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Chile: Thousands Evacuated After Calbuco Volcano Erupts in Patagonia

Over 4,000 people have been evacuated after the Calbuco Volcano in Chilean Patagonia erupted twice yesterday.

The government declared a State of Emergency for the area, which includes the city of Puerto Montt, a transport hub and popular gateway to southern Chile.

An area 20km around the volcano has been cleared amid health concerns related to falling ash and smoke. Local schools have been closed and sports activities cancelled, while some flights have been affected.

The Calbuco Volcano eruption (Photo: Pablo Lamas, via flickr)

The Calbuco Volcano eruption (Photo: Pablo Lamas, via flickr)

Emergency measures are also being implemented across the Andes in Argentina, where towns such as Bariloche, Villa La Angostura, and San Martín de Los Andes have already been affected by ash clouds. Several flights to region have been cancelled today as a precaution (check here for details).

The Calbuco volcano, which had been largely dormant for over 50 years, erupted twice in the space of a few hours yesterday. The height of activity occurred in the early hours of the morning, when lava spewed out from the crater. The plume of smoke and ash rose up to 11km and was visible from space.

Experts from the National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) said that Calbuco is one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, but that they were surprised that the eruption came without clear warning signals.

“Volcanoes of this type usually give precursory warnings for a long time [before an eruption],” Sernageomin’s Hugo Moreno told La Tercera newspaper. “It’s very odd that it fired off in such a short space of time. It’s a strange phenomenon on a global scale.”

Sernageomin noted that the level of activity in the volcano had declined this morning, though there are still concerns that a third eruption could occur.

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

Welcome to Mesopotamia – Chapter III

Welcome to Mesopotamia – Chapter III

Daniel final

In January 2015, Daniel Tunnard and his wife left Buenos Aires after 16 years to move to the small town of Concepción del Uruguay in Entre Ríos, Argentina, build a house and start a family. This is the story of everything that went wrong.

Read this chapter in Spanish here. Leelo en castellano aqui.

One of the surest signs of safe and easy small town life is the number of people sitting outside their houses on warm nights. You can usually find a couple of groups on every block, and remember, they’re 50m blocks, sitting on their deckchairs, drinking mate, chewing the fat into the small hours. It may well be that they just sit there because they’re poor and live in ill-ventilated homes, but if such living conditions improve the quality of life and sense of security for all those passing in the street, it is surely to be desired that such poverty endures.

'Welcome to Mesopotamia' (Photo by Daniel Tunnard)

‘Welcome to Mesopotamia’ (Photo by Daniel Tunnard)

On the eighth day of our Mesopotamian adventure Charlie the cat decides he’s has enough of the quiet life and goes missing. We have three cats, but Charlie is easily everyone’s favourite, a cat who thinks he’s a dog, who plays fetch with bottle tops and hair bands, a huge, 10kg blond beast, who eats melon and peaches and raisins, and who I love more dearly than anything else non-human, and several humans too. We think he might have slipped out the door and wandered into another apartment, and if this cat wandered into your apartment, you’d think twice about responding to the leaflet that came under your door, pleading for his safe return. If I ever had to replace him, it could only be with a Golden Retriever, and even then that would have to be a charming motherfucking dog. One day, I’ll make a film about him and call it ‘Charlie and Me’, and you will cry even more than you did in those final ten traumatic minutes of ‘Marley and Me’. Don’t say you didn’t. Don’t say you won’t.

I call at the house next door to see if he might have got off our balcony and onto their roof. I tell my neighbour about Charlie, choking back the tears. He opens his house up to me, lets me look in the garden, opens the empty apartment he’s renovating next door, lets me go up on the roof, tells me to call out his name (Charlie’s, not my neighbour’s). Nothing doing. He asks me where my dodgy accent’s from, what I’m doing here. I’m there a while. He shakes my hand and says he’ll show up when he gets hungry (Charlie, not my neighbour). Good people. I expect John C Reilly will play him in the film.

John C Reilly. Good people. (Photo: Asim Bharwani, via Wikipedia)

John C Reilly. Good people. (Photo: Asim Bharwani, via Wikipedia)

The story about how I came to leave Buenos Aires after 16 years and move to Concepción del Uruguay (in Argentina, not Uruguay, although the locals refer to the city as Uruguay, because fuck you, porteños) is a long one. I met my wife Josefina on the bench outside the Bangalore pub in Palermo on 8th March 2008. Where are you from, I said. Entre Ríos, she said. Which part? Concepción del Uruguay. Never heard of it. Though frankly, unless she’d named the provincial capital Paraná, the comically-sounding Gualeguaychú, or a town called Bovril, I would’ve been just as ignorant. (How times change! One of our favourite games now is to take it in turns to name towns of Entre Ríos and see how many we can name without getting stuck. Twenty-six is our record. We don’t have internet or TV in our flat.)

