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‘Viva Perón, Viva Macri!’

‘Viva Perón, Viva Macri!’

The first statue of former Argentine president Juan Domingo Perón in Buenos Aires was presented yesterday. Curiously, a celebration of the iconic leader – 120 years after he was born on 8th October 1895 – turned into a election rally of non-Peronist presidential candidate, Mauricio Macri.

Macri led the unveiling of a new statue of Juan Domingo Perón yesterday, erected more than 40 years after the president, who was elected into office three times, died in 1974.


Photo by Reilly Ryan

“Some people use the title ‘Peronist’ to manipulate people, I am not one of those,” Macri told the crowd, before going on to say that he wanted to work against poverty and towards urbanising the villas (shantytowns) in Buenos Aires. “I want to encourage Peronists to come together, and work for the dream that is Argentina. So many people are suffering,” Macri said. He went on to explain that: “Peronism is not arrogance or pride. Peronism is social justice, fighting for equality, and against poverty in Argentina.”

Cristian Ritondo, vice president of the Buenos Aires legislative branch and member of Macri’s PRO party, initiated the project to erect the statue. Speaking at yesterday’s event, he referred to Macri as: “the future president of Argentina, the hope for change.”

Union leader Gerónimo Vanegas picked up on the rhetoric of change – the name of Macri’s political alliance, ‘Cambiemos’, translates as ‘Let’s Change – aiming his speech at the less fortunate Peronists. “Those of us who know what it´s like to be poor, we know how important it is to change this country.” He ended his speech linking arms with the presidential hopeful and proclaiming: “Viva Perón, viva Macri!


Macri and Perón (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

The Resurrection of Perón

After the speeches came the unveiling of the statue. Local sculptor Carlos Alberto Benavidez´s five metre-tall bronze monument depicts Perón holding up his arms triumphantly, as he was known to do when saluting the Argentine people during public appearances.

The location of the statue is loaded with symbolism. It stands in Plaza Agustín P. Justo, within eyesight of both Casa Rosada and the headquarters of the General Workers’ Confederation, representative of Perón’s link between politics and labour unions.

It is also a stone’s throw from the Plaza de Mayo, where in 1955 Perón was the target of an aerial bombardment carried out by Argentine naval air force, killing more than 300 people. Bullet holes from that day continue to scar the buildings across the road from the statue.

The aftermath of explosions on Av. Paseo Colón in the 1955 attempted coup against Perón

The aftermath of explosions on Av. Paseo Colón in the 1955 attempted coup against Perón

It’s not hard to imagine Perón turning in his grave at the sight of Macri – traditionally a vocal anti-Peronist – presenting his statue.

For decades, Peronism has been a dominant and divisive force in Argentine politics and society; for some, Perón is the father of Argentine politics, to others he’s a tyrant or fascist. This party explains the absence until now of a monument to such an important historical figure in the capital.

In fact, the monument has been a long time coming. In 1986, a motion was passed to begin the process. It took until 2005 to decide on a location, and after that there were more delays choosing a sculptor. The process then seemed to stagnate, as financials hurdles challenged the project again and again, despite Peronist governments being in power, and in 2014, the PRO-led legislature of Buenos Aires decided to erect a statue with the city´s own funds. Macri, still mayor of the city, is the relevant authority to preside over the occasion.

However, the timing of the ceremony, and it’s politically-charged nature, likely owes more to campaign strategy. According to political consultant Carlos Fara, this was was a tactical move by Macri to bridge the Peronist/anti-Peronist chasm barely two weeks before the presidential election. “It is a political move of Macri to send a message to Peronist voters of ideological plurality,” Fara says.

A particular target are the anti-Kirchnerist or ‘dissident’ Peronists, a group from which Macri needs support to have a chance of being the next president.

Not everyone will be easy to convince. “Macri is not a Peronist,” ex-president and staunch ‘dissident’ Peronist Eduardo Duhalde told Radio América immediately after the ceremony. “It’s a pity. I have nothing to do with PRO and wouldn’t vote for Macri, but today is a special day and I have to thank the city legislature and Macri.”

Photo by Reilly Ryan

Photo by Reilly Ryan

Photos by Reilly Ryan.

Posted in Analysis, Election 2015, News From Argentina, TOP STORY0 Comments

Brazil: Impeachment Threat for Rousseff as Auditors Reject Budget

A unanimous vote by the Brazilian federal accounts court rejected President Dilma Rousseff’s 2014 budget accounts on Wednesday, giving opponents a cause to impeach her.

Rousseff was accused of manipulating the budget to hide a growing deficit during the 2014 election, which she won by a 3.2% margin.

Brasília - A presidenta Dilma Rousseff  anuncia mudanças em seu ministério , durante  declaração à imprensa no Palácio do Planalto (Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil)

Brasília – A presidenta Dilma Rousseff anuncia mudanças em seu ministério , durante declaração à imprensa no Palácio do Planalto (Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil)

A report by the auditors suggested the financial juggling was done by delaying payments to fund social programs and instead keeping the money in public banks. In doing so, it looked as if there was more money than there actually was in the public coffers.

This is the first time in close to 80 years that the fiscal auditors have ruled against a president.

The government said it will appeal the federal accounts court’s decision, which is not legally binding.

In the meantime it will be sent to Congress to vote on the ruling. If it is supported, the president could be charged with a “crime of responsibility.”

“This establishes that they doctored fiscal accounts, which is an administrative crime and President Rousseff should face an impeachment vote,” said the leader of the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), Carlos Sampaio in an interview with Reuters.

PSDB senator Aécio Neves, who ran against Rousseff in the 2014 election, also said that his party would vote to impeach the president.

