Argentine anti-riot police clashed with a group of protesters on Thursday while evicting them from makeshift homes on a contested property south of the capital, Buenos Aires. Six police officers were injured and some forty people were arrested, according to authorities.
Hundreds of families had been living in shacks on the land in the town of Guernica for more than three months, in a reflection of the growing poverty and lack of housing for many people in Argentina. The pandemic and lockdowns aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 have aggravated Argentina's economic problems.
The owners of the occupied land in Guernica had gone to court on several occasions to reclaim the property, but the eviction order was repeatedly delayed since the government of president Alberto Fernandez is divided on the issue, whether private property, as guaranteed in the Argentine constitution, is really above the right of housing and decent living conditions for people in need, as has been repeatedly suggested by the Argentine born Pope Francis, according to the sponsors in support of the homeless.
In effect radical members of the government have been accused and filmed supporting and helping illegal occupations, grabbing of land taking place in at least twelve provinces as reported by the Argentina media,, and Guernica together with the breaking into a prime land farm in Entre Rios had become emblematic symbols of the ongoing controversy.
Land from the Army and the Catholic Church, have been occupied in Patagonia, and breaking in to abandoned houses or summer homes by squatters has become quite extended in those areas where elected officials, reluctant magistrates and police, have appealed to bureaucratic arguments in their non response to legitimate claims.
The fact is that much of this squatter's epidemics is closely linked to La Campora, a political grouping led by the son of Cristina Fernandez, Máximo Kirchner, who has become a master in double talk in populist terms by presenting the controversy as a dispute between the rich and the poor or the the haves too much with the haves too little or nothing.
Besides there is a young lawyer, Juan Grabois, which receives government funds, and is a very close friend of Pope Francis whom he meets with no need of previous agenda or protocol, that commands a movement sponsoring the occupation of land for the poor and needy, invoking personal interpretations of papal encyclicals quotes.
Grabois who preaches land reform, organic farming, and sixties political jargon was responsible for the occupation of a large farm in the province of Entre Rios, which belongs to the family of a former head of the Argentine Rural Society and ex Agriculture minister of conservative ex president Mauricio Macri.
However dollar strapped Argentina, and in the need of good relations with the IMF, the lender of last resource for countries on the brink of bankruptcy, had to heed to not encouraging comments from the multilateral body representatives, private sector lobbies and farmers' associations, the backbone of the country's economy and only supplier of foreign dollars with its agriculture commodities exports.
So enough is enough, and on Thursday riot police with drones and helicopters moved to recover the Guernica private property land which was done relatively peacefully, since most families (over 600) had left on the promise of the populist governor of the province of Buenos Aires, and Cristina Fernandez protégé, Axel Kicillof, of an 80 dollars a month rent subsidy for a few months and a future plot of land.
A few resisted throwing stones, sticks and an occasional Molotov bomb, but the police presence was overwhelming. Bulldozers moved in to demolish the improvised hundreds of shacks made out of wood, cardboard, sheet metal and polyethylene.
In Entre Rios the eviction was more civilized and expedient, but the Etchevehere family has anticipated they will begin legal actions against the Pope's messenger Grabois, the federal and Entre Rios province governments for their complete lack of action when the grabbing of their land, and the fact that members of both governments were involved in the squatter operation, breaking in to the farmstead, and sleeping in my bed, using my toilet and all my personal belongings, plus destroying the garden to begin an organic garden.
Given that the Argentine government is well aware that agriculture and farming are the suppliers of the needed dollars to put the economy and the country back on their feet, the Entre Rios events are a powerful message for all sides involved.
But so serious is the situation that the Executive committee of the Argentine Episcopal Conference was forced to make a public release condemning land grabbing and occupations, but also condemning those who take advantage of the extreme necessities of the poorest to use them to their financial benefit and political patronizing.
Obviously the communiqué must of have been consulted with the Pope, and in very specific language states nothing justifies the intrusion and violence at the cost of violence of others' rights.