The first times I visited, Concepción del Uruguay struck me as a fairly dull town, population about 75,000. Imagine Crewe, only without the trainspotting opportunities. But as the name suggests, unless you’re one of the many, many people who think the name suggests it’s in Uruguay, it’s on the Uruguay River, and it is the custom of most decent folk to own a yacht or speedboat and sail out to sandy river islands at the weekends, and weekday afternoons too, which pretty much count as weekends. People anchor their boats out in the river, then wade 20 metres to the beach, where they sit on deckchairs and drink mate. Good people.

We got married here in 2011. As my best friend and for the second time best man and I took a knackered taxi to the church, he pondered on whether at our first meeting, in a student house in Sheffield in 1994, we could ever have imagined we’d end up here, in a town neither of us had heard of, grey-suited and whisky-breathed in the back of a shitty Fiat with a cracked windscreen. ‘Mmm’, I replied. It was a rhetorical pondering, anyway.

Round about that time, whenever Josefina and I were heading back to Buenos Aires after a weekend here, Josefina would whimsically say how it might be nice to live in Concepción, maybe. This was said without a great deal of conviction, a longing born more out of her reluctance to get the dreaded four-but-usually-five hour bus back to Buenos Aires. ‘Flecha Bus, la puta que te parió’, as the old saying goes. But the years passed and the idea of moving to Concepción kept popping up. Then I started half-agreeing, in the way you agree to stuff that you’re pretty confident is never going to happen.

The hard life on Isla Cambacuá (Photo via Concepción del Uruguay Tourism Sub-secretariat)

The hard life on Isla Cambacuá (Photo via Concepción del Uruguay Tourism Sub-secretariat)

Then in 2013 we decided we were going to buy a flat in Buenos Aires. Through family generosity we scraped together enough for a theoretical 2-bedroom flat in an area not trendy but not nasty either. We went to see a couple of such places in Villa Crespo, then fell in love, in as much as one can fall in love with something so neglected, with a two-and-a-half-bedroom place in Villa General Belgrano (La Paternal to most people), with a large living room and that much-coveted porteño dream, a balcón terraza, the last balcony at the top of the apartment block, 14 square metres of prime barbecuing space, overlooking the noisy Avenida Juan B Justo, but seven storeys up and thus tolerably noisy. The bathroom needed replumbing, the roofed terrace had a not inconsiderable pigeon infestation after years unoccupied, but we weren’t going to find anything like it this side of Avenida Rivadavia. We put down a deposit in May, and were three days away from completing and, probably, committing ourselves to a lifetime in Buenos Aires, when the owner dropped dead of a heart attack.

You can’t buy a flat from a dead man, not even in loophole-leaping Buenos Aires, so we had to wait for his property to be passed on to his ex-wife. I don’t know how long inheritance stuff takes in other countries, but in Argentina it takes forever. Imagine, you already have one of the slowest and least efficient legal systems in the western world, and on top of that one of the parties is dead. What’s the rush?

Six months passed. In November, as part of the book I am eternally writing about Argentine trains, I took the Sarmiento line out to Mercedes, a pretty town 60 miles from Buenos Aires. Leaving Moreno, the ugly urban sprawl slowly (they’re old trains) fell away and the countryside appeared. I walked around Mercedes, all cathedral bells and sunshine and lawnmower shops (I consider the presence of lawnmower shops in a town the height of civilization) and friendly folk saying how do you do, walking to work, dropping off the kids on foot. I thought: hey! Live in a small town. Hear church bells. Have inane conversations with your neighbour about the weather. Own a lawnmower. I got back on the train, went to Merlo and its traffic and dust, then took the train to Lobos. My body relaxed as the cement and traffic were gradually (they’re slow trains) replaced by trees and cows and all that. Then I got the train back to Buenos Aires, my body tensing up with every station, in the way your body automatically does as you unconsciously harden yourself for everything Buenos Aires can throw at you. I got home and had what proved to be a life-changing conversation with Josefina. We got up next morning. What do you think? I think we should move to Concepción, she said. You? You’ve convinced me to stay in Buenos Aires. We’re a lovely couple, very attentive to each other’s views and opinions. Good people.

