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Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo Recover 119th Missing Grandchild

Mario Bravo, the 119th child abducted during the dictatorship that has recovered his identity (Photo via FM Renacer)

Mario Bravo, the 119th child abducted during the dictatorship that has recovered his identity (Photo via FM Renacer)

The organisation, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, have found the 119th grandchild abducted during Argentina’s last military dictatorship.

In addition, the biological mother of the recovered child is still alive, with the pair set to meet tomorrow in Buenos Aires after some 38 years apart.

The news filtered earlier today when Mario Bravo, who discovered his true identity last week, gave an interview to local radio station FM Renacer from his home town of Las Rosas, Santa Fe province.

Bravo was born while his mother was being held captive by the military in Tucumán, her home province. According to Bravo, who revealed that he has spoken several times with his mother by phone: “She was held for two years. By some miracle she recovered her freedom, but she was threatened and so couldn’t go looking for me.”

After living in fear for many years after the return to democracy, Bravo’s mother continued the search for her missing son via the Abuelas in 2007. He himself had been speaking to the Abuelas since February of this year, and after months of tests, the DNA results confirmed that the two were mother and son.

“I’m a father myself, and I don’t know if I’ve taken it all in yet,” said Bravo. “Tomorrow we will meet and I will know a lot more.

“I’m not sure whether there will be an official presentation, as she is reliving some very ugly things… they lived through atrocities.”

The Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo have schedule a press conference to tell the story of Mario Bravo for tomorrow at 4pm.

This article has been amended. The original version stated that it was “a historic first” that the recovered person’s biological mother was still alive, when it is in fact the sixth known case so far.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

The Curious Growth of The Saddleback Church in Buenos Aires

The Curious Growth of The Saddleback Church in Buenos Aires

The air is electric. Live music pounds from the speakers while strobe lights paint the space blue and pink. The crowd is jumping up and down, bursting with energy, their arms raised towards the heavens as they sing along to words projected onto a screen in the background.

It could be a rock concert in the wee hours of a Saturday morning, but it’s not. It’s a Sunday evening at the Saddleback Church in Palermo Viejo.

Live music at the Saddleback Church in Buenos Aires (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

Live music at the Saddleback Church in Buenos Aires (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

Saddleback, the brainchild of Rick Warren, a pastor from the United States, is an evangelical mega-church that began in Orange County, California. It was founded in 1980 and has since grown to ten locations in the United States and four internationally, making it one of the five largest in the United States.

Its broad mission is to “provide a place where the depressed, the hurting, and the hopeless can come and find help. And to be a place of family, community, and hope.” It tries to attract everyone – regardless of their religious background – to join by harnessing technology and creating a sense of community. Live music and strobe lights during a service are just some of the modern day perks its followers enjoy.

Warren is known around the world. His book, The Purpose Driven Life, is a non-fiction best-seller. He’s met with world leaders, celebrities, and gave the prayer at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. His sermons attract around 20,000 worshipers per week.

Two years ago, Saddleback opened a campus in Buenos Aires, its only location in Latin America. The church occupies a former motorcycle dealership, a sprawling 700 square metres of space dedicated to its mainly millennial generation congregation.

In a city full of ornate churches – most of them opulent and Catholic, with organs, gold, soaring ceilings and depictions of Jesus – Saddleback may seem out of place in Buenos Aires

Though very much an export of the United States, Saddleback Church has found popularity in the predominantly Catholic city in a short amount of time. It’s gone from a handful of followers to 700 in two years, doubling its attendance in the last six months alone. And though the Buenos Aires church is still not technically a ‘megachurch’ in its own right – that loosely requires a minimum of 2,000 attendees per weekend – it is on its way. There are now four services per weekend to accommodate the growing congregation.

“In the beginning everything seemed strange,” said Fernando Codina, a 37-year-old musician and piano instructor who joined the church with his family last year.

The father of three daughters under the age of ten came to Saddleback for an activity the church hosted for Children’s Day. Prior to that, Codina and his wife were briefly involved with an Adventist church where they were married and baptised, but they had strayed from it. Coming to Saddleback, he says, was a complete change from what they were used to.

“The videos, the colours, all the organisation and dynamism. It’s not very common. And the first impression was ‘this is not from here’, but [Pastor] Sebastian and his whole team make you feel at home and so you stop thinking about what the origin of the church is.”

A church that was fun and used technology to engage its congregation was always a dream for Saddleback Buenos Aires pastor Sebastian Ojeda.

The 43-year-old trained lawyer is fond of using metaphors to explain things. His parents are Jewish and Catholic, and to avoid any conflict, they stopped practicing their respective religions when they got married. Ojeda grew up completely without organised religion until he was 17 and accepted Jesus while on a semester abroad in Germany.

“I had the deep desire to be a pastor,” he explains. And after reading the Purpose Driven Church, written by Warren, Ojeda realised they shared the same vision for what a church should be.
“It was like being in heaven,” recalls Sebastian Ojeda of his first time seeing Warren live. “Like, he was there and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

The congregation in Buenos Aires watchees a sermon by Saddleback leader Rick Warren (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

The congregation in Buenos Aires watchees a sermon by Saddleback leader Rick Warren (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

After years of working as a pastor for evangelical churches and as a lawyer, Ojeda found out Saddleback was coming to his city. And he would be its pastor.

The prospect was daunting and came with huge obstacles. “Saddleback is like a Ferrari car,” explains Ojeda. “I don’t want to be known as the guy who crashed it.”

