Tragic Week (Argentina)

Tragic Week
Semana Tragica (Argentina) 01.jpg
Disturbances during Tragic Week
Date January 1919
Location Buenos Aires, Argentina
Also known as Semana Tr谩gica
Participants Argentine Anarchists, Patriotic League
Deaths 700

Tragic Week (Spanish: Semana Tr谩gica) was a series of riots and massacres that took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during the week of January 7, 1919. The riot was led by anarchists and communists, and was eventually crushed by the Argentine Federal Police under Luis Dellepiane and the intervention of the Argentine Army, Argentine Marine Corps and Argentine Navy.


From 1902 until 1909 the FORA (Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina) was founded by Italian immigrant Pietro Gori, an Italian anarchist of international renown)[citation needed] waged a long campaign of general strikes against the employers and against anti-labour legislation. In May 1904, a clash between workers and police left two dead and fifteen injured. In 1907, the feminist-anarchist league was established in Buenos Aires. Toward the end of this decade there arose a situation in which the brutality of the authorities and the militancy of the workers incited each other to greater heights, until, on May Day, 1909, a giant gathering marched through Buenos Aires and was broken up by the police, with 12 killed and a hundred wounded.[1] It was reported at the time that anarchists had provoked the violence.[2] Argentine President Jos茅 Figueroa Alcorta narrowly himself escaped death when an anarchist bomb was thrown at him while he was driving in Buenos Aires on 28 February 1908.[3] The government officials were again thrown into panic when a 19-year-old anarchist, Ukrainian immigrant Sim贸n Radowitzky, killed with a hand-held bomb the city's police chief, Ram贸n Falc贸n and his aide Alberto Lartigau, who were driving through Callao street in Buenos Aires on 15 November 1909. On 16 October 1909, bombs exploded at the Spanish consulate in the city of Rosario, injuring an anarchist and damaging the building.[4] In late 1909, as a result of Falc贸n's assassination the self-styled "Patriotic students" known as Juventud Autonomista was formed. On 25 May 1910, in an effort to disrupt the Argentine centennial celebrations in Buenos Aires, an anarchist gave a bomb to an unsuspecting boy to carry into a cathedral, the bomb however exploded prematurely and the boy was killed and another lost both arms.[5] On 28 June 1910 another bomb exploded in the Teatro Col贸n and 20 theatre-goers were injured and the Senate and Chamber of Deputies passed a bill providing for capital punishment for those anarchists responsible for causing death.[6] On 9 July 1916, an attempt to assassinate Argentine President Victorino de la Plaza was made by a gun-wielding self-confessed anarchist. The attempt was made while the president was reviewing a troop march past during celebrations of the one-hundred anniversary of Argentine independence.[7] On 9 February 1918, violent strikes took place across Argentina and regular troops were rushed to the affected areas after anarchists wrecked trains, destroyed tracks and burned carriages laden with wheat.[8]


The conflict began as a strike at the Vasena metal works, a British owned plant in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. The strike at first attracted no attention, but on January 3 the picketing workers fired on a group of policemen who were conducting wagonloads of metal to the Vasena works. Two days later a police sergeant died of his wounds. On January 7 an unrelated event took place: the maritime workers of the port of Buenos Aires voted a general strike for better hours and wages. That same day, at Vasena metal works, the police, who had laid a trap of cleverly planned crossfire, fought it out with the striking workers when they tried to stop a load of metal escorted by the police. Five workers were killed and twenty wounded.

The next day, Wednesday, the waterfront strike began: all ship movements, and all loading and unloading, came to a halt. On Thursday, funerals were held for the five workers who had been killed by the police. A procession of 150 mourners, some of them armed, followed the funeral coaches, and as they passed, they attacked property and burned an automobile, before reaching Lacroze, a British-owned tram station, which they attacked. The group then broke into the Convent of the Sacred Heart, at Yatay Street and Corrientes Avenue, and set the church on fire. As the group were attacking a store the police caught up with them, fired into the procession, and killed and wounded numerous demonstrators.

