Two women in Buenos Aries, Argentina, were arrested this week after pelting a police officer with stones in response to his request for them to wear a sanitary mask, the Argentine newspaper Clarín revealed Thursday.
Argentina, like much of Latin America, is experiencing a surge in Chinese coronavirus cases. While the federal government urges the use of sanitary masks in public, it does not require it, leaving state and local governments to their preferences. A mask mandate is in effect in Buenos Aires, the national capital.
The attack Tuesday is at least the second documented against police officers in Argentina for enforcing mask mandates. The attacks appear to represent a minority, as polling has shown in the past that Argentines overwhelmingly approved of lockdowns to stop the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.
Clarín identified the two culprits as “Lorena L.” and “Monica A.,” both age 33. The two women were walking in public when a police officer approached them to request that they wear a mask. No reports indicate that the officer was belligerent or in any way aggressive, yet the two women reportedly responded with “aggression: first verbal and later physical, when they threw rocks at the police officer.”
The officer reportedly suffered lesions to his face, including a broken lip, and was hospitalized shortly thereafter. The women fled the scene as other officers responded to the attack, but were shortly apprehended and are facing charges of assault and resistance to authority.
The Argentine news outlet Infobae noted that one of the women, “Monica,” had a criminal record and spent eight months in prison after being convicted of armed robbery in 2015. The outlet did not indicate that her accomplice had any history with law enforcement.
Clarín noted the assault is the second similar incident in Buenos Aires, recalling an attack on police in Buenos Aires in August. On that occasion, police stopped a man while running, who was wearing a mask that had fallen to his neck. Officers asked him to return the mask to his face while running. The man resisted.
“Fucking police have nothing to do, you people don’t know who I am, now you’re going to find out,” the man reportedly said before assaulting the officers.
Argentina has documented 1.8 million cases of Chinese coronavirus since the pandemic began, as of Friday, and a little over 46,000 deaths. The official advice from the federal government of Argentina urges citizens to use homemade sanitary masks — so as to avoid buying medical-grade masks that health workers need — in public at all times. No federal requirement exists, however.
“The Argentine government recommends that all people use homemade masks. In some provinces and in the city of Buenos Aires, their use is mandatory,” the Argentine government’s official website reads.
The mask requirement has caused several uproars already, not all of them involving the police as victims. In early January, police in northern Santiago del Estero, Argentina, made national news after arresting a ten-year-old girl for not wearing a mask in public. Photos of the young girl signing police paperwork to be allowed out of the police station prompted nationwide outrage and an infuriated statement from the girl’s mother.
“My girl is ten years old, traumatized for life, signing her freedom [in the photos]. Not even the officials who were there could believe what their boss was doing, nobody knew how to proceed, thy wanted to make us sign lies that he himself was making up and tried to arrest my husband with threats,” the mother, identified as Evangelina, told local media outlet Visión Santiagueña. State police blamed the boy’s father, also a police officer, for a “misrepresentation” of the situation, claiming that the girl ended up at the police station because the adult who was accompanying her was not wearing a mask and responded aggressively to being asked to wear one.
A poll by UNICEF published in April found that 96.2 percent of Argentines approved mandatory social distancing measures.
“The population understands and believes that the measures being taken are necessary to avoid contagion,” UNICEF’s representative in Argentina, Luisa Brumana, said at the time. “Data is showing that social protection has a large reach,” she added, referring to social programs to benefit underprivileged Argentines during the pandemic.
While the polling appeared to show support, Argentina experienced multiple incidents by the end of the year in which large numbers of people disregarded social distancing advice. In October, thousands of people took the streets to protest the economic nosedive the country has taken under socialist President Alberto Fernández, as well as express opposition to lockdown measures that had exacerbated the economic problem.
A month later, a destructive mob formed in the aftermath of the funeral of Diego Armando Maradona, a soccer player. Mourners turned on riot police when they were not allowed to crowd the memorial area in recognition of the danger that mass gatherings present in the face of a pandemic. The event took place at the Pink House, the country’s presidential palace, and footage of the chaotic scene showed crazed soccer fans climbing over tall fencing in an attempt to get closer to where Maradona’s body in vigil. Others simply attempted to pull the fences down.