But he took on the role with zeal after some time preparing in the United States. “It felt like being thrown with a parachute in the middle of a jungle with a little knife.”

Though his church is still tiny compared to other megachurches – Argentina is home to some of the largest megachurches in the world, attracting tens of thousands of worshippers per week – Ojeda feels no pressure for it to grow too quickly.

But while the appeal of Saddleback is clear – it’s style is cheery and relaxed – the church empire has come under fire for its more conservative values. Saddleback is against abortion. It’s also against gay marriage, a stance that may seem odd since younger generations – like the millennials the church targets – are more likely to support it.

Warren himself has compared homosexuality to paedophilia, incest, and polygamy in the past. And though he was initially praised for his crusade to combat HIV/AIDs in Africa, he later came under fire when it was discovered the Saddleback pastor in Uganda was burning condoms and helping put the names of Ugandan homosexuals in the local newspapers.

Argentina, known for having some of the most progressive LGBTQ policies in Latin America, may not seem like the ideal first location for a more conservative church to put down roots. Same-sex marriage has been legal in the country for over half a decade and it allows legal changes of gender without requiring approval from a physician or a judge, measures that help the transgender community. Despite this, Ojeda claims that there are some homosexuals in his congregation.

How did this modern, yet conservative, US Church wind up coming to Buenos Aires?

“It’s a gateway city,” explains Ron Keck, the pastor of international and domestic campuses for Saddleback Church. And it’s also culturally significant, he adds.

Hundreds of online members of Saddleback Church from Buenos Aires, as well as “friends of Saddleback” and other churches asked that a campus be opened here.

Saddleback responded. They found Buenos Aires “open and welcoming” and a good place to “open a … campus with the goal of encouraging churches, loving people, and serving the community,” said Keck. 

“[Saddleback] is transferable to any culture, any model, anywhere,” he adds. “It’s not tied to a personality – it’s a purpose driven church.”

Saddleback models itself as 'The Church for people that don't go to church' (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

Saddleback models itself as ‘The Church for people that don’t go to church’ (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

Back in the church, the live band has finished its set. The club scene has died down and everyone has returned to their seats as they intently watch Pastor Rick Warren give a sermon on a big screen. They take notes, filling in a sheet of paper with what they’re learning for the next 45 minutes.

Dressed casually in a green and blue plaid button down t-shirt, wearing glasses, his wedding ring and a watch, Rick Warren appears larger than life on a screen onstage. Only a coffee thermos and a bible lay on the table in front of him.

Even though his sermon is dubbed into Spanish by a local, it provides comfort to those in attendance. “I think that slowly society will open itself to new ideas and we’re also a bit frightened of the traditional Catholic church,” said Codina. “Also, what really attracted me to Saddleback is it doesn’t force you to change, it guides you through the process.”

After the sermon, crowds buzz outside the building, smoking, laughing. They celebrate the church’s second anniversary in the warm spring air heavy with the sweet scent of cotton candy and the salt of popcorn. Children run amok, playing with their friends next to the building emblazoned in bright colours with “Una Iglesia para la gente que no va a la Iglesia” (A Church for people who don’t go to Church).

Posted in The City, TOP STORY1 Comment

Brazil: PT Senate Leader Arrested in Connection With Petrobras Scandal

Delcídio do Amaral, PT Senator (Photo via Wikipedia)

Delcídio do Amaral, PT Senator (Photo via Wikipedia)

Senator Delcídio do Amaral, leader of Dilma Rousseff’s Worker’s Party (PT) in the Brazilian senate, was arrested today on charges of obstructing operation ‘Lava Jato’ (car wash), the Supreme Court (STF) investigation into a multibillion dollar corruption scheme at state-owned oil giant Petrobras.

Petrobras is considered Brazil’s largest ever corruption scandal. More than 40 people have been charged so far, with dozens of senior politicians and businessman under investigation, accused of colluding with Petrobras executives to receive illicit payments of over US$2bn.

Amaral became the first sitting senator to be arrested in the country as federal police, under orders from the STF, took him into custody at the Golden Tulip Hotel.

Also arrested today was multi-billionaire banker André Esteves, chief executive of the country’s largest investment bank, Banco BTG Pactual.

“[Mr Esteves] was arrested because he was allegedly involved in irregularities in operation Lava Jato,” said an STF spokesperson. “[Mr Amaral] was arrested because he was allegedly obstructing the investigations,” adding that Amaral’s arrest was “preventative”.

The minister in charge of the STF operation, Teori Zavascki, said he ordered the arrest to prevent Amaral from influencing Néstor Cervero, an ex-director of Petrobras who is currently negotiating a reduced sentence with court in exchange for his cooperation.

Zavascki said that the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) has evidence that Amaral offered Cerveró’s family 50,000 reais (around US$13,000) a month if he chose not to make a deal with the court.

According to the MPF, these payments were due to be financed by Esteves.

Financial markets reacted badly to the arrests, with the real weakening 1.9% against the US dollar to R$3.77 as fears spread of an aggravation to Brazil’s political and economic difficulties. Share prices in BTG fell 19.33% after news of Esteves’ arrest.

Amaral’s implication in the scandal is the latest in a string of Petrobras-related accusations against members of the PT, including former president Lula da Silva’s cabinet chief José Dirceu, which have contributed to the political crisis faced by President Dilma Rousseff.

Re-elected in October 2014, Rousseff ends the first year of her second term amid impeachment threats and approval ratings of just 10% while the Brazilian economy continues to flounder.

