Monday, 8 October 2012

La Nación: Justice still due one year after the murder of gay Naval Sergeant

[Note by P. Attard: I have translated this article because I have found no reference to the case in English. This a very sad and important story. "Gay" Marriage was introduced in Argentina in July 2010 and Octavio Romero was going to be the first member of an Argentine Armed Force to marry a man. He was a sergeant at the Prefectura which is equivalent to a Naval Coast Guard / Frontier Police Force.]

Octavio Romero was murdered and his body was found in the River [Rio de la Plata] soon after asking permission to marry; Gabriel Gersbach, his partner with whom he lived for 12 years, has asked to be the plaintiff to know the status of the case
Monday June 11, 2012 | 18:11, By Veronica Dema, La Nación

Octavio, the slain officer (left), with Gabriel. Photo: File / Facebook Gabriel Gersbach

A year after the death of Octavio Romero, the first officer who worked at the Argentine Naval Police and who was going to become the first uniformed force to marry another man, his partner, his family and hundreds of friends and acquaintances are still seeking justice. Once the marriage equality law was approved, Romero asked his superiors for permission to marry Gabriel Gersbach, the person with whom he lived for 12 years. He went home happy with the news that they could get married in December; according to Gersbach when interviewed by La Nación. That was not possible: a short time later, Romero disappeared from his home and his body was found six days later, naked and beaten, in the waters of the River Plate, close to Vicente Lopez [situated on the outskirts of the city of Buenos Aires], paradoxically, the banks he had to guard.

His partner, since then, seeks response from the justice, which does not allow access to the case since he is not considered as a family member. He was denied the opportunity to be the plaintiff twice, a legal tool that would allow him to know the progress of the case, to provide data leading to the clarification of the facts and, in turn, to exert a kind of control.

Photo: File / Courtesy Gabriel Gersbach

"There is no evidence to question him as a suspect, rather it seems just a tool to keep him away. It is violating the principle of innocence governing criminal procedures," explains Virginia Soria, one of the counselors in the case tied to the Civil Association for Equality and Justice (ACIJ) . So much so, they are considering going to the Supreme Court if they are again denied the possibility of being the plaintiff in the case.

In the interview with La Nación, Gersbach,  cries at times, looks at the photos, and shows objects they both had, speaks of the persecutions endured by his partner within the Force, the wedding preparations which were truncated, reviews the actions of the Justice and raises doubts about the progress of the investigation. 

One year after losing his partner, he is still looking for answers.

- I touch these things and they give me chills. He shows the diploma certificate: NCO Naval School, swimming for 520 meters continuously. He was a great swimmer, what a contradiction: he was found dead in the water. How can it be, right? I have the  Faculty enrollment book, I didn't open it again.

Photo: File / Facebook Gabriel Gersbach

- Has he always worked at the Naval Police since you met? 
Yes, but at first he said that he worked for a shipping company, in an office because he saw my profile - that I did not like weapons, as a complete "anti military". But soon after he told me, he said he had hidden it because he thought I was not going to like him. "Yes, I do not," I said. But I like you, it's all good.

He told me it was for a while, but time went on, he was working in the coastguard building as an officer and was "damn", sent to the streets with tear gas shields. Imagine in 2001 [during the Argentine financial crisis] .

- What tasks did he have to perform?
They sent him to the streets for law and order [security], sometimes, to suppress marches. It was difficult then and he hated doing that, he hated it. So he always tried to "avoid" from being on the street armed with a bullet-proof jacket. He did not like it.

As time passed he went on to Management Control, he was a secretary there and it got a little better, he wasn't sent out into the street. It was there that he felt better. We started to travel to Brazil where I had lived. He fell in love with Brazil, so much so that he asked for a scholarship to become a Portuguese translator and did it in record time. He also studied English and started a career in international relations at Salvador through a scholarship from the Naval Police. He wanted to leave, he was interested in entering the Foreign Ministry and was going to become a diplomat and was on his way to get there.

- Did he ask for permission to marry after the introduction of marriage equality?
Yes, he said, now I'll talk to them, since many heads already knew. It's because when you work for a Force it is like they are your family, they need to know where you live, with whom, when do you go on vacation, where do you go, and you have to ask for permission.

- So they knew you were living together
Yes, they knew. Anyway I could have been just a friend. But he did not hide things, he was very sincere. At his workplace, in management control and on that floor everyone knew he was gay.

- And how did they treat him?
From time to time someone hurried him. Once he was taken to a room and they said, 'If you're a pooftah, suck my dick'. I don't know who they were, I wasn't given any names, but he said it to me, his friends, and my family. He was worried. Once he found the words 'Octavio Romero faggot' painted in bathroom. Offenses. He was upset about the ignorance, disrespect and intolerance.

- How did he tell the bosses about the wedding?
One day he came happy back home; he said that he had told the heads and everything was fine. That one knew already and then told the others too. He told them, that I was his partner and asked permission to marry me: because they can't run away and marry: they have to get permission from the authorities and, by protocol, they in turn will investigate the partner to whom one is getting married. Then he told me and my family that they would investigate us, and that they could even tap our phones. They told him that he shouldn't even think about getting married in uniform, which he hadn't thought of doing.

A ministerial decree (No. 200 of February 21, 2008), revoked the existing norms in the Armed Forces, which requested that a necessary authorization or permission of the superior was required for marriage. This is not the case for Octavio Romero according to Gabriel.

Octavio, the slain officer (right), with Gabriel. Photo: File / Facebook Gabriel Gersbach

- How they did they behave with you after the murder?
There is only one boss who was very good, he said he they were going to provide a naval police escort to the body, they would put a plaque in Curuzú Cuatiá, from where he was. He was well-behaved, came to the funeral and everything. The others have behaved very badly with me, which I didn't deserve, they didn't consider me as a family.

- Are they involved in the investigation?
Formally, no. I had two raids at my place, because we lived together and I was the prime suspect. I was considered as a suspect but but they found no evidence against me and found out that I was not where Octavio appeared, but I was working. I presented to be plaintiff and they would not let me be because I'm not a direct family member and I was a suspect. They have rejected me twice so far so we do not know whether or not the case is proceeding.

The Attorney General's Office reported to La Nación that the case entered in the Office for Criminal Investigation No. 40, under Estela Andrades de Segura, and is advancing in the collection of evidence and that there are 13 bodies involved due to the magnitude of the investigation.

- Are you still in contact with someone in the Force?
There's a guy who was a friend of Octavia and became my friend too. I ask every so often and he says that nobody talks about anything, no one mentions the subject. It's like a secret. Nobody misses him? I ask this guy. Yes, he says, but they say nothing. Nobody suspected someone from there? Yes, but nothing is spoken, the issue was buried.


His network of friends remain active on one website for justice for Octavio and they also created a Facebook page. This Wednesday at 21:00 there will be a tribute and call for justice in Brandon House

"I'll miss you, friend," Mariano's letter to Octavio

More information on the blog Heartbreak Tango

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