A 130 hectares city park and open space taken over by squatters in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, the scene in recent days of violent incidents in which at least four people were killed and scores injured, was calm on Sunday following on the arrival of security forces sent by the federal government.
The thousands of squatters who took over the Indo-American Park in the Villa Soldati neighbourhood to the south of Buenos Aires received with applause the officers deployed to guarantee security in the area. The squatters are living in tents and improvised structures made out of cardboard, plastic bags and plywood.
Large swaths of the park has been divided into precarious plot claims with sticks and ropes by the roughly 1,500 families who have camped and promise not to leave until the Buenos Aires city government provides them with decent housing.
But not only the demand for housing was behind the several days rioting triggered when shocked neighbours requested city officials to evict squatters from the green space, most of them until a few weeks ago undocumented residents from neighbouring countries (mainly Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Chile), who were given a chance to clear their situation with recent legislation sponsored by the administration of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Without the proper police resources to evict the squatters since the city of Buenos Aires and its mayor Mauricio Macri do not have special forces or equipment, the attempt turned into deadly rioting between unprepared law enforcement officers, furious neighbours who took it to their hands to protect their turf and squatters desperately fighting for a chance to have a plot of land where to build their home.
The Conservative Macri is a strong contender for next year’s presidential election and figures among the short hate-list of Mrs Kirchner and her 2011 aspirations.
No wonder then that during the rioting with guns, iron bars, sticks, stones and taking advantage of December 10, Human Rights Day solemn celebration Mrs. Kirchner attacked those who favour repression to dialogue, who appeal to xenophobic language (Macri made some unfortunate pejorative remarks about Paraguayans and Bolivians and everyday crime) when all Argentines descend from immigrants and who seem to forget the strong Indo-American roots of Argentina.
Meantime Macri was desperately imploring from Mrs. Kirchner to send the federal police which are trained to combat rioting and extreme situations and because it is the government’s duty to impose law and order. The reply was that the Kirchner governments loath repression and don’t practice it.
Finally several rounds of negotiations took place between Macri and his city team with cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez and Interior minister Florencio Randazzo, both strong candidates for the top cynical and sarcastic comments prize.
Neither side (city or federal government) in the exhausting negotiations accepted responsibility for the situation, but when the attrition seemed pointless the government sent in special forces to pacify and fence off the park from the neighbourhood hopefully preventing any future clashes with the squatters, who anyway have said they won’t move out until given a solution to their housing demand.
Apparently the federal government has promised out-of-the-city plots of land for the park squatter on condition the city of Buenos Aires then builds proper houses, for which Mr. Macri does not have the resources.
Politically the situation for Mr. Macri couldn’t be worse: a clean eviction job has turned into a a big mess that will alienate the poor and homeless in Argentina which are a significant percentage; besides he has been unable to deliver to the law-abiding, good citizens of Buenos Aires and to make PR even more damaging he only recently again married with a charming lady but has since been the cover of gossip magazines, television talk-shows and all the rich and famous paraphernalia.
Not a very promising prospect for a political figure and presidential hopeful who had to blend descendents of Europeans with the Indo-American roots.
Further exploiting the situation Mrs Kirchner announced the creation of a Security Ministry which will bring together the Federal Police, the Gendarmerie (responsible for border patrolling) and the Coast Guard.
A well equipped force stronger than the depleted and discouraged armed forces. The interim appointed minister is Defence secretary Nidia Garré who sent a strong message in a long Sunday interview with a government supported newspaper.
“Neither during the government of Néstor Kirchner nor now with Cristina suppression was used to deal with social clashes or conflicts said Ms Garré who called mayor Macri a “racist” for arguing that it was necessary to tighten immigration policies to fight crime in the context of the ongoing conflict at the Indo-American Park.
Furthermore, Garré considered that all these problems must be resolved in compliance with the Constitution, laws, and human rights.
Finally asked about Macri's claims for a military intervention to resolve the situation in Villa Soldati neighbourhood, Garré said that seeking the intervention of the military is clearly part of a concept that was already tried in Argentina, and ended up with the military forces leading a brutal genocide”.