On January 18, 2020, in Argentina, a group of heartless punched and kicked an 18-year-old boy to the ground until he ended his life. For those thugs the incident can be very expensive. The Prosecutor’s Office and the family’s lawyer have requested life imprisonment for all. Without exceptions. It would be the way to do justice to the only son of Silvano Báez and Graciela Sosa, a humble couple of Paraguayan migrants who settled in Argentina years ago with the hope of improving their quality of life. The event shocked the entire country, and even reached the ears of Pope Francis in the Vatican who, moved by the tragic event, did not hesitate to telephone the relatives to show their regret.
The victim, Fernando Baez SosaLike many other young people his age, he enjoyed a vacation in Villa Gesell, a small tourist town bathed by great beaches located in the province of Buenos Aires. The only thing going through his head was the idea of entering that same course at the Law School of the Argentine capital.
The reason for his murder? No one finds it logical. The origin may have been an exchange of outbursts with some slight brush or push in between, of the many that occur in a discotheque like La Briche full of young people, some of them to the point of alcohol or other substances. The worst thing was that the members of that ruthless herd, who played in a rugby team, took the law into their own hands in the street when they saw their target alone and having an ice cream.
Náutico Arsenal Zárate players
Villa Gesell fills up during the months of December and January with tourists from Buenos Aires, the same as many other towns that have Mar de Plata as the nerve center of their vacations during the southern summer. As fate would have it, that fateful night a group of rugby players from an amateur team called Náutico Arsenal Zárate, a provincial club 90 kilometers north of Buenos Aires, with a boy who has just finished his studies at a Marianistas school in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Caballito. At first it was said that the group of aggressors was made up of ten young people between the ages of 18 and 21, although both of them were finally released and have escaped trial.
Once the brawl started, the club’s security members quite explicitly invited the rioters out. They are very used to these types of incidents. A security camera shows that, around 4:32 a.m., the victim left the premises and a little later his assailants did through the emergency door after being expelled from the bochinche. They were in a group, and they were the closest thing to a kind of herd of hotheads.
Without any provocation, they kicked and punched Fernando Báez while he was having an ice cream while hurling racist insults at him. The most active, according to the recorded video images and the representative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, was Matías Benicelli. A violent kick to the victim’s head when he was already kneeling on the ground could have been the cause of the fatal outcome.
nobody could help him
Nobody helped Fernando Báez or, rather, nobody could. His friends were attacked by the other members of the group, while the rest of the people who were passing through the street at that time fled in terror at the unusual aggressiveness of the members of the pack. After an avalanche of blows coming from all sides, the victim fell to the ground mortally wounded..
The doctors who treated him shortly after found him lying behind a car with no vital signs. The autopsy was conclusive: “Citizen Báez Sosa Fernando José has died traumatically as a result of traumatic cardiac arrest due to neurogenic shock resulting from multiple head injuries that caused massive intraparenchymal intracranial hemorrhage without bone fracture.
At that very moment, the aggressors did not become aware of the consequences of their atrocities. In fact, they all went to sleep in the apartment they had rented, except for a couple of them who chose to eat something at a nearby hamburger. The next day, the police knocked on his door. They seemed surprised. When asked about Baez’s death, they shrugged their shoulders.. An agent saw some blood-stained sneakers and the group’s initial reaction was that they belonged to a certain Pablo Ventura, another young man completely unrelated to the beating and who practiced rowing in Zárate, the town where they lived.
The fact is that the boy spent three days in jail until he was released. Security cameras did not locate him in the area during the wild fight. However, the images from those same cameras, along with the accounts of various witnesses, WhatsApp conversations of the defendants, blood-stained clothing and DNA evidenceserved to identify the ‘rugbiers’ and sit them in the accused’s dock.
The news shook the conscience of the Argentines. Also those of the world of rugby. The values of which he presumes had been buried in the outskirts of a beach disco. Pope Francis himself had shown years before that he was captivated by the essence of a “tough” sport like rugby, but with “great loyalty” and “respect”..
The pontiff was no stranger to that tragedy in Villa Gesell. On February 2, 2022, he phoned the parents of the brutally murdered young man to tell them that he was “very close” to the family and that “always” would accompany them in their pain. Perhaps it was because of the Pope’s interest in this matter, or perhaps not, but the truth is that nothing is the same anymore because forgotten debates such as classism, security and the massification of nightclubs have been reopened.