The train station at Mercedes, an inspiration. (Photo: Fabio2594, via Wikipedia)

The train station at Mercedes, an inspiration. (Photo: Fabio2594, via Wikipedia)

A month passed, with still no news on the dead man’s will as the law courts went into summer recess. We got our deposit back and went to Concepción that Christmas to look for a house. The pickings were even slimmer than in Buenos Aires, and not just because most of the estate agents were closed for two months’ holiday. The Argentine second-hand market is notoriously overpriced, and nowhere is this more the case than in the housing market. People hold on to the shittiest, crumbliest old places, asking for twice the value and refusing to budge. How dare they keep their own houses and live in them, instead of selling them to us at a steal? The one house we could afford had no windows and evinced such poverty and squalor embedded in it that we knew it could never be fully exorcised, no matter how many windows we put in. The question arose, a question one should always be wary of under such circumstances: how about if we built a house?

Could we? It sounded like fun. How hard could it be to build a house? It wasn’t like we’d be building it ourselves. Surely you just sketch a plan, give it to an architect with a bag of money, and he/she does the rest? Oh, to be so happily ignorant again. We phoned up various people in the know to ask how much the square metre of construction cost. Guesses came in from $3,000 to $6,000. Hang on, you mean we could build a house with a surface area of 100 square metres for about US$50,000? Well, no, but we still found that with the money for our pigeon-infested, dripping-toilet, dead man’s 55 square metres in La Paternal, we could get twice the floor space and a big garden, although rather than paying all that money up front it would tend to haemorrhage out slowly, and not in a good way.

Uncle Jorge, wise man, doctor of medicine, well-versed in the relaxing arts of the quiet life, warned me: if you build your own house, you’re asking for an ulcer from the stress. He was wrong. I got Bell’s palsy from the stress, a partial facial paralysis that miraculously cleared up three days after we moved to Concepción. Although give me another three or four months of house building and by golly, we’ll see about that ulcer.

Enjoyed this? Make sure you read Chapter I and Chapter II if you haven’t already.

Daniel Tunnard’s first book ‘Colectivaizeishon, el ingles que tomó todos los colectivos de Buenos Aires’ is available from Buenos Aires bookshops and and as an e-book from Amazon and

Posted in Expat, Life & Style, TOP STORY, Travel Feature0 Comments

Latin America ‘Most Dangerous’ Region for Environmental Activists

Edwin Chota was one of four Ashaninka leaders killed in Peru in September 2014

Edwin Chota was one of four Ashaninka leaders killed in Peru in September 2014

A new report by Global Witness showed that Latin America remains by far the most dangerous region for land and environmental defenders.

The report ‘How Many More?‘ noted that out of 116 verified killings of activists worldwide during 2014, 88 (three-quarters) occurred in Latin American states. The true number of killings may be much higher due to limited communications with rural and remote areas, the report said.

Brazil topped the global ranking in 2014 with 29 killings, followed in the region by Colombia (25), Honduras (12), Peru (9), Guatemala (5), Paraguay (3), Mexico (3), Ecuador (1), and Costa Rica (1). Around 40% of the victims worldwide were indigenous people.

The report included a special case study for Honduras, the country with the most deaths of land and environmental defenders per capita for each of the last five years. At least 111 activists were killed in the Central American country between 2002 and 2014, with the vast majority (101) coming after the 2009 ousting of President Manuel Zelaya.

“In Honduras, and across the world environmental defenders are being shot dead in broad
daylight, kidnapped, threatened, or tried as terrorists for standing in the way of so-called
‘development’,” said Billy Kyte, campaigner at Global Witness.

“The true authors of these crimes – a powerful nexus of corporate and state interests – are escaping unpunished. Urgent action is needed to protect citizens and bring perpetrators to justice.”

According the report, each of the 116 killings in 2014 were related to land disputes, while mining, hydroelectric dams, logging, and agribusiness were also identified as key drivers of activist killings.

A year ago, Global Witness reported that 80% of murders of environmental activists between 2002 and 2013 occurred in Latin America.

Another report released in December highlighted the killing of environmental activists in Peru in the run up to the UN Climate Conference in Peru.

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

Buenos Aires Street Style Autumn 2015: Villa Crespo

Buenos Aires Street Style Autumn 2015: Villa Crespo

[Editor’s note: In our Buenos Aires Street Style series we visit different areas of the city, speaking to stylish locals about their outfits and fashion tastes.]


Our style-hunt continues, this time in the eclectic neighbourhood of Villa Crespo. Although fashion in this barrio is on the darker and grungier side, the locals we spoke to add their own twist with patterns and small pops of colour. They flaunt looser clothing and are not afraid to mix and match — colours, textures, and patterns.