Rousseff accused segments of the opposition of trying to provoke a ‘democratic coup’, and of using impeachment as a political tool.

The ruling represents another blow to Rousseff’s popularity. The president is already facing growing criticism because of the ongoing Petrobras scandal and a poor economic situation, which has seen her approval rating plummet.

In another setback for the president this week, a separate investigation by the state’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal has begun looking into allegations that Rousseff received illegal campaign financing from the state-owned oil company Petrobras.

If Rousseff is found guilty of this she would be implicated in the Petrobras scandal. The scandal cost billions of dollars and involved executives from the oil company allegedly offering benefits in exchange for overpriced contracts.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Hand of Pod: Argentina Starts 2018 World Cup Qualifying Campaign

Hand of Pod: Argentina Starts 2018 World Cup Qualifying Campaign

Hand Of Pod is a podcast dedicated to discussing the domestic football scene in Argentina, with the inevitable occasional digressions into the land of the continental cups and the national team.

The latest episode of Hand Of Pod sees Sam, English Dan and Andrés convene to discuss a weekend of football which saw Boca Juniors open up an imposing six point lead at the top of the table with just three matches remaining. Following San Lorenzo and Rosario Central’s 2-2 draw, Boca struggled a bit but still beat Crucero del Norte 1-0, as a result of which Crucero, to no-one’s surprise, are relegated. Still clinging on to their Primera status – for now – are Nueva Chicago, who grabbed a 2-1 win over Vélez Sarsfield. River Plate put in an awful performance and were well beaten, 3-0 by Independiente, and Quilmes’ good form continued. This weekend the Primera takes a break for the first double-header of CONMEBOL’s marathon World Cup qualifying campaign, which will see a Lionel Messi-less Argentina host Ecuador on Thursday and travel to Paraguay on Tuesday.

Mystic Sam’s World Cup Qualifying predictions (last week in the league: 7/15)
Argentina 3-0 Ecuador
Paraguay 1-2 Argentina

You can find out more about the team behind HOP here.

Posted in Sport0 Comments

The Dangers of Launching a New ‘War on Drugs’ in Argentina

The Dangers of Launching a New ‘War on Drugs’ in Argentina

The favourites to become the next president of Argentina have all suggested using military measures against drug production and trafficking. A group of experts are speaking out against what they fear could be a disastrous new war on drugs.

The drug paco, a a by-product of cocaine that has swept through poorer areas of Argentina (Photo by Kate Stanworth)

The drug paco, a a by-product of cocaine that has swept through poorer areas of Argentina (Photo by Kate Stanworth)

Every Friday, 15 men meet at a quiet café in Recoleta, Buenos Aires and discuss the state of the country. They have named their group ´Tertulia del Café´ —The Coffee Salon.

Among them are a former ambassador, a former Secretary of National Security, and various other influential opinion-makers with ties to the most powerful people in Argentina. These men are concerned about the future of Argentina, about a possible war in the offing.

The group recently authored an open letter to Congress, calling for an informed, evidence-based debate on Argentina’s drug policy to replace decision-making based on “assumptions, intuition, and improvisation.”

“We are trying to promote a debate based on facts and evidence. We want a better discussion. We want politicians to make decisions based on knowledge,” says one of the members of the group, former Argentine ambassador to Guatemala and Haiti, Ernesto Justo López.


The apparent spread of drugs has become a major political and social concern in Argentina. According to the United Nations Drug Report of 2013, the country had the second highest occurrence of cocaine prevalence in the population aged 15 – 64 in South America. The report revealed that 25% of the Argentines that age group had used the white powder; only Brazil had a higher prevalence.

There are also fears that drug trafficking and organised crime are taking over the country’s major urban areas, even infiltrating security forces. In 2013 police chiefs in Córdoba and Santa Fe provinces were prosecuted for links to drug trafficking, while drug-related violence has lent Rosario the undesirable nickname of ‘Narco City‘.

All three of the leading presidential candidates – Daniel Scioli, Mauricio Macri, and Sergio Massa – agree that the drug question is vital, and that a heavy hand is needed to combat the problem.

Residents of Rosario marched in June against the violence and impunity associated with drug trafficking (photo: José Granata/Télam/aa)

Residents of Rosario marched in June against the violence and impunity associated with drug trafficking (photo: José Granata/Télam/aa)

The favourite, Daniel Scioli, who has governed Buenos Aires province for eight years, is putting numbers on the war on drugs in Argentina. He wants to triple the number of officers enlisted in gendarmerie and the coast guard, and form a militarised urban squad. Scioli has, according to La Nación, gone as far as to suggest that “at some point we would have to evaluate, depending on the characteristics of drug trafficking, the issue of the role of the Armed Forces, because it’s a matter of homeland security.”

Macri, the leading opposition candidate, has named the fight against drug trafficking as one of three main challenges his administration would focus on. Earlier this year, he said: “It’s putting our culture, our families at risk. It is also corrupting our institutions; buying politicians, judges, police officers and officials, and it must be stopped. We will be the first government to address this issue directly and battle it from the first day.” One of the battles Macri is specific about winning the one against the by-product of cocaine, paco. During the presidential debate on 4th October, Macri promised to eradicate the drug within five years.

Sergio Massa is the candidate with the clearest, strongest message. He wants to strike hard and with military use, including authorising the military to shoot down planes suspected of drug trafficking, creating a comprehensive security programme, and incorporate the army to help tackle the problem. During a press conference earlier this year, Massa called drug trafficking a national security risk, and in his latest campaign video, he confirms his active approach. “I want the army to be able to [stop drugs from entering the country] at the border and also help eradicate drug trafficking in marginal areas. We won’t adopt a passive approach like the government did,” he says.


