The housing problem and the controversy over immigration
[Translation of an article from La Nación of Buenos Aires for December 10. See original here.]
by Maia Jastreblansky
The origins of the conflict. The violent incidents in Villa Soldati, which have resulted in three deaths so far, have their origins in the serious housing shortage, which has worsened in the southern area of the national capital.
According to the Instituto de la Vivienda de la Ciudad (IVC – City Housing Institute), some 500,000 people in the city are in need of housing assistance. There is a housing emergency resulting from the marked growth of makeshift dwellings.
In the area surrounding the Indoamericano Park, an important green area for the city and the epicenter of the occupations, are Villa 20 and Los Piletones. It is in the context of a housing crisis that the residents of those surrounding areas decided to cross over into the park and begin dividing it up into lots for the construction of new dwellings.
As a result of the occupation, the Buenos Aires government sought to recover the public space and on Tuesday Buenos Aires penal judge María Cristina Nazar issued an expulsion order to the federal police.
Violent expulsion and two deaths. In a joint operation with the metropolitan police, federal security forces on Tuesday carried out the expulsion of families who had occupied Indoamericano Park.
Once the operation was finished, some of those removed from Villa Soldati, who were residents of Villa 20, used rocks and burning tires to drive out the police, who responded by reinforcing their efforts, which resulted in an increase in violence.
The incidents left two dead from gunshot wounds, Bernardo Salgueiro, a resident of Villa 20, and Rosemarie Puja, of the Los Piletones neighborhood.
The victims had been struck with 8mm pellets, a type of ammunition compatible with the shotguns used by the federal police, but also with the homemade weapons commonly known as “tumberas.” So no hypothesis has been discarded in the investigations to identify the perpetrators of the shootings.
The government made available two high-ranking and three lower-ranking officers of the federal police, who had participated in the expulsion, and Cristina Kirchner ordered the internal investigation intensified in order to determine ultimate responsibilities.
The Justice Department ordered the confiscation of 260 weapons used by uniformed federal and metopolitan police who participated in the violent incidents on Tuesday to determine if, as neighbors claimed, they fired lead bullets.
Confrontations between neighbors and another victim killed. Beginning on Wednesday morning, close to 1,000 families from Buenos Aires neighborhoods and adjoining suburbs, most of them foreigners, returned to settle on the lots they had marked out in the Indoamericano Park.
The neighbors from Villa 20 and the surrounding settlements were joined by people from the adjoining neighborhoods of the province of Buenos Aires and different points of the capital who, according to demonstrators, decided to move to the area in question, indicating that they could not afford to pay the rent in their neighborhoods.
The occupiers organized and formed a delegation, which drew up a registry of the neighbors who were in fact from the area and who were in need of housing. They stated as well that they hoped the authorities could negotiate a plan for decent housing so they could leave the location.
Meanwhile, occupation of the Indoamericano Park generated its own internal conflicts: violent disputes over the land that had been divided into lots, over their sale, at prices ranging from 600 to 1000 pesos [about 150 to 250 US dollars], and charges that some occupiers already have their own housing elsewhere.
The conflict worsened as a result of a violent confrontation between residents of buildings in Villa Lugano and Villa Soldati , who oppose the encampments, and the occupiers of the area.
At the most chaotic moment, a young man was recorded on television firing a gun. Sources in the federal police say the action will be treated as an attempted homicide.
The aggressor was said to be a member of the Huracán barrabrava [group of young soccer fans given to violence].
At a time when the area was without police guards in the midst of the incidents, the death of a Bolivian man was reported. Others were also injured.
Disputes over immigration policy. In his first public appearance after the violent occurences, [Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio] Macri made controversial statements in which he linked the housing conflict with immigration, which he called “out of control.” In addition, he associated it with the problems of crime and narcotrafficking. The Chief of Staff [of the national government], Aníbal Fernández, said Macri’s explanations were “astonishing” and described them as “xenophobic.”
Meanwhile, the Bolivian embassy protested and demanded a public apology for the comments, which they said “generate a climate of xenophobia.”
According to official figures, Argentina has the greatest number of immigrants among South American nations. A census carried out by the city finds that in Villa 31 de Retiro, 65 percent of the inhabitants are foreigners. [Villa 31, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, is located within the Retiro district, a wealthy part of the city.]
In May of this year, the government enacted Migration Law No. 25.871, stating that Argentina “has revised the objectives of its migration policy within the framework of regional Latin American integration and respect for human rights and the mobility of migrants, which results in an ever greater commitment to mutual cooperation among the diverse states within Mercosur [Mercado Común del Sur – Common Market of the South].” The text of the law stresses the promotion of “the integration into Argentine society of persons who have been accepted as residents and the effective recognition of the rootedness of foreigners in the national territory.”
Among the most important points of the law is the establishment of the rights of foreigners in the country, even those here on an irregular basis. In such cases, according to the law, hospital care and the enrollment of immigrants in public and private schools are guaranteed.
Controversy over police actions. During the expulsion on Tuesday, in which two people were killed, the federal and the metropolitan police worked together.
In the following days, friction developed between the Buenos Aires and the national governments over handling of the situation. While Macri asked the president for federal police presence, the government asserted that “the local government has jurisdiction.”
“The metropolitan police do not have the operational capacity for this type of activity. If I had the federal police, I would give the order to clear the park,” is the argument by the head of the Buenos Aires government.
Attorney General Julio Alak, stated, “The federal police complied with the judicial expulsion order and turned the area over to the metropolitan police with no occupiers present.”
Aníbal Fernández confirmed in a press conference that he will not send in the federal police.