Senate president Renan Calheiros, from the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) said that this Wednesday’s senate session, in which new budget laws and fiscal targets for 2016 were due to be discussed, has been suspended.

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

Macri Names Key Posts in Future Government

As the dust settles on Mauricio Macri’s election victory, the president-elect has started to name the faces of the government cabinet that will take over on 10th December.

This morning, Marcos Peña, Macri’s future cabinet chief, announced via Twitter that he would hold a press conference at 5pm tonight [25th November] to formally announce Macri’s full cabinet.

Alfonso Prat-Gay (Finance), Susana Malcorra (Foreign Affairs), and Federico Sturzenegger (Central Bank) are some of the key positions confirmed for the Macri adminsitration

Alfonso Prat-Gay (Finance), Susana Malcorra (Foreign Affairs), and Federico Sturzenegger (Central Bank) are some of the key positions confirmed for the Macri adminsitration

However, while rumours continue to circle of possible appointments and changes abound, some positions have already been filled.

Marcos Peña, Macri’s campaign manager and right-hand man throughout the election process, will be the future cabinet chief. He currently serves as the secretary general for the City of Buenos Aires.

Susana Malcorra will head the foreign affairs ministry. Malcorra is a highly-regarded figure in foreign relations, currently serving as head of the United Nations Secretariat office.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Malcorra on her new appointment, adding that: “Ms. Malcorra has served the United Nations with great distinction…I know from my conversations with world leaders and civil society that Ms. Malcorra is well-respected across the world.”

Macri has outlined that he will not have one economy ministry, but instead create an economy cabinet made up of six ministries: labour, finance, energy, infrastructure and transport, agriculture, and production.

The president-elect has also confirmed that Alfonso Prat-Gay will be the future finance minister. Prat-Gay headed the Argentine Central Bank from 2002 to 2004 and served as legislator for the Coalición Cívica – an ally of PRO in the Cambiemos coalition – representing the City of Buenos Aires.

Continuing with the economic theme, it was confirmed this morning that Federico Sturzenegger will head the Central Bank and that Francisco Cabrera would serve as minister of production.

Rounding out the list of Macri’s confirmed cabinet members to date, Rogelio Frigerio will take-over as interior minister and Pablo Avelluto will serve as culture minister when the new government takes office on 10th December.

In other Macri-related news, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner hosted the president-elect in a reunion at the president’s residency in Olivos yesterday.

The meeting, which lasted a short 20 minutes, centred on prudent formalities: President Fernández congratulated Macri on his victory and the two discussed preparations for the coming inauguration ceremony.

Macri later expressed his dissatisfaction with the meeting, explained that it “only served as a matter of protocol.”

President Fernández did not speak to the press or pose for any photos after the meeting. Macri, on the contrary, hoped to talk with the press but was unable to because of a lack of organisation to accommodate the media at the president’s residency.

Posted in Election 2015, News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Where Will Mauricio Macri Take Argentina’s Economy?

Where Will Mauricio Macri Take Argentina’s Economy?

The results are in: in 16 days, only nine of which are working days, Mauricio Macri will become president of Argentina.

Mauricio Macri, president-elect (Photo via Mauricio Macri)

Mauricio Macri, president-elect (Photo via Mauricio Macri)

Of the many implications this has for the country, the short-term economic impact is the most pressing concern for many. In the short transition period that began yesterday, the president-elect will need to provide signals as to how his administration will manage a difficult economic climate, where existing internal problems are being deepened by low commodity prices and a slowdown in key trade partners Brazil and China.

During the campaign, the main Kirchnerist message was a warning that Macri would implement a swift liberalisation of the economy, including a sharp devaluation and brutal austerity measures that would hit workers and the most vulnerable hardest. Macri dismissed these claims as lies, part of a “fear campaign”, but failed to give any reassuring concrete information about his economic plans.

Million-Dollar Questions

The central problem in Argentina’s economy – manifest in various symptoms and imbalances – is a shortage of dollars. Unable to borrow on international markets since the 2001 default, Argentina is reliant on its agricultural exports (especially soy) and foreign investment to receive the dollars it needs to buy imports and pay debt obligations. As these sources dried up following the global financial crisis, the government introduced currency controls and import restrictions to prevent a devaluation that would exacerbate already high inflation and threaten employment. It also expanded its battery of programmes designed to stimulate the domestic economy and protect low-income households. Plans such as Precios Cuidados, Ahora12, Procrear, and Progresar were added to existing energy/transport subsidies and regular above-inflation hikes in state pensions and the flagship Asignación Universal por Hijo welfare programme.

The series of measures was successful in so far as they staved off a full-blown economic crisis – itself an achievement given the country’s recent history – and helped protect the gains made since 2003 in living standards and social inclusion. But they didn’t solve the country’s structural problems, and they became increasingly unsustainable amid fresh external headwinds. The budget and trade balances will both end 2015 deep in the red, meaning Argentina is spending more money that it receives both internally and internationally, while the Central Bank’s reserves would be at a critical level if you remove the currency swap with China and money owed to importers.

No-one really questions that the economy today is in a tricky position – some prefer to call it a “ticking time bomb” – made worse by the government’s unwise decision to meddle with official statistics. The differences lie in who is to blame for the problems, and what should be done to fix them. We’ll focus only on Macri’s view here given that he will be taking the reins of the country.

A recurring shortage of dollars is arguably the central problem of Argentina's economy.

A recurring shortage of dollars is arguably the central problem of Argentina’s economy.