These proposals are causing alarm at the ‘Tertulia del Café’. The group is concerned that Argentina is about to engage in a violent and bloody war on drugs, pointing to Mexico and Colombia as examples of why this would fail.

The approach of Sergio Massa, in particular, worries them. “Massa is selling snake oil, which is what he wants. He wants votes. He knows he is not correct in fighting drugs this way,” says former ambassador López.

Former National Security Secretary Luis Tibiletti agrees. “The reason why Massa is using the military approach is to get votes. He uses the idea of the military protecting our borders. That is ridiculous. What is a soldier going to do when drugs come by car, by train, by plane? It doesn’t make sense. What kind of training do they have?” he asks rhetorically.

“Massa has connections to the American embassy, and Wikileaks has shown that he wants a military approach, just like the US. It’s clear that there is permanent pressure, from the US, to enforce the use of the military in Argentina,” Tibiletti says.

Candidate Sergio Massa is calling for the military to be deployed in a war on drugs.

Tibiletti points out the historic aspect of military intervention in Argentina. “The last time the military was used to intervene in the country, the cost was 30,000 people disappearing,” he says. As a result of this history, there are laws in place to prevent military involvement in domestic security issues.

“There are two laws that do not allow for the use of the armed forces when it comes to internal security: The National Defence Act and The National Security Act. Both of them prohibit the use of the armed forces when it comes to public security. That is the first thing a president would have to remove if they want to use the armed forces. The reason for having those laws is history,” López says.

According to him, the issue of drugs has to be approached from a whole new angle. “We need to focus on the people and not the drugs, to change the point of view. Wars affect security, it’s nonsense to think any other way. To call for war to gain security is nonsense. It is escalating violence. That is what happened, and is happening in Mexico and Colombia,” he says.

“We have to rethink the problem,” says the Director of the International Studies Program at the University of Buenos Aires, Enrique del Percio, another member of the group. “Instead of using the army, we need intelligence. We need to know more. Luis Tibiletti started the first criminal intelligence analysis unit in Argentina, and I think that is one of the most important ways to fight drug trafficking. Following the money trail. Making fewer arrests, but more important ones, rather than the poor boy on the street,” Del Percio says.

Del Percio says politicians must not start a war on Argentina’s own citizens. “We cannot think of citizens as enemies, even if they are trafficking drugs. They are not an internal enemy. Our situation could become the same as what we see in Colombia and Mexico. We have seen what happens if the army intervenes. We have the forces we need, and they have the training they need. The soldiers are trained in killing an enemy. We should focus on the causes, not the consequences. Look at Mexico. They used the army and look at what happened. You can see it very clearly,” he says.


The men at ‘Tertulia del Café’ are not alone in calling for a new approach to drug policy. In 2014, several renowned experts, including five Nobel Prize economists, labelled the war on drugs a failure. The report, called ‘Ending the Drug Wars‘, concluded that the war on drugs, “…has failed on its own terms” and produced “enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage.” According to the report: “The United Nations has for too long tried to enforce a repressive, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach… It is time to end the ‘war on drugs’ and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis.”

One of the authors, John Collins, international drug policy co-ordinator at the London School of Economics, says that the war Argentina may soon begin is not going to work. “We’ve learned from countries that have tried a militarised approach. It has not been positive. It frequently simply pushes criminals into being more violent and has no real impact on the flow of drugs. There is not a shred of evidence suggesting that militarising the war on narcotics does any good —on the contrary, most evidence suggests it does more harm than good,” he says.

For Collins, the obvious examples are Colombia and Mexico. ”They haven’t impacted the scale of the market, merely driven new levels of violence by fragmenting the cartels and creating political vacuums,” he says.

In 2006, Mexico´s president Felipe Calderon launched what would become the bloodiest war on drugs ever seen. Almost ten years later, the results are devastating: more than 100,000 Mexicans have been killed or disappeared. Meanwhile, the cocaine passing through Mexico and into the US adds up to a business worth between US$19bn and US$29bn a year.

Part of the military strategy in the Mexican drug war has been the ‘decapitation strategy’, which according to Collins only does wonders for the homicide rate. “Taking out the top of the cartels helped precipitate an exponential rise in violence and homicides with 100,000 dead in the last decade. The declaration of the war on drugs certainly contributed massively to this spike in violence,” he says.

war on drugs 2

According to Collins, “There is no evidence that this is required, other than the fact that it sounds good. If the government goes in with a heavy hand it could end up worsening the general security situation. It is a simplistic and frankly dangerous response to a complex problem.”

The report states that even the way success is being measured is wrong, with a drastic overemphasis on seizures and arrest rates –both of which are terrible indicators of policy effectiveness. “Don’t focus on numbers of arrests and quantity of substances seized. These tell us very little about the market and have virtually no impact on consumption rates,” Collins says.

For example, the US spends an annual amount of more than US$51bn on the war on drugs, and 1.5 million people are arrested each year on non-violent drug charges. In the ten years between 2000 and 2010, the US also spent US$7.3bn on a programme called Plan Colombia targeting Colombian cartels and guerrilla groups. Some argue that this has simply moved the trade into Central America and Mexico.

Yet despite this vast expense, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a US government organisation, says that between 2001 to 2013 there was a 29% increase in the total number of deaths caused by cocaine. The number of deaths caused by heroine increased five-fold over the same period.

