Three Lesbians Killed in Hate-Fueled Arson Attack in Buenos Aires

The man set four women on fire in a boarding house in the capital city of Argentina, three succumbed to their injuries

Buenos Aires Argentina

Photo: Unsplash  Credit: Benjamin R.

Argentina made history in 2010 when it became the first country in Latin America to allow same-sex marriage and same-sex adoptions nationwide, a major sign of progress in a region known for rampant homophobia. However, this progress hasn’t necessarily created a safer place for the LGBTQIA community. Hate crimes based on gender identity or sexual orientation had increased to 129 in 2022, according to official data shared by Amnesty. Last year, 133 crimes were recorded in which the sexual orientation, identity and/or gender expression of the victims were part of the basis for the attack. Recently, four lesbians sharing a room in a boarding house in Buenos Aires, the nation’s capital, were set on fire and suffered severe burns on Monday after their neighbor set them on fire in an alleged hate crime, the Buenos Aires Herald reported. Pamela Cobas, 52, died hours after the attack. Mercedes Roxana Figueroa, also 52, passed away on Wednesday after suffering burns over 90 percent of her body. Andrea Amarante, 42, succumbed to her injuries Sunday night with burns on 75 percent of her body. The fourth woman, 49-year-old Sofía Castro Riglos, who suffered milder injuries, “is recovering and has a good prognosis,” María Rachid, a member of the Federación Argentina LGBT+, told the Buenos Aires Times. The Federación Argentina LGBT+ has described the attack as “one of the most abhorrent hate crimes of recent years.”

“When they left the room, as they were on fire, he hit them and pushed them back into the fire,” said Sergio Araujo, 36, who lives on the second floor of the building. “Five of us were trying to separate him from her so he’d stop hitting her,” Diego Brítez, 51, told the Herald.

The fire lead to the building being evacuated with a total of 30 people from the boarding house, of which seven were hospitalized for burns sustained in the incident. The man, identified as Justo Fernando Barrientos, who is in his 60s, was arrested and taken to the Argerich Hospital for treatment of an apparent self-inflicted neck wound, according to Buenos Aires’ emergency services. He was later discharged and is currently in police custody, the Herald reported.

This news comes after LGBTQIA+ communities in Argentina claim President Javier Milei, who took office in December 2023, has set the country back when it comes to progressive movements. Upon taking office, the right-wing libertarian president shut down the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity, banned the government’s use of gender-inclusive language and closed the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism. This political climate, LGBTQIA+ organizations say, has only fueled hateful rhetoric and took back some of the rights and safeties leaders in the community had fought for.

Milei posted on Instagram writing: “No my friend… telling the truth is not generating hate. Whether you hate the truth is another matter.” This has been reported El País as his way of addressing the fact that the government has received backlash for not identifying the attack as a hate crime.

“They were set on fire for being lesbians. They were set on fire for being poor lesbians. They were set on fire for being poor lesbians creating a community,” said a member of a neighborhood association called the Barracas Lesbian Assembly, while addressing hundreds demonstrators in front of the building on Monday. Local media reported witnesses as saying the suspect had regularly insulted the four women and had previously threatened to kill Cobas and Figueroa, El País reported.

Barrientos has not yet been charged, and it remains unclear whether prosecutors will include hate crime charges in addition to multiple murder charges, The Guardian reported.

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Argentina Buenos Aires hate crime latina lesbians lgbtq LGBTQIA violence against latinas Violence against women
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