The Economy According to Macri

Though he has avoided specifics, the Cambiemos leader and his team of economic advisers openly favour a much more orthodox approach than the outgoing administration. They blame the Kirchnerists for economic mismanagement and corruption, and see the solution centred around generating confidence among investors and in the market. Traditionally, in this vision, the state’s main role is to set clear rules and arbitrate, taking a back seat to the private sector in creating growth, investment, and jobs. Applied to today’s Argentina, that means broad measures such as:

– Reaching a quick deal with the vulture funds in the US so that the country can borrow money again;
– Devalue the currency so that exports are more competitive and remove currency controls to eliminate the parallel ‘blue dollar‘;
– Change the central bank’s charter to make it politically independent with a mandate to keep inflation low;
– Cut export taxes so that big agricultural companies sell the grain they have been hoarding (estimated at around US$13bn);
– Reduce government spending, especially on energy subsidies, to reduce the budget deficit and bring inflation down;
– Privatise any loss-making state enterprises;
– Re-establish links with the IMF so that Argentina can receiving financing (in exchange for accepting external influence over economic decision-making);
– Reform statistics office INDEC, to return credibility to official data and correct one of the outgoing government’s biggest mistakes.
– Relax labour market and financial sector regulations to allow businesses to operate with fewer restrictions (this is something that organisations like the IMF typically demand in exchange for financing).

So far, so neo-liberal. This was the basis of Scioli’s ‘fear campaign’: Argentina has gone down this road before, and it led to rising unemployment, inequality, and poverty, all of which reached a devastating peak after the 2001 collapse.

The official dollar rate following a devaluation in January. (Photo: Tito La Penna/Télam)

The official dollar rate following a devaluation in January 2014. Many wonder how much the peso will devalue under Macri. (Photo: Tito La Penna/Télam)

But the message of fear didn’t work, mainly because we are not in the 1990s any more. Macri is part of the new right that has emerged in Latin America – think Venezuela’s Henrique Capriles and Brazil’s Aécio Neves – as the counter-current to the ‘Pink Tide’ of leftist governments. This new ‘post-neoliberal’ right is described thus by Le Monde Diplomatique’s José Natanson: “It is post-neoliberal, because —at least in public— it does not reclaim the policies of open markets, privatisations, and deregulation typical of the ’90s. And it is new because it is clever enough to show a “social face”: in line with North America’s “compassionate conservatism”, it promises macroeconomic changes and tax reforms but maintaining the welfare systems developed over the last decade.”

The president-elect is clearly aware that the sort of economic adjustment his inner circle advocates will be intolerable to many, especially given Argentina’s recent history. After altering his discourse in July, Macri repeatedly indicated that he would not privatise YPF or Aerolíneas Argentinas, that he would protect workers and sustain – even expand – welfare programmes like the Asignación Universal por Hijo. He also pledged to begin the “largest infrastructure programme in the country’s history” and bring poverty down to zero, without explaining how either would be achieved in the current climate. He even made an oportune stop at the Qo-Pi-Wi-Ni protest tent on Av 9 de Julio, promising to end the land usurpation and discrimination facing indigenous communities in Formosa.

Of course, there is a huge difference between campaigning and being in office, and Macri wouldn’t be the first politician to backtrack on promises. To pick just one of his own examples, before taking office as mayor of Buenos Aires in 2007, he pledged to urbanise all of the city’s villas within a decade, but funds channelled to this end have dwindled under his government. (You could argue that the outgoing government also failed to deliver on promises, but again, we are focusing here on what’s coming.)

In his eight years running the capital, Macri didn’t unleash the Washington Consensus-inspired economic programme some feared, but nor did he tackle the social problem he now pledges to resolve nationwide. Indeed, a recent analysis by social NGO ACIJ revealed how the city government has prioritised spending on advertising and marketing over social housing or public education.

Dwindling budget funds allocation to housing in Buenos Aires (Courtesy of ACIJ)

Dwindling budget funds allocation to housing in Buenos Aires (Courtesy of ACIJ)

Turbulence Ahead

So, where does that leave us? Guessing, for the most part. And hoping. Much will depend on who Macri selects this week to lead the six-minister ‘economic cabinet’ he has promised to form.

Before they were ushered away from the campaign spotlight, several members of Macri’s economic team (some of whom were directly involved in the ’90s neo-liberal experiment) made it known that they aim to implement the full reforms anyway, and as soon as possible. The idea they have is that this ‘shock therapy’ will send a strong signal to investors and that some of the imagined benefits of the new plan, namely an influx of dollars, will have materialised by the mid-term elections in 2017. Doing it sooner also makes it easier to attribute the blame for the inevitable hardship on the outgoing government, and will likely receive the backing of powerful business interests both home and abroad who could even provide quick financing to ease the transition.

The other option is a more gradual approach to change, ironically something akin to that proposed by Scioli towards the end of his campaign. But delaying what they see as “inevitable” will not sit well with Macri’s support base or allies, especially those in the business community that supported his campaign and will be anxious to receive their ‘reward’. The president-elect may have re-branded himself as a “compassionate conservative”, but the old guard of ’90s neo-liberalism hasn’t gone away, and will be looking to make up for lost time.

The path Macri takes will depend on how he views the struggle between the state, businesses, and workers to secure a piece of a shrinking pie. His background is clearly pro-business but it’s worth noting that even more than campaign promises, Macri will be conditioned by a limited mandate – 48.6% voted to stick with Kirchnerism – a minority in Congress, and a high number of FpV provincial governors. And that’s without even mentioning that no elected non-Peronist president has completed a full term since 1928.