This overwhelming evidence might be what convinced George Schultz to sign the report. He is a former secretary of state under ex-US president Ronald Reagan, who in 1982 made the war on drugs a matter of national security. Schultz was also treasury secretary under President Richard Nixon, who first declared the ‘war on drugs’ in 1971.

What is needed, Collins believes, is a new way of looking at the problem. “Internationally, there has been a broad recognition that the drug issue is not a criminal justice issue, it’s a public health issue. Politicians should look towards a health issue approach. Don’t aim for impossible targets of eradicating or drastically shrinking drug markets, because decades of evidence show they will almost certainly fail. Focus on comprehensive strategies which seek to lessen the harms of both drugs and drug markets, and drug policies,” he says.


Back at the Coffee Salon, Enrique del Percio says the presidential candidates —especially Massa— with the help of the media are creating a problem that is not as big as they would have it seem.

“The problem is big, but not as big as the media makes it out to be,” del Percio says. ”Think of a street in Medellin in the ’70s, you could not walk there. That was a primary problem. We don’t have that situation here. In Argentina, we have problems: debt, how do we educate the marginalised, thinking about the economy, and how to maintain a high level of employment in the midst of the current crisis. There are a lot of things to do.”

Tibiletti agrees. “In the national newspaper La Nación, Macri’s advisor calls it a primary problem, which is not true. The problem is inequality. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime studied the correlation between the GINI coefficient (a way of measuring inequality) and the crime rate, and it’s 1:1. As the Pope says, if you don’t provide solutions for the marginalised people in society, you can have all the tanks and armies you want, but you will not solve crime,” Tibiletti says, laughing a bit.

What the group is most worried about is that the voters won’t be able to see through the smoke. “If people are offered an ‘easy solution’ of tanks, which for some might seem like a safe option, they feel like the candidate cares. And will say yes to that very visual solution,” del Percio says.

As we are about to leave the café, former ambassador López asks to make an important footnote. “I want to make it very clear, that what we want is an informed debate, with substance. We do not want to make policies. We want to make politicians make informed decisions, that is the goal,” he says.

The key issue now is whether the next president is willing to listen.

Posted in Analysis, Development, Election 2015, TOP STORY, Urban Life0 Comments

‘Barrick Spill Poisoned the Water of San Juan’ Says Study

The Jáchal river basin, near to where Barrick Gold spilled 1m litres of cyanide solution last month, is contaminated with heavy metals up to 1,400% above safe levels, a study by the National University of Cuyo found.

The study, called ‘The Barrick spill poisoned the water of San Juan’, found dangerously high levels of manganese, boron, sulphates, aluminium, chloride, and arsenic in water in Rio La Palca and Pueblo de Mogna. It also found high levels of E. coli bacteria.

The report was released around three weeks after the cyanide solution was spilled into the Potrerillos River.

Barrick Gold, the Candian mining company responsible for the spill at the Veladero mine in San Juan on 12/13th September, initially reported a leak of 224,000 litres, but later admitted the amount was over four times that.

The multinational company produces gold, copper, and silver in Argentina and it is no stranger to controversy. It has paid out some of the largest fines in history for damage to the environment and unethical conduct, including a fine of US$16.4m in Chile in 2013.

In a media release on 30th September, Barrick said: “Water samples analysed by an independent third-party laboratory have confirmed that there were no risks to the health of downstream communities as a result of this incident.”

Barrick Gold also said that “At no time did cyanide levels in the downstream river system near communities exceed 0.1 parts per million total cyanide, the legal limit for safe-drinking water in Argentina, and in line with international standards for drinking water.”

The university study also did not find elevated cyanide levels in the water, but it did conclude that the cyanide solution leached heavy metals in the ground and dragged them downstream.

However, the Mendoza-based university has come under fire by the governor of San Juan, Jose Luis Gioia.

“I have never seen the intent to harm the province of San Juan like I have now,” he said in a press conference on Tuesday about the report. “This is deliberately and falsely affecting San Juan with distorted information that is basically false.”

Requests for comment from Barrick were not returned before deadline.

Posted in Environment, News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Chile: Bachelet Announces Giant New Marine Parks to Protect Ocean Life

The marine parks will protect large area's of Chile's territorial waters (Photo via Wikipedia).

The marine parks will protect large area’s of Chile’s territorial waters (Photo via Wikipedia).

The Chilean government has announced the creation of protected marine parks covering over one million square kilometres of its territorial waters.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet made the announcement at the inauguration of the ‘Our Ocean’ International Conference in Valparaiso, Chile.

In her speech earlier this week, Bachelet declared the formation of a 297,000 km2 Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park surrounding the islands of San Ambrosio and San Félix, as well as a network of marine parks in the Juan Fernández Archipelago comprising over 13,000 km2. In addition, she promised to extend the protected marine area surrounding Easter Island so that it covers over 720,000 km2.

Commercial fishing will be prohibited in marine parks in an effort to protect the rich and diverse ocean habitats in the region.

According to a marine biologist at National Geographic, Enric Sala, about 72% of the species in the waters around the Desventuradas Islands are endemic, meaning that they are found no where else in the world. This makes the region one of the most diverse and pristine ocean environments on Earth.

“We must think of optimising our resources,” said mayor of Easter Island’s Rapa Nui community, Pedro Edmunds Paoa. “Our resource is the sea and the future of Rapa Nui is the sea.”

Vice President of Oceana in Chile, Alex Muñoz, described that years of unregulated fishing practices drastically threatened these endemic species and harmed the natural ecosystem.

“For many years, Chile has been one of the most important fishing countries in the world,” Muñoz said. “Unfortunately, that led to depletion of our marine resources. With the creation of this marine park around Desventuradas, we’re becoming a leader in marine conservation.”