The laid-back Parque Centenario coupled with the crowded corner of Malabia and Corrientes gives this area a unique vibe, one definitely worth exploring.

Follow us on Instagram at @ArgentinaIndy and send your own Street Style images, including the hashtags #BAStreetStyle and #IndygramAR


Federico Nini (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Federico Nini (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Name: Federico Nini

Age: 27

Where do you live? Villa Ortuzar.

What do you do? I’m part of a band called El Rio.

What are you wearing today? I wear what I feel like. I do not follow any specific trend. When I bought these shoes, they did not have laces. These laces actually belong to different shoes but I added them.

What do you think about fashion in Buenos Aires? I think it is a mixture of different styles. I do not really go to fashionable areas but I feel like tango is an influence, especially because I see a lot of hats.

Do you have any favourite designers or brands of clothing? No, not really. I do not really like the idea of brands. I buy clothes wherever.


Mariela Vaamonde (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Mariela Vaamonde (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Name: Mariela Vaamonde

Age: 22

Where do you live? Boedo.

What do you do? I dance and also teach in a dance studio.

What are you wearing today? These trousers are very wide and tighter on the bottom. From far away it looks like a skirt, and it has an animal print, like snake skin. This shirt belongs to my dad and I cut it so my shoulders could be seen a little more, I also tied it at the waist. Honestly, I do not know how to use tight clothes, this is much more comfortable. I love these trousers because they lets me move easily. I also try to wear shirts like this often too; it’s a little bit sexy. But, I always try to have a balance, if I am wearing shorts than I cover up more on top and vice versa. It is the same with colours, too. I like neutral colours the most — brown, grey, and black.

What do you think about fashion in Buenos Aires? I do not know a lot about fashion in Buenos Aires. When I buy something, which is occasionally, I have to like it and it has to look good. I think what is in style now is a sort of retro style. I think retro is coming back.

Do you have any favourite designers or brands of clothing? Yes, I love Adidas Originals. I’m more about going to stores in the barrio. But if we are talking about brands, I like Cuesta Blanca. I like to look around. When I see something I like, I don’t look at the brand. It also has to be at a good price.


Leonor Schmilovich (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Leonor Schmilovich (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Name: Leonor Schmilovich

Age: 60

Where do you live? Villa Crespo.

What do you do? I am currently retired.

What are you wearing today? These trousers have a design on them, a pattern. I am also wearing a basic grey shirt and on top I am wearing a print jacket which is very comfortable. I like what is unconventional, but I can’t dress that crazy because I’m 60 years old. My wardrobe usually consists of three basic colours — black, red, and grey. I also like trousers that are wide at the bottom, that look like skirts. I like how it fits and how it looks.

What do you think about fashion in Buenos Aires? I think there are girls and guys that dress up very nicely. I do not like people who dress uniform, I like those who have a personality in terms of what they are wearing. I think the majority of people in Buenos Aires do not really show their personality in what they wear. But, there are still people who do.

Do you have any favourite designers or brands of clothing? No, I think I am curious. I like to look around. Since I don’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes, I look at my budget and then pick what I like.


Sebastian Bensusan (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Sebastián Bensusan (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Name: Sebastián Bensusan

Age: 19

Where do you live? La Paternal.

What do you do? I like to skate here in Villa Crespo.

What are you wearing today? I think my style is skater. I use baggy clothes and skinny jeans. I like bold colours, like red, but also more neutral like brown. I would say it varies a lot. I also always have one shirt on top of another.

What do you think about fashion in Buenos Aires? I think there are a lot of cool shirts that have crazy designs on them, it is awesome. I have one that is filled with graffiti; I think that is the onda here.

Do you have any favourite designers or brands of clothing? I like a little bit of everything. I don’t stick to Vans or DC, I prefer to vary. I also like Nike shoes.


Pilar Garate (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Pilar Garate (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Name: Pilar Garate

Age: 28

Where do you live? In Buenos Aires now, but I’m from La Plata.

What do you do? I work at a school.

What are you wearing today? I am wearing trousers with a lot of colours, a grey top, a denim shirt, and a red purse. I think my style changes. In the morning, I dress a little bit more formal when I go to work at the school. However, in the afternoon I dress a little bit more relaxed. I wear what makes me feel comfortable. I love colours as well.

What do you think about fashion in Buenos Aires? I think that people here dress how they want to, there is no pattern. I am from La Plata and there almost everyone wears the same clothes but here people dress how they want.

Do you have any favourite designers or brands of clothing? No, I buy what I like when I find it and when it’s not too expensive.