Macri faces stiff opposition in Congress (Photo: Pedro-Ignacio-Guridi)

Macri faces stiff opposition in Congress (Photo: Pedro-Ignacio-Guridi)

One thing is certain, if Macri does decide to break from his new image and resort to a more traditional recipe of devaluation and austerity, he should be prepared to face a backlash. Amid a surge in inflation and interest rates, efforts to restrict wages or implement job cuts – especially in the public sector – would face considerable resistance from unions and social groups that have become highly organised in the last decade. It is unclear how long society’s hunger for change will last once households start to feel the pinch.

Earlier this month, a Cambiemos mayor-elect in Concepción, Tucumán, came under siege in his office after annulling public sector contracts for 400 people. It is a clear warning of the disruption that abrupt austerity measures could bring in a society that voted for change but isn’t about to accept a return to darker times.


Posted in Analysis, Election 2015, TOP STORY4 Comments

Mauricio Macri Elected President of Argentina

Mauricio Macri Elected President of Argentina

[This article has been updated to include latest official results and add background/context]

Mauricio Macri (Cambiemos) was today elected to be Argentina’s next president in the country’s first ever second-round run off.

Mauricio Macri, president-elect (Photo via Mauricio Macri)

Mauricio Macri, president-elect (Photo via Mauricio Macri)

Macri defeated Daniel Scioli, the incumbent governor of Buenos Aires province and candidate for the ruling Frente para la Victoria (FpV).

With 98.9% of the vote counted, Macri had 51.4% support compared to Scioli’s 48.6%. Voter turnout was calculated at over 80%, with only a small amount of blank votes cast (1.2%).

In the first round of voting on 25th October, Scioli came in first with 37.1% while Macri received 34.2%.

Speaking at the NH Hotel in central Buenos Aires, Scioli accepted defeat shortly after 9.30pm, saying that he had called Macri to congratulate him on his victory. “We gave everything,” a conciliatory Scioli said to press. “The people have chosen an alternative option.”

At 10pm, Macri gave a victory speech to a packed audience in the Cambiemos bunker. “I don’t know how to describe what I’m feeling. Thank you all so much for believe that together we can build the Argentina of our dreams.”

The president elect called on all people to join what he called a “new era for Argentina”, saying that all energy must go to building a country with zero poverty and not revenge.

Macri ended his speech with the familiar phrase “It’s now, it’s here, let’s go Argentina!”, sparking wild celebrations among his supporters.

A Vote for Change

Macri and his running mate Gabriela Michetti (Photo via

Macri and his running mate Gabriela Michetti (Photo via

Macri will formally begin his four-year term on 10th December, receiving the presidential baton from the outgoing leader Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The 56-year-old, a civil engineer and former president of Boca Juniors football club, will take over the country after 12 years of Kirchnerism (one term for Néstor Kirchner and two terms for Cristina Fernández).

Macri campaigned on the theme of change – his coalition ‘Cambiemos’ means “Let’s change!” – though has provided few clues as to how he will carry out the reforms he has promised.

With a background in business, Macri widely regarded as a “market-friendly” candidate eager to implement swift economic changes that would attract foreign investors to Argentina and unravel the current administration’s policies. However, he softened his rhetoric during the campaign, pledging to maintain social programmes like the Universal Child Allowance and keep recently nationalised companies YPF and Aerolíneas Argentinas in state hands.

During the campaign, Scioli repeatedly stated that Macri would represent a return to the 1990s, when the country was run by neo-liberal president Carlos Menem, an era that ended with the catastrophic 2001 default and crisis.

Scioli accused Macri of planning a major austerity programme and currency devaluation, which he said would hit most workers hard. Macri dismissed this as part of a ‘fear campaign’, promising to work to reduce poverty to zero.

Posted in Election 2015, News From Argentina, TOP STORY1 Comment

Uruguay: Another District Approves GMO Food Labelling

Under the law, products containing GMOs must carry a symbol advising consumers (photo courtesy of Laura Rosano).

Under the law, products containing GMOs must carry a symbol advising consumers (photo courtesy of Laura Rosano).

A district in Uruguay has approved a resolution to make GM food labelling obligatory, following the example set by the capital Montevideo in December 2013.

“The motivation began because of worry over the use of pesticides in Uruguay,” said Carol Aviaga, a senator for the Lavalleja district, in an email. In the past eight years, imports of pesticides have increased by more than 300%, she said.

“We have reasonable doubts, both social and scientific, of how this can affect human health – not just from consuming these GM products, but also from the pesticides that are used to produce these foods.”

Aviaga also said citizens have a right to know what they are consuming. This project will give them the power to know what they are putting in to their bodies.

Though it may seem odd for corporations to change the packaging of their products for a population of only 60,000, Aviaga is confident that other districts will adopt the same legislation, and eventually the entire country. Other districts like Paysandú, Canelones and Colonia have councillors who are presenting the project in the coming weeks.

“Corporations will have to adapt to these new requirements of the citizens. It is the change that other countries have already taken and we are sure it will be the change our country will take at the national level,” she said.

In December 2013, the city council of the capital Montevideo issued a decree ordering that all foods containing more than 1% GM ingredients must be clearly labelled.

Despite its relatively small size, Uruguay is ranked 10th in the world for the number of hectares used to grow GM crops, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. It is ranked fourth in South America, behind Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation released a study in which it identified glysophate – a common ingredients in pesticides – as ‘probably’ carcinogenic to humans.