While these new marine parks are definitely a step in the right direction, countries around the world still have a long way to go to meet the UN’s stated goal of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. This goal was set at a UN biodiversity summit in Nagoya, Japan in 2010 and was agreed upon by more than 190 countries.

“These dangers and threats [to the world’s oceans] transcend borders and demand effective international collective actions,” President Bachelet said in her speech at the conference. “It is essential that we act now for the future of all countries, particularly for small island states and coastal communities that are especially vulnerable and depend directly on the sea.”

The conference, which concluded yesterday, announced over 80 new initiatives on marine conservation and protection valued at more than US$2.1 billon.

In addition, the 56 countries in attendance made new commitments to protect more than 1.9 million square-kilometres of the ocean.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Gallery Hopping Through Villa Crespo and Palermo

Gallery Hopping Through Villa Crespo and Palermo

“I don’t know about everywhere else, but here, all artists have an obsession,” Ral Veroni, the owner of Mar Dulce Gallery, surmised.

Veroni was one of several gallery owners we had the pleasure of talking with on the Palermo Gallery Tour, an intimate and engaging walking experience from Buenos Aires Art Tours that dives in to the booming art scene in both Palermo and Villa Crespo.

The art scene is blossoming in Villa Crespo (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

The art scene is blossoming in Villa Crespo (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

As our knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide, Grace Portillo, described, this area has become a hotbed for contemporary galleries that have moved away from the historic San Telmo art district over the past few years.

Starting in 2012, many new art spaces began popping up in Villa Crespo because of its lower property prices and alternative feel. The migration set off a small-scale revolution that is as diverse and contemporary as the art itself—and people have taken notice.

Several recent articles in mainstream publications have noted that contemporary art galleries in Villa Crespo and Palermo are “changing the paradigm” of art in Buenos Aires.

It’s easy to see why. With its tree-lined avenues and a lively restaurant and shopping scene, Villa Crespo is similar in style to Palermo while still maintaining its familiar vibe. Cumulatively, the two neighbourhoods provide a hip alternative to Buenos Aires’ historic centre.

At Gallery Gachi Prieto in Villa Crespo (Aguirre 1017), artist Valeria Conte Mac Donell was working to install her newest project titled ‘¿Araña? No ¡Dibuja!’ The piece takes up the entirety of the small gallery, utilising metal wire strung from the walls with photos and drawings to create an encapsulating, three-dimensional experience.

The piece was not yet finished, so our group had the opportunity to watch Mac Donell work while her assistant showed us examples of the artist’s past exhibitions. She described her vision for the new piece, particularly that she hoped to create the sensation of an infinite space within a very small room (this is her first installation indoors). The exhibit is currently open and will continue until 7th November.

Artist Valeria Conte Mac Donell working on her exhibit at Gachi Prieto Gallery (Photo: Reilly Ryan)

Artist Valeria Conte Mac Donell working on her exhibit at Gachi Prieto Gallery (Photo: Reilly Ryan)

This first encounter set the tone for the tour: the experience focused as much on the galleries as the art itself. At each of the stops, Grace provided an insider’s perspective to the gallery’s history and introduced numerous artists and owners along the way.

Another popular art space in Villa Crespo, Gallery La Ira de Dios (Aguiree 1029), is host to numerous Argentine and international artists working on residency. An expansive space with a warehouse feel, the gallery provides artists the opportunity to work on and exhibit their art in the same space where various events are held for the public.

Argentine artist Ayelén Coccoz is currently displaying her piece ‘Still’ at La Ira de Dios. The exhibit seeks to capture the transient nature of the artistic process through wax formations and juxtaposing light, and is open until 17th October.

The highlight of Villa Crespo, however, is undoubtedly the Ruth Benzacar Gallery (Juan Ramírez de Velasco 1287). Renowned art connoisseur Ruth Benzacar initially opened the space in 1965 in San Telmo before her daughter — the current gallery director — moved it to an expansive warehouse in Villa Crespo in 2014. The move put Villa Crespo on the art map and spearheaded the migration to the neighbourhood.

A behind-the-scenes look at Ruth Benzacar gallery (Photo: Reilly Ryan)

A behind-the-scenes look at Ruth Benzacar gallery (Photo: Reilly Ryan)

The gallery was in a transition period between artists, but one of the attendants took our group behind the scenes and showed us numerous works from the gallery’s expansive collection. This was a truly exceptional part of the tour and one of the main draws: to see how the galleries work on a day-to-day basis and all that goes in to putting an exhibit out for the public.

Famous Argentine artist, Milo Lockett, established his own personal gallery in Palermo (José Antonio Cabrera 5507) to showcase his highly sought after work. Producing around two paintings a day, the gallery smells of fresh paint and is constantly in flux with new works coming and going.

Lockett is not only a renowned artist; he has gained fame for his charity work with children and for giving back to the Buenos Aires community. His art can be seen around the city, including massive murals on the Abasto Shopping Centre that hark back to his street-art roots.

Art at Milo gallery (Photo: Reilly Ryan)

Art at Milo gallery (Photo: Reilly Ryan)

Elsi del Río Gallery in Palermo (Humboldt 1510) also highlights the emerging notoriety of street artists. The gallery’s patio features a remarkable collaborative piece from three local street artists that worked on the mural at different times without any previous planning. Grace explained that street artists are (finally!) starting to be curated into Buenos Aires galleries, and she commended them for doing truly amazing things with their newfound opportunities.