Mobs went loose all over the city. Groups overturned and burned streetcars and robbed sports shops for the guns inside. In the afternoon, at 3pm, 3,000 people stormed Lacroze Station. Violence also erupted in the Congress, where members of the Argentine Chamber of Deputies reportedly threw notebooks at each other, rather than taking action.

The funeral procession met a suburban train at a railroad crossing and broke every window in the carriages. At Vasena Workshop, angry crowds pushed garbage wagons against the doors to break them down and get at the British directors who were besieged inside. The British Minister appealed to the President Hip贸lito Yrigoyen for help. Yrigoyen gave the order to shoot to kill, but as the toll of dead and wounded mounted, the mobs became more frantic and destructive.

That night the Federaci贸n Obrera Regional Argentina (Argentine Regional Workers' Federation) met to consider police action and voted for a general strike for 24 hours throughout the city of Buenos Aires. On Friday there were no newspapers; markets, stores, hotels and bars were closed, and transportation and communication networks (including the telephone lines) were stopped.

A new participant in the massacres, the Argentine Patriotic League, emerged. Targeting the city's sizable Jewish population, the right wing League sought pogroms, and brought an ever-growing list of dead and wounded Jews to the newspaper columns. Mobs were running the streets, shouting "death to the Rusos," a reference to Argentine Jews, who were mainly Russian, and identified in the minds of those in the League and the like-minded as anarchists and Bolsheviks. The Russian Jewish sections of Buenos Aires were invaded, and terrified Jews were dragged from their homes, beaten, shot and killed; some escaped by pleading they were Italians.

Food shortages in the city became acute, and eggs that were selling for 90 cents a dozen in the morning reached 3 pesos (US$1.35) by evening. The railroad union voted to stop trains all over the country in a sympathy strike. The union ordered its members back to work, and issued a statement disclaiming all responsibility for Friday's killings.

The Montevideo police had informed the authorities of Buenos Aires that they had uncovered a Communist plot to seize both sides of R铆o de la Plata with the taking of the capitals of Argentina and Uruguay. On Sunday the police informed the press that they had broken into a private apartment where 40 persons, all of them Russian Jews, were in session as the "First Soviet of the Federal Republic of Argentine Soviets."

Placing the city under martial law, President Yrigoyen appointed Colonel Luis Dellepiane as the commander of riot control forces,[9] after which disturbances subsided. The 5th and 12th Cavalry Regiments arrived on 12 January, and 300 marines and a mountain artillery regiment also entered Buenos Aires.[10] On the morning of 13 January 1919, a group of anarchists attempted to seize arms and ammunition from a local police station but were forced to retreat after coming under fire from a marine detachment from the cruiser ARA San Martin.[11] The role of young army lieutenant Juan Domingo Peron, future president of Argentina, is disputed by historians.[12] The leftist Vanguardia newspaper claimed that over 700 deaths were recorded on Tragic Week, as well as 2,000 injured; residual violence and ongoing pacification efforts resulted in an estimated 300 more deaths in the subsequent weeks.[citation needed] Professor Patricia Marchak estimates the total number of workers killed in the uprising and immediate aftermath at more than 100.[13] The conservative La Naci贸n newspaper reported the number of workers killed in the uprising at around 100 and 400 injured. The police forces suffered three killed and 78 wounded. The unrest led to over 50,000 people being imprisoned.[14]


On 24 December 1927, anarchists planted bombs at two U.S. bank branches in Buenos Aires resulting in the multiple injuries of twenty bank staff and customers.[15] The Italian Consulate in Buenos Aires was bombed on 23 May 1928 and seven were killed and nearly 50 wounded in the anarchist bombing.[16] On 24 December 1929, 44-year-old Italian-born anarchist Gualterio Marinelli was killed in his attempt to assassinate Argentine president Hip贸lito Yrigoyen (who had ordered the army to suppress the metalworkers' strike of 1919) but he manages to wound two policemen.[17] On September 6, 1930, Yrigoyen was deposed in a military coup led by General Jos茅 F茅lix Uriburu. The Uriburu regime shut down Anarchist and Communist presses and made it difficult, if not impossible, for anarchists to spread their ideals.[18] Uriburu ordered the mass deportation of Spanish and Italian workers that had joined the anarchists and the changing political, economic and social conditions "led to the decline of this movement, particularly in its manifestation within the labor movement".[19] Nevertheless, on 20 January 1931, three anarchist bombs went off at three strategic places on the Buenos Aires railway network, killing three and wounding 17.[20]