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

Caminos de la Villa: Putting BA’s Impoverished Neighbourhoods on the Map

Caminos de la Villa: Putting BA’s Impoverished Neighbourhoods on the Map

In 2013, a social NGO and an IT company joined forces to launch a website that would allow residents of impoverished neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires to report problems that required the attention of the city government. They had no idea where the project would take them.

The original plan was straightforward enough: design a website that would let users easily place an “x” on a map to report a problem; be it with street lighting, sewers, or any such issue that was the responsibility of the municipality to resolve. As the programmers got to work, they discovered that they couldn’t upload the maps of these neighbourhoods, because they couldn’t find any.

The maps created by Caminos de la Villa include Buenos Aires' low income neighbourhoods (Screenshot via Caminos de la Villa)

The maps created by Caminos de la Villa include Buenos Aires’ low income neighbourhoods (Screenshot via Caminos de la Villa)

They took up their claim before the city government. “They told us the maps weren’t public yet,” says Rosario Fassina, a representative from ACIJ, a non-profit association that supports marginalised groups. Yet they had their suspicions: did the maps even exist?

Rather than accept defeat, they began a new and far more ambitious undertaking: mapping every single one of the city’s 17 low-income neighbourhoods and informal settlements – known locally as villas – that are currently home to an estimated 200,000 people.

By 2014, Caminos de la Villa was a reality, with more and more low-income neighbourhoods being added every year. The interactive platform trumpets its mission proudly: “our aim is to give visibility to the violations of human rights perpetrated within the impoverished neighborhoods of the city of Buenos Aires. We give visibility to what nobody wants to show.” Simply stated, the goal of the project is to strengthen collective strategies and teach people how to voice their concerns before the relevant authorities so that they may ensure their right to access public services, housing, health, and education.

“We already mapped five of the villas, and we’re in the process of mapping the remaining 12,” explains Mariano Malia, the Director of Institutional Development at Wingu, a part-NGO, part-private IT company that provides technological support to other NGOs around Latin America. In the completed map, users can now annotate a myriad of claims across their own neighborhoods: from water and sanitation issues, to lack of electricity, even rubbish collection issues and lack of health services.

The city government already runs a similar website for the rest of Buenos Aires’ inhabitants, known solely by its hotline number, 147. The difference is that, until recently, if a resident of the so-called villas attempted to use 147, they would not be able to file a complaint simply because they would not be able to map it. “You don’t have the villa maps on 147. There are no addresses. You file a claim but where do you report its location? Somewhere within a vast, grey expanse?” asks Malia. That is how these low-income areas have typically appeared in many of the current city-issued maps: a blank grey area with no streets, roads, schools or health facilities. A place with no life.

Villas used to appear as empty grey spaces on maps of Buenos Aires (left), but are now being mapped in detail like the rest of the city (right). (Photo courtesy of Wingu)

Villas used to appear as empty grey spaces on maps of Buenos Aires (left), but are now being mapped in detail like the rest of the city (right). (Photo courtesy of Wingu)

A Collaborative Project

The project requires a massive joint effort from ACIJ, Wingu, and importantly, the villa residents themselves. The division of tasks is straightforward enough. Every time new data must be uploaded, Wingu comes to the rescue. Meanwhile ACIJ focuses on making sure requests for works are fulfilled and chases after the authorities responsible for performing them. And local residents act as watchdogs for their neighbourhoods and learn to clamor for their right to access the basic services that the rest of the city takes for granted.

With ACIJ’s longstanding trajectory of social work within the villas of Buenos Aires, they already had a ready network of contacts in each neighbourhood to ensure the residents’ involvement in the project. “We used hand-held GPS devices, alongside local residents,” says Juan Ignacio Lacueva, also from Wingu, explaining the mapping process.

The first neighbourhood they mapped in early 2014 was Villa 21-24, the largest one in Buenos Aires and so far – Lacueva reveals – the easiest one to map. Being heavily populated, the residents had already organised themselves to provide services the city government wouldn’t. Amongst these, they named a postman – one who happened to know every nook and cranny of 21-24 – and with his help, the GPS map of the neighbourhood was finished in record time.

But the relationship between the locals and this project went much deeper than that. “We used all the contacts and relationships that ACIJ has been nurturing for 10 years in these neighbourhoods. That gave us the much-needed mobility when it came to going in to map, run workshops and campaigns, host talks with the residents to make decisions about issues concerning the platform,” says Rosario from ACIJ. The project laid down the groundwork for collaboration within low-income neighborhoods, where often the streets have no name and such decisions require the discussion and input of all residents during local meetings.

This spirit of collaboration also runs through the tech side. Once the GPS plotting is done, all the data is uploaded to an online platform, Open Street Map, which Juan describes as “a Wikipedia for maps.” It’s a mapping project powered by open source software – as well as Google Maps’ fiercest competitor. Anybody can update Open Street Maps at any time, which is essential in low-income neighbourhoods where the path of urbanisation often takes unexpected turns.

“We hugely empowered these people symbolically, by literally putting them on the map,” says Malia. “For the Caminos de la Villa project we drafted a proposal together with ACIJ, and presented it to a call for projects. We won a grant, and they financed this project,” he explains.

Local residents helped with the mapping of Villa 21-24, in Barracas (Screenshot via Caminos de la Villa)

Local residents helped with the mapping of Villa 21-24, in Barracas (Screenshot via Caminos de la Villa)

From The Inside Out

For local resident and block representative in Villa 31, Mirella, this is about far more than being able to report problems with access to public services: it’s a question of life-or-death.