Also in Palermo is the warmly lit Mar Dulce Gallery (Uriarte 1490). The friendly and knowledgeable gallery director, Ral Veroni, gave a brief history of the space and a broader history of Argentina in general to emphasise the historical importance of Argentine art.

It was apparent throughout that our tour guide Grace not only knew her art facts, but had also developed a genuine relationship with all of the artists and gallery owners, who were more than welcoming in explaining their spaces.

Mar Dulce gallery, in Palermo, is one of the final stops of the tour (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

Mar Dulce gallery, in Palermo, is one of the final stops of the tour (Photo by Reilly Ryan)

The newest addition to the art scene in Palermo, the Honeycomb Gallery, concludes its first exhibition 7th October. Owner Trystan Bates — an expat himself from New York — explained that the gallery pulls together multiple artists around one congruent theme for each of its exhibitions.

The first exhibition centred on the idea of identity. Each artist involved created two pieces for the exhibition — an identity and an alter ego. The pieces are not presented together, however, and the viewer is drawn into a little game of linking up the artist’s multiple identities throughout the gallery space. Two artists featured in the exhibit were there to meet our group and share some wine, which served as a perfect ending to the tour.

While the Identity exhibit ends 7th October, the gallery is hosting its next exhibition starting 14th October until 7th November. This time the focus is on the idea of Evolution and will again pull together numerous artists around the overarching theme.

The Palermo Gallery Tour is a great way to experience the bourgeoning contemporary art scene in Villa Crespo and Palermo. The knowledgeable tour guides give unparalleled access to gallery owners and artists alike, making this an amazing opportunity for all art lovers out there.

Tours are organised by reservation at Buenos Aires Art Tours and can be catered to specific group’s interests (US$50 a person). The group also organises other themed tours, including fashion, photography, and even craft beer.

Posted in Art, The City, TOP STORY0 Comments

Guatemala: Investigation Underway as Landslide Death Toll Reaches 186

Guatemala’s Ministry of Public Affairs has announced an investigation to establish penal responsibility for the authorisation of homes built in El Cambray II, where a landslide took the lives and homes of hundreds of people last week.

The death toll from the accident today rose to 186, while 300 people remain missing and a further 365 are receiving treatment in nearby shelters. The landslide buried 125 homes, which many say should not have been built in the first place as the village was at risk.

Last week's landslide devastated the village of La Cambray II (Photo by Conred, via Flickr)

Last week’s landslide devastated the village of El Cambray II (Photo by Conred, via Flickr)

Residents of the village, 20km south of Guatemala City, were used to minor landslides and floods from the neighbouring Pinula River.

A study carried out last November by the National Co-ordination for the Reduction of Disasters (Conred), found the area to be at risk of future landslides and recommended that the population move out and the river be drained. Conred’s director Alejandro Maldonado has said that the local government was warned in December that the river was threatening the foundation of the hillside on which homes were built.

Spokesman for the town hall, Manuel Pocasangre says that inhabitants were told about the risks in their area. “It was done by going door to door speaking to people; it’s normal to do things like that in this community,” he explained.

Survivors of the landslide, however, insist that they were not informed.

Two previous reports from Conred, in 2001 and 2008, labelled El Cambray unsuitable for habitation. However, no judicial order to evacuate was issued by local authorities, leaving the responsibility to leave up to locals.

Detective Rotman Perez, from the Political Offences Department, said: “We’re going to figure out what degree of responsibility can be established, who authorised building in the area, and whether or not actions were taken to avoid the tragedy.”

The issues under investigation include who received Conred’s report, who has jurisdiction over the area, and who was paid taxes by residents.

The landslide caused at least 186 deaths and destroyed more than 100 homes. Many people are still missing. (Photo by Conred, via flickr)

The landslide caused at least 186 deaths and destroyed more than 100 homes. Many people are still missing. (Photo by Conred, via flickr)

Guatemala’s Human Rights Attorney, Jorge de Leon Duque, has noted that the risk level is similar in many places throughout the country. Conred estimates that 8,000 towns and villages are in danger.

“With the conditions of poverty that people are living in, and the risks that there are […] there’s an enormous possibility of this happening again,” said De Leon.

Yesterday, voluntary firefighters reported another landslide in the town of San Pedro Necta, more than 300 kilometres from El Cambray II. Though there were no casualties, several people were left homeless.

Rescue efforts continue today in Santa Catarina Pinula, as three days of national mourning come to a close.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Recap: What Happened at Argentina’s First Presidential Debate?

Recap: What Happened at Argentina’s First Presidential Debate?

It finally happened. Argentina’s first ever presidential debate took place last night at UBA’s Law School, organised by the NGO Argentina Debate and with almost perfect attendance — five out of the six candidates took to the stage to share their proposals on issues related to the economy, education, security, human rights, and democratic institutions.

Six podiums were laid out on the stage, making Frente Para la Victoria candidate Daniel Scioli’s absence stand out. The rules of the debate gave each candidate two minutes to present their ideas on each subject, and then one candidate had 30 seconds to ask another candidate a question, with an extra minute for the answer. The organisers decided to keep the 30 seconds assigned for Scioli’s questions to really drive the point home that he wasn’t there.

The candidates greet one another before the debate begins (photo: Reilly Ryan)

The candidates greet one another before the debate begins (photo: Reilly Ryan)


The debate was divided into four topics: human and economic development, education and childhood, security and human rights, and democratic strengthening.

Human and Economic Development: there was a good deal of common ground on this subject, with several mentions of the importance of formal labour, regularisation of INDEC to combat inflation, reduction in poverty, and changes to the tax system (mainly income tax reform).

