BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The acquittal of 13 people accused in the disappearance of a young woman who was allegedly kidnapped and forced into prostitution for “VIP clients” spread shock and outrage across Argentina on Wednesday, prompting street protests and calls by political leaders to impeach the three judges who delivered the verdict.
Many called the ruling a setback for Argentina’s efforts to combat sex trafficking, which began largely as a result of Susana Trimarco’s one-woman, decade-long quest to find her missing daughter, Maria de los Angeles “Marita” Veron. Her attorneys said she would pursue appeals.
Trimarco’s search exposed an underworld of organized crime figures who operate brothels with protection from authorities across Argentina.
Security Minister Nilda Garre called the verdict “a tremendous slap in the face for the prospect of justice.”
“It’s not only a reversal for this particular case of the kidnapping and disappearance of Marita Veron, that made society feel deeply the drama of this kind of 21st century slavery, covered up for decades by the customs of a network of machista culture,” she said.
It also “renders invisible the suffering of the victims of human-trafficking networks and sexual exploitation, who gave such courageous testimony during the trial, and consecrates judicial impunity for these crimes,” Garre said.
Other officials also rallied around Veron’s mother, denouncing the verdicts and praising government efforts to save women from prostitution.
“Today, more than ever, we stand united with Susana and her family in their quest to find Marita and we honor the courageous work she has done to defend the victims and the survivors of human trafficking in Argentina and all over the world,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Ana Duque-Higgins said.
President Cristina Fernandez personally called Trimarco to express her surprise and outrage.
“I thought I would find her destroyed, but I found her more together than ever, more committed to keep fighting,” Fernandez said. “I told her, ‘Susana you can always count on me,’ and she told me ‘President, don’t worry, I’m going to keep fighting.”
Fernandez also said that while she can’t prove it, she’s sure that judicial corruption influenced the verdicts, showing the need to reform how judges are picked and allowed to remain in their jobs. Political rivals have called this campaign an attack on judicial independence.