Ambulance drivers are scared of coming into the villa, and they try to drag their feet about it.” A few years back an incident in which an ambulance was pelted with rocks when visiting one of these neighborhoods, gave way to a requirement that all ambulances had to be escorted by a police patrol to go in. In emergency situations, the ambulance typically drives to the edge of the villa and waits there, not just for a patrol car to arrive but for the block representative to find them and guide them both to the site of the emergency. Precious time is wasted: Gastón, a 13-year old resident of villa Rodrigo Bueno died earlier this year after he fell into an open cesspit and emergency services took over 40 minutes to arrive at the scene. “Maps like these,” Mirella says, “would help people provide emergency services with an address and eliminate the need for us representatives to go find and then guide the services in.”

The two-time elected block representative goes on to reveal an unexpected benefit of mapping the informal neighbourhoods: increased communication and forged stronger community links. “It helps you discover new places and meet new people,” Mirella asserts. “In Villa 31 the mapping was done as an after-school project for the kids. Then, we took those maps to neighborhood meetings, where we all clearly indicated places of interest, like schools, canteens, nurseries. It helped us, as residents, find out about hidden places within our own neighborhood, particularly 31bis [the newer fraction of Villa 31 that has sprouted towards the north].”

A narrow passage in Villa 31, where local children helped with the GPS mapping process (Photo: Kate Rooney)

A narrow passage in Villa 31, where local children helped with the GPS mapping process (Photo: Kate Rooney)

But not all residents of marginalised neighbourhoods are computer-savvy enough yet to truly profit from Caminos de la Villa. For that reason, Wingu is taking the necessary precautions to make it as user-friendly as possible, Malia says. “The user experience is the most important thing in creating these platforms. You can create something that people then don’t use.”

Another challenge is the lack of access to computer technology and education. “We don’t want this [the website] to sit here unused.” The wheels have been set in motion to request further grants that they hope will “finance training projects, not just on how to use this tool, but on what the internet is, how civic issues can be solved online, social networks. Basically, how internet can help us in our day-to-day lives as citizens,” Malia explains. “We want to take it beyond Caminos de la Villa.”

A Breakthrough

Although the maps were supposedly not public yet, the city government has made a crucial offer to the project members. “A couple of weeks ago, the Buenos Aires city government agreed to take on these maps to be used as official cartography for the city,” reveals Malia, qualifying the event as a “huge achievement” and reminding of the importance that soon, “ambulances will know where to go.”

The cartography project has brought increased access to public services, but above all, it has legitimised the existence of villa residents by putting them, literally, on the map. Yet this is still just a first step, and doesn’t mean they feel an equal part of the city of Buenos Aires. “There is still the struggle for inclusiveness, an effort which the city government doesn’t really make,” says Malia.

This is solely part of a larger problem: a lack of infrastructure and capability to cover the basic needs of long-neglected neighbourhoods. Malia reveals that “the city government has already told us that they don’t have the resources to fix these problems in an efficient manner. So they don’t want to set themselves up for failure.”

It may no longer be possible to avoid acknowledging the existence of villas in Buenos Aires, but letting residents of these impoverished areas live without access to running water or sanitary conditions – right under the watchful eye of the city’s glittering skyscrapers – is still all too common.

By @CarlaMcKirdy

Posted in Development, TOP STORY, Urban Life, Villas0 Comments

Hand of Pod: Argentina Finally Click in World Cup Qualifiers

Hand of Pod: Argentina Finally Click in World Cup Qualifiers

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.

This latest episode of Hand Of Pod is a relatively short one (by our standards), in which Sam and English Dan meet to discuss the encouraging improvement in Argentina’s performances in World Cup qualifying, which in the last week have seen them claim a (slightly unlucky) 1-1 draw at home to Brazil and a 1-0 win way to Colombia. Is Gerardo Martino’s ‘idea’ any clearer, and how will it be affected when Lionel Messi returns to the team? We also look forward to the pre-Sudamericana and pre-Libertadores liguillas (playoff tournaments) which are all that now remain of the Argentine Primera season for 2015, and have a rather inexpert go at working out which teams have been and might still be promoted from the second and third divisions.

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

Posted in Sport, TOP STORY0 Comments

Where to get Brunch in Buenos Aires

Where to get Brunch in Buenos Aires

[Editor’s note: If you have other recommend places for brunch in Buenos Aires, we’d love to hear about them in the comments section!]

Brunch, a tasty combination of breakfast and lunch, is still catching on in Buenos Aires, but there are more and more places offering the late-morning feast. To help you find what you’re looking for when you roll out of bed on the weekend, we’ve tried and tested brunch spots around the city (and even survived a spot of food poisoning).

Here are the five kinds of brunch for every need and the places where you can get them!

The Classic: Malvón

For a classic brunch experience look no further than Malvón, a café with all the fixings for a boozy brunch with friends.

Brunch at Malvón (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

Brunch at Malvón (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

The Villa Crespo location is in an open, airy building with high ceilings, but it has a cute, eclectic feel to it. There is a hotchpotch of antiques and vintage items from different eras, including old telephones, newspaper clippings, a vinyl record player, and paintings of plants. There’s also a beautiful plant-filled patio in the back if you want to soak up some sun. The interior has lots of windows with yellow stained glass and a stained glass skylight to let in as much light as possible.