Cambiemos candidate Mauricio Macri made explicit references to social justice, quite in tune with his newly found admiration for Peronism. He didn’t bat an eyelid as he mentioned the importance of social housing and urbanisation of villas, two of the weakest points in his administration as mayor of the City of Buenos Aires, and promised to achieve ‘zero poverty’.

Legislators Margarita Stolbizer (Progresistas) and Nicolás Del Caño (FIT) were the only ones to link economic development with the preservation of the environment and natural resources, focusing specifically on mining. Stolbizer mentioned she had recently visited the area affected by the Barrick Gold cyanide spill in San Juan. Del Caño placed emphasis on the fact that his party is “the only one” on the side of the workers, and that all the others expect the working class to bear the brunt of their austerity plans. He proposed some classic leftist measures such as nationalisations and agrarian reform.

Senator for San Luis Adolfo Rodríguez Saá (Compromiso Federal) also brought the countryside into the debate, but from a very different perspective. He promised the elimination of export taxes to boost the agricultural and food producing sector.

Margarita Stolbizer (photo: Reilly Ryan)

Margarita Stolbizer (photo: Reilly Ryan)

Sergio Massa (UNA) was the last one to talk on this subject, starting out with the very middle-ground assertion that the country is neither the disaster some say it is, or the party others claim it to be. He then went on to propose a series of “long term policies” put together by his economic team, led by former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna.

Education and Childhood: all candidates made a point of showing their support for public education. While Stolbizer, Macri, and Rodríguez Saá emphasised the need to update the national curriculum and include new technologies, Del Caño focused more on the rights of education workers, access to early childhood education, and extended school days. He allso pledged to invest 30% of the government budget in education.

Macri again decided to mention an area in which his administration is severely lacking — free access to early childhood education — while Massa praised the PROA schools implemented in the province of Córdoba by his PASO rival José Manuel de la Sota, which seek to develop the individual abilities of school children.

Security and Human Rights: at this point, there was a change in moderators and the new moderator, journalist Luis Novaresio, introduced a series of questions which he asked the candidates to include in their statements. He asked for their opinions on the legalisation of marijuana and other drugs, immediate measures on the fight against drug trafficking, criminal code reform, legalisation of abortion, and who they would appoint as their security minister.

Unfortunately, only Del Caño —the first speaker on this round— addressed some of these questions directly, though some of the issues did make their way into the candidates’ two minutes. Del Caño began his intervention stating his party’s support for the decriminalisation of marijuana and of abortion, mentioning that clandestine abortions cost the lives of 300 women each year. He also criticised the connivence of the judiciary and the security forces with criminals, something that Stolbizer emphasised too. The Progresistas candidate also mentioned the importance of addressing the causes of crime, rather than the consequences.

Debate - Massa

Sergio Massa (photo: Reilly Ryan)

Macri and Rodríguez Saá coincided on their idea to call a meeting with governors in order to address the issues of security and organised crime. Macri proposed to create a national agency to fight drug, people, and arms trafficking as well as money laundering, with a 100-day deadline to “pacify” the most dangerous neighbourhoods. He also promise to eradicate paco within five years.

Massa has been heavily campaigning on his tough stance on crime, and took this topic as his opportunity to shine. He put forward his controversial proposal to deploy the armed forces in the fight against drug trafficking, an option currently unavailable as the armed forces are not legally allowed to intervene in internal conflicts. He also defended his proposed reform to the criminal code.

Strengthening Democracy: the moderator also included questions on this topic – again, largely unanswered – on issues such as electoral reform, nepotism, Supreme Court candidates, and appointments in different government bodies.

Rodríguez Saá picked up on the first of these to propose electoral reform. While he did not have time to add much else on the broader subject of democratic strengthening, a question from Stolbizer gave him the chance to talk about federalism (or lack thereof).

The need for electoral reform was also mentioned by Macri (who proposed to implement the electronic ballot) and Del Caño, who highlighted that his party has opposed the polemic voting system in place in Tucumán. Macri also said that all elections should take place on the same day across the country to avoid the “shameful” electoral calendar of 2015, perhaps forgetting he chose to hold the city elections in July this year, instead of October.

Following on with the theme of his toughness on crime, Massa set forth a series of measures to fight corruption, including tougher sentences and no statute of limitations on corruptions charges. Stolbizer criticised the other candidates, saying most of their sworn declarations of net worth “don’t add up” and called for a reform to the judiciary —as did Massa— as well as promising that all the government control agencies would be given to the opposition if she were elected.

Finally, Del Caño closed the debate proposing that judges be elected directly by the people, and putting forward the need for a “superior” form of democracy that is not limited to just voting every two years.

Adolfo Rodríguez Saá (photo: Reilly Ryan)

Adolfo Rodríguez Saá (photo: Reilly Ryan)


The format of the debate did not allow for a great deal of interaction between the candidates, so the ‘free for all’ many expected never eventuated. Scioli was the target of all the candidates’ scorn — he was accused of being “disrespecful” for not participating— and in a histrionic move, Massa remained silent for the 30 seconds he had been given to question the Buenos Aires governor.

The 30-second questions, however, did allow for some chicaneries. Stolbizer got the first chance to ask a question, which she used to compare Macri’s dealings with ex-candidate Fernando Niembro to the national government’s dealings with businessman Lázaro Báez. Macri considered the comparison “unfair”. Stolbizer also managed to make San Luis senator Rodríguez Saá squirm when she asked him about issues of gender violence in his province. His best answer? “I don’t rule San Luis.”

