municipal Hospital of San Bernardino. She has again been visiting her 31-year-old son, one of the survivors from the possible mass poisoning, which had caused at least 20 deaths by the small hours of Wednesday morning.
The Hurlingham hospital is one of the eight that has received victims of the tainted cocaine tragedy. Authorities believe the drug was mixed with unknown products – whether as the result of error or homicidal intent has yet to be determined.
Mercado found her son in the kitchen, lying on the floor.
"I thought that he had forgotten [to switch of the light] and I found him lying on the floor. Bad, really bad, he was hardly breathing with his eyes rolling upwards. You could see that he had fallen forward because he had a cut on his nose," she recalls.
He was rushed to hospital where he was given respiratory support.
"I’m hoping for a miracle from God," she says sadly.
'Change the laws'
In Loma Hermosa, a poverty-stricken half-paved neighbourhood of unfinished buildings, AFP reporters were able to visit premises where a vast police raid on Wednesday led to the confiscation of cocaine envelopes, similar to those identified by the families of victims.
A total of 10 people have been arrested but the investigation was not what most worried the families. Beatriz had to lodge charges at the police station.
“We have to change the laws because our focus is ‘If they commit a crime, then they should go to jail’ while ignoring their condition [of addiction] although what they do causes us much grief and anger,” she laments.
“It’s no use building prisons, let’s make rehab centres with professionals, with loving people, with mothers. Between us all we can change the future of those kids,” she pleads with a tired voice.
The first reports of what happened to those who ingested the drug suggests the tainted cocaine had an abrupt, almost immediate effect leading to violent convulsions and in some cases, acute heart attacks.
“The doctor attending him was surprised that other kids had haemorrhaged to death, some in the lungs,” recounts Beatriz.
The brother-in-law of María Morales, 41, is “intubated and in serious condition.” He took cocaine with friends in the small hours of Wednesday.
“First a friend passed out and died and then he collapsed and asked for help. They brought him here [to the hospital] at 5am.”
“We want him to come out of this and cure his addiction,” says María, one of the few people close to a victim who agreed to talk to the media.
She insisted precisely that the problem must be broadcast.
"We must not judge anybody, behind every addict there is a family, a father, a mother and children who are suffering."
by Magali Cervantes & Elena Boffetta, AFP