Rugby in Argentina is a sport that has been culturally linked to men since its origins. This discriminatory practice is usually typical of private schools. Juan Branz, a PhD in Communication from the National University of La Avocado and author of ‘Machos de verdad. Masculinities, sport and class in Argentina’, he is blunt in an interview published by ‘Página12’: “Those who killed that kid [Fernando] they were doing what they understand they should do. It was not, as they say, an act of savagery. It is a fact that occurs within a conscious and rational system. Even premeditated, not death, but the attack, the fight, showing the other who is stronger, who is more of a man”.
If there is an authoritative voice to speak of values in Argentina, that is the former captain of Los Pumas Agustín Pichot. In his opinion, one of the problems with rugby is that violence has become natural. He tells that he suffered in his own flesh accepting some hazing naturally such as “they shit on you or bite you until you can’t sit down”. Or having your hair cut “because I loved my hair very much, and there is nothing funny about that.”
He also remembers asking his 18-year-old daughter what she thought of rugby players after the Fernando Báez crime. “They are patoteros, quilomberos and aggressive,” she told him. Her reaction was to send a message to the Pope apologizing “in what was my responsibility because, ultimately, I had been one of those who had transmitted that naturalization.”
And it is that Pichot vehemently denies that the episodes of violence in the world of rugby are isolated events. “They say isolated facts, but when there are a lot of them, we are talking about a cultural issue, and that is where you have to work a lot”, he blurted out in an interview on a YouTube channel.
Until the day of the trial, the defendants have been confined for the last three years in a penitentiary center in Dolores, a small town in the province of Buenos Aires. It was right there where the Oral Criminal Court number 1, made up of magistrates Christian Rabaia and Emiliano Lazzari, and chaired by magistrate María Antonia Castro, began the oral hearing on January 2 and where more than a hundred witnesses.
The magistrate herself informed them in voice who were accused of a crime of “Doubly aggravated homicide for its commission for treachery and for the premeditated competition of two or more people in competition with a crime of minor injuries”in reference to the beatings suffered by Fernando Báez’s friends when they tried to help him.
In practice, Argentine legislation classifies this crime as life imprisonment, a kind of reviewable permanent prison in the Spanish style, only that The penalty could not be reviewed until the effective completion of 35 years, something that in Spain can be done from the age of 25. The prisoner can only be released if he passes a series of tests that guarantee that he is suitable for his social reintegration. If the magistrate does not appreciate the intent to kill in the defendants, the applicable crime in that case would be homicide in a fight, which contemplates a maximum sentence of six years in prison.
The prosecutors in charge of the case, Gustavo García and Juan Manuel Dávila, were firm and forceful in their final argument. They stated bluntly that the eight people who sat in the defendant’s dock were “co-authors” of the murder of Fernando Báez. They were especially harsh on Máximo Thomsen, whom they accused of making sure his victim didn’t get up off the ground while they were beating him.
They also made it clear that the exculpatory versions of the defendants and their tears were never believed. Neither are their apologies or their regrets. “Everyone has cried, but only when their relatives testified, not because of what happened before”Davila snapped.
Solidarity with parents
During the days of the trial, endless signs of solidarity with the young man’s parents have been seen in the vicinity of the courtroom. On the fences surrounding the building were bouquets of flowers, lighted candles, photos of the defendants accompanied by the caption “murderers” and posters calling for life imprisonment. Others were very illuminating the rage with which the Argentine people have experienced this execrable crime: “Dry tears, zero empathy, lying murderers, worse than a racist, arrogant and violent animal. 44 million against you”.
Little had helped some previous statements by the founder of Náutico Arsenal Zárate Rugby, Bernardo Ditges on Radio con Vos. “It was an accident, and to say that these guys are part of a group that went to kill, is total bullshit.”
Ditges’s words come to corroborate the “zero empathy” that appeared on the posters. Her frivolity is even more evident in the heartbreaking statements of Fernando Báez’s mother at the end of one of the oral hearing sessions. “When I was in court I repeatedly saw how my son was beaten. I saw how they raised his hands and, As a mother, I felt that desire to throw myself on my son’s body to cover him so they would stop hitting him.”, he confessed to the media.