The Progresistas candidate, however, was also put in a spot of bother when Del Caño asked her how she could defend public education when her party had alliances in several provinces with PRO, which has a vision “contrary to public education”. The leftist candidate was generally the most biting at question time — he also queried Rodríguez Saá on an ongoing labour conflict in his province and picked Macri up on his neglect of social housing and urbanisation. His best moment, however, was when he questioned Massa’s moral authority to punish teachers without perfect attendance when he had missed “almost 90%” of the sessions in Congress. Massa responded by calling him a liar, qualifying that he had been there when “important things” were voted.

The interactions between Massa, Macri, and Rodríguez Saá were suspiciously friendly — it almost seemed like they had agreed on the questions beforehand. Massa used a clever strategy whereby he disguised some of his own proposals as questions to the other candidates, effectively extending his two minutes.

Mauricio Macri (photo: Reilly Ryan)

Mauricio Macri (photo: Reilly Ryan)

Who Did Best?

Usually, the first thing everyone asks after a debate is: who won? In this case, the format and the dynamic of the debate did not necessarily produce winners and losers. But some did better than others.

Massa was probably the most articulate and the one who made the best use of his time (both the two minutes and the 30-second question time, as noted above). It was clear he had practised his lines —as he fit everything he had to say in exactly two minutes— and even though his interventions were full of generic phrases, he did not sound overly stiff. Moreover, he was able to respond to Del Caño’s question on his Congress attendance records without getting too flustered —despite the leftist candidate being correct.

Stolbizer was also quite efficient in her use of time, and generally did not waste time in niceties, getting straight to the point. Without an executive position, she also had fewer weak points to be attacked on.

Unlike Stolbizer, who managed to fit in more words in her two minutes than any other candidate, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá seemed to have some problems adapting to the pace of the debate. He kept going over time and in various occasions he was unable to finish laying out his proposals —which were also often quite vague.

Del Caño did not stray too far from what was expected of him, and while he had some concrete proposals (sometimes buried under the leftist rhetoric that may have put a few people off), he tended to be vague or go a bit off track when answering questions.

Nicolás Del Caño (photo: Reilly Ryan)

Nicolás Del Caño (photo: Reilly Ryan)

Finally, Macri had a similar style to Massa but was considerably less graceful —the City Mayor has never been known for his public speaking capabilities. His eight years in an executive position made him an easier target than the other candidates (all of whom are currently serving in the legislative power), however he went largely unchallenged, except for the questions posed to him by Stolbizer and Del Caño.

And what about Scioli? Though everyone involved in the debate —including the organisers, candidates, and even the moderators— made a point of highlighting his absence, it is hard to judge whether it was a good political move or not. On one hand, he is leading the polls and represents the incumbent party, so he did not have much to gain by going to the debate and would have been likely to become a target.

On the other hand, republican outrage over his attitude will be replicated by the media until election day, possibily tarnishing his image and strengthening the idea that the government is adverse to dialogue.

Beyond these speculations, and whilst a televised debate is nothing more than a way among many others to show the candidates’ proposals, it would have been good to know what the person who looks likely to become the next president of the country has to say about these important issues.

Plenty of polls will come out within the next few days which will try to determine the impact the debate had both on the candidates and the voters. The last word, however, will be the voters’ on election day.


Posted in Analysis, Election 2015, TOP STORY0 Comments

Brazil: Rousseff Announces Major Cabinet Reshuffle

Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, has announced sweeping changes to the government’s administrative structure, including eliminating eight cabinet positions and replacing her chief of staff.

The move comes in the wake of Brazil’s continuing economic and political crisis that has left Rousseff’s popularity at an all time low.

Brasília - A presidenta Dilma Rousseff  anuncia mudanças em seu ministério , durante  declaração à imprensa no Palácio do Planalto (Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil)

Brasília – A presidenta Dilma Rousseff anuncia mudanças em seu ministério , durante declaração à imprensa no Palácio do Planalto (Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil)

Rousseff’s announcement proposes a multifaceted attempt to tackle the government’s fiscal woes. On the one hand, it seeks to lower the government’s overall expenditures on employee salaries. In addition to eliminating eight cabinet positions, Rousseff announced a 10% cut to minister’s wages, the dismissal of 30 secretariats, and the elimination of over 3,000 government jobs. She also announced that she and the vice-president would reduce their salaries by 10%.

“Other countries have built and are building modern states. Those modern states are efficient,” Rousseff said in her address. “The Brazilian state needs to be prepared to assume a double function: assuring the equality of opportunity and elevating the competitiveness of the state.”

She continued, stressing that: “We need to place the State’s interests above individual interests…These are the foundations of a new growth cycle.”

Aside from relieving pressure on public finances, Rousseff’s plan hopes to mend divisions between her party, Partido de los Trabajadores (PT), and centrist ally, Partido del Movimiento Democrático Brasileño (PMDB).

The PMDB is centrist umbrella party that currently holds power in most regional and provincial governments. The PMDB also maintains the largest minorities in both houses of Congress.

Rousseff said that PMDB representatives would take over as heads of the Health Ministry and the Science & Technology Ministry. This means that PMDB representatives now control 9 of the 31 remaining ministries.

Rousseff also replaced her chief of staff with defence minister, Jaques Wagner.

The president remains highly dependent on the backing of the PMDB to garner greater support in Congress, especially as rumours of a possible impeachment circle in the nation’s legislative body.

Notably, Rousseff did not announce any changes to her financial team, leaving Joaquim Levy on as Finance Minister to deal with one of Brazil’s worst economic crises in decades.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

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As a possible ‪Grexit‬ looms in the old continent, we revisit Marc Rogers' article comparing Greece's current situation to Argentina's own 2001-2 crisis.

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