All the brunch meals come with a cornbread muffin, a fresh bread basket, a fruit bowl with strawberries, kiwi, sunflower seeds, grapefruit, pear and cornflakes. They also include a café con leche or a glass of lemonade or flavoured water. You can even upgrade your drink to a beer or glass of wine for as little as $15 extra.

The lemonade is delicious – not too sweet, cold and refreshing with a hint of mint. Their eggs benedict is smooth and creamy with crispy sweet potato chips and salty bacon. They also have a vegetable frittata, barbeque ribs, mac and cheese, to name a few.

There’s also a kids menu for $90 that offers macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets.

The service is quick, so the turnaround is relatively fast, but since they don’t take reservations on weekends try to get there before you’re absolutely starving in case you have to wait.

Locations: Serrano 789, Villa Crespo and Lafinur 3275, Palermo
When: 10am to 4pm on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. No reservations on weekends.
Cost: $130+

The Hangover Cure: Sugar Bar

For those on the hunt for the perfect brunch to ease the pain of a brutal hangover after a night of boozing and schmoozing, the cure may be Sugar.

Soak up last night's booze with a brunch at Sugar (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

Soak up last night’s booze with a brunch at Sugar (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

Not the sweet stuff, but a sports bar in the heart of trendy Palermo Soho. The bar is a nightlife hotspot for expats and tourists eager to party till the sun rises, meet other English speakers, and enjoy a few comforts from home like NFL and rugby games on television. But it also re-opens relatively early for those needing nourishment the day after.

“It’s a mix between a sports bar and club so people can see the game and stay longer,” says Matias Kritz, a part-time manager. “It’s a place you can find a lot of people to make friends.”

The well-established Sugar Bar has been ahead of the pack when it comes to brunch. This year, they’ve revamped their brunch menu to feature three classics: a healthy yogurt parfait ($65), a breakfast burrito with ham, cheese and tomatoes ($80), and a smoked salmon with thick fries and scrambled eggs feast. They also have a traditional Irish breakfast with chips, scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon ($95).

It’s the kind of heavy, greasy food that hits the spot after a night out and it starts at noon on weekends. They have bottomless Mimosas ($120), Bellinis ($120), and Bloody Marys ($150) if you want to keep the party going or fend off a hangover for another few hours. And they also have decaf coffee, something of a rarity in Buenos Aires.

Location: Costa Rica 4619, Palermo
When: Saturdays and Sundays from 12pm to 5pm
Cost: $65+

The Lux: Elena at The Four Seasons

Fancy something fancy? The Four Seasons’ Elena restaurant may have what you’re looking for. The lux former mansion-turned-hotel has one of the most decadent brunches in the city. It will set you back a cool $690, but the all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunch has some delicious offerings.

Featuring an array of seafood like garlic prawns, octopus and a catch of the day, as well as a charcuterie with cheeses, cold cuts, and smoked meats, there’s probably something there for even the pickiest eaters. There are also beef dishes for the true Argentine in all of us, a dessert station with ice cream and cakes and, of course, unlimited wine.

Be sure to make a reservation because it fills up quite quickly.

Location: Posadas 1086/88
When: Sundays from 12.30pm to 3.30pm
Cost: $690 per person

The Healthy Splurge: Ninina

If you’re looking for a back to basics brunch that you won’t leave feeling 5kg heavier, consider Ninina’s option for two. At just over $430 for two people, it’s a bit pricey, but it’s also delicious.

A healthier option prepared fresh at Ninina (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

A healthier option prepared fresh at Ninina (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

Opened two years ago, Ninina made its mark with some of the best pastries and desserts in Buenos Aires. They’re freshly made in house and as a bonus you can watch their chefs make them through a glass wall into the kitchen.

The décor feels chic and European with marble, white tiles, warm wooden floors and lots of light. It’s the perfect place for a casual brunch with friends or a cozy date.

The coffee here is good, with a selection of beans from around the world. The brunch menu gives a choice of pancakes, waffles, eggs, and a delicious homemade granola with seeds, pears, blueberries and strawberries. They also have fresh juices made from fruits and vegetables.

Also check out the cool selection of cocktails like the beet martini and the rest of the extensive menu that includes burgers and sandwiches.

The staff are friendly and attentive even though it opens at 9am on weekends, making it the perfect way to start your morning early before the rest of the city rolls out of bed.

Location: Gorriti 4738, Palermo
When: Every day until 3pm
Cost: $432 (for two)

The Budget Yum: Mooi

Technically not considered a brunch by itself – they call it a breakfast – trendy Mooi gets our vote because for under $100 you can eat a delicious meal that includes coffee or tea and a glass of orange juice.

Technically not a full brunch, but Mooi is a great option for hearty, good-value breakfasts. (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

Technically not a full brunch, but Mooi is a great option for hearty, good-value breakfasts. (Photo: Azzura Lalani)

Mooi’s Palermo location is a cute spot that feels sort of like an industrial loft, but at the same time remains warm and bright. The ceiling has dozens of brightly patterned lampshades and there’s a lot of attention to detail in the décor.

On the menu are scrambled eggs with a New York bagel and cream cheese, delicious waffles with a berry coulis, a yoghurt parfait, and a few other meals. They’re all tasty and well prepared and the perfect option if you’re looking for someplace nice that won’t break the bank. And, of course, they also have a solid drinks menu.

Location: Cuba 1985, Belgrano and Costa Rica 5468, Palermo
When: Palermo: Tuesdays to Sundays from 9am until close. Belgrano: All week from 9am until close.
Cost: $80+

Posted in Food & Drink, TOP STORY0 Comments

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