See also


  • Godio, Julio (1985). La Semana Tr谩gica de enero de 1919 . Buenos Aires, Argentina: Hyspam茅rica. (in Spanish)
  • Pigna, Felipe (2006). Los mitos de la historia argentina: De la ley S谩enz Pe帽a a los albores del peronismo. Buenos Aires: Editorial Planeta. (in Spanish)
  • Schiller, Herman (2005). Momentos de luchas populares. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Instituto Movilizador de Fondos Cooperativos. (in Spanish)
  • Galasso, Norberto (2006). Per贸n: Formaci贸n, ascenso y ca铆da (1893-1955) (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Colihue. ISBN 950-581-399-6.
  • H茅bert, John Raymond (1972). The Tragic Week of January, 1919, in Buenos Aires: Background, Events, Aftermath. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University.


  1. ^ "Buenos Aires Treagedy. Two Police Officials Killed". Evening Post. Wellington NZ. 16 November 1909. p. 7.
  2. ^ "An Anarchists' Riot". Bush Advocate. 3 May 1909.
  3. ^ "New Anarchist Plot. Two Arrests and Raid on Bomb Factory in Buenos Ayres". The Evening News. Providence RI. 11 July 1911.
  4. ^ "Bombs Exploded in Spanish Consulate". Evening Post. 18 October 1909.
  5. ^ "Bombs in Argentina. Boy Blown to Atoms". Evening Post. 3 June 1910.
  6. ^ "Find Bomb Factory. Argentine Capital Stirred by Uncovering Anarchists Lair". The Gazette Times. Pittsburgh. 10 July 1911.
  7. ^ "Effort Made to Kill President of Argentine". The Gazette Times. 10 July 1916.
  8. ^ "Anarchy Reigns in Argentina When General Rail Strike Brings Riots". The Telegraph-Herald. Dubuque, Iowa. 10 February 1918.
  9. ^ "Bolsheviki Invade Argentina". Los Angeles Times. 11 January 1919.
  10. ^ "Acts of Anarchy Continue". The News and Courier. 13 January 1919.
  11. ^ H茅bert, John Raymond (1972). The Tragic Week of January, 1919, in Buenos Aires: Background, Events, Aftermath (PhD thesis). Georgetown University. p. 159.
  12. ^ Galasso, Norberto (2005). Per贸n: Formaci贸n, ascenso y ca铆da (1893 - 1955) (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Colihue. pp. 56鈥59. ISBN 950-581-399-6.
  13. ^ Marchak, Patricia (1999). God's Assassins: State Terrorism in Argentina in the 1970s. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-0773520134.
  14. ^ Ward, Dana. "Timeline of Anarchism in Argentina". Anarchy Archives. Pitzer College.
  15. ^ "U.S. Banks Bombed in Buenos Aires. Branches Of National City And Boston Concern Are Wrecked". The Sun. 25 December 1927.
  16. ^ "7 Killed by Bomb in Buenos Aires". The Sun. 24 May 1928.
  17. ^ "Argentine President Escapes Assassin. Three Shots Fired at Car of Yrigoyen in Capital Assailant, Killed by Guards, Said to Be an Italian Anarchist". Daily Boston Globe. 25 December 1929.
  18. ^ Horowitz, Joel (1990). Argentine unions, the state & the rise of Per贸n, 1930-1945. Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, University of California. p. 13. ISBN 9780877251767.
  19. ^ Alba, V铆ctor (1968). Politics and the Labor Movement in Latin America. Stanford University Press. p. 44. ISBN 9780804701938.
  20. ^ "Blasts Kill Three in Buenos Aires". New York Times. 21 January 1931.