Posted in Fashion, Life & Style, TOP STORY0 Comments

Hand of Pod: Drama for River, and Remembering Eduardo Galeano

Hand of Pod: Drama for River, and Remembering Eduardo Galeano

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 180th episode of Hand Of Pod sees Sam and Andrés joined by new boy Remi, who brings a continental European air of sophistication (and a typically Dutch manner of speaking against received wisdom) to the podcast. We discuss the results over the weekend which led to Boca Juniors, River Plate, San Lorenzo and Rosario Central to all be tied on 21 points at the top, look at an emotional clásico del sur in which Lanús beat Banfield 2-1, and explain how River Plate were up against it in the Copa Libertadores as we recorded (we returned afterwards to let you know how that turned out). Remi also tells us about his visit to Temperley on Friday, where he watched the hosts beat Colón 2-1. This week’s history section is a tribute to Uruguayan journalist, historian and football writer Eduardo Galeano, who died on Monday.


Mystic Sam’s tenth round predictions (last week: 5/15)
Estudiantes v Central
Sarmiento v Arsenal
Huracan v Tigre
DyJ v Temperley
Independiente v Argentinos
Vélez v Gimnasia
Belgrano v Crucero del Norte
Chicago v Racing
Aldosivi v San Lorenzo
River v Banfield
San Martín v Olimpo
Lanús v Boca
Quilmes v Unión
Colón v Atlético de Rafaela
Newell’s v Godoy Cruz

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

Posted in Sport0 Comments

The Other Buenos Aires: Villas and the Struggle for Urbanisation

The Other Buenos Aires: Villas and the Struggle for Urbanisation

Gastón walked home from his first day of secondary school on a Monday afternoon, mid-March. The 13-year-old arrived, after playing “popcorn” with friends, to discover his cat trapped in a cesspit. In an effort to save the animal, he fell in too. Neighbours tried to pull the boy out and waited more than 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. By the time it did, Gastón had died.

Residents from his Rodrigo Bueno neighbourhood, nestled in the shadow of Puerto Madero’s shiny towers, blame a lack of urbanisation for Gastón’s death. Without proper infrastructure, preventable deaths are common in the villas miserias, or shantytowns, of Buenos Aires. These neighbourhoods are home to 163,587 people, according to the 2010 census, with today’s figure estimated to be much higher. With few exceptions, they lack sewer systems, roads, reliable electricity, and hospitals.

This absence of infrastructure is more than controversial. In Buenos Aires at least, it’s technically illegal.

There are six laws that call on the city government to “urbanise” these neighbourhoods. As of 2015, none of them have been properly implemented. The most recent bill in 2009 was set to improve Villa 31, also minutes from Puerto Madero, bordering the famous Retiro train station.

That law gave the city government 180 days to start implementing urbanisation policies in Villa 31. But six years later, according to newly-elected delegate, Dora Mackoviak, little has changed.

She reclined on a blue lawn chair outside of her house, enjoying a cigarette after a long week of campaigning. Mackoviak, mother of ten, has been at the forefront of the urbanisation fight in her neighbourhood. Over the years she and her neighbours have earned the “fear and respect” of the city government.

“We have been fighting in this neighbourhood for a long time,” Mackoviak said. “We go out, we demand, we make noise.”

She’s seen countless preventable accidents like Gastón’s in her own villa. Fires, electrical accidents, open cesspits, all hazards triggered by shoddy construction. The streets in most villas are too narrow and unfit for an ambulance or car. Even if paramedics can enter, they often won’t. Instead, they wait for a police escort and add significantly to response time. Mackoviak says neighbours sometimes volunteer their own cars instead of waiting for an ambulance.

A narrow passage in Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

A narrow passage in Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Aside from preventable accidents, villa residents are also more likely to suffer from slower, less conspicuous health issues linked to a lack of urbanisation.

Joaquín Benítez, of non-partisan government oversight group ACIJ, explained the domino effect of human rights in the villas. Lead contamination, for example, is exacerbated by flooding, and is especially dangerous for children. These healthcare problems, he said, can’t be improved without urbanisation.

“They could have access to way more rights. They’d have proper water and sanitation infrastructure.” Deaths from preventable fires, caused by unsafe electric grids, he said, wouldn’t be an issue if urbanisation laws were implemented.

Mackoviak has been waiting years for these laws to bear fruit. Meanwhile, the city positions her and her neighbours as “the bogeyman”, she said. And while stigmas and fear of the villas continue to grow, the funds for resolving underlying problems continues to shrink.

Budgetary Nosedive

This year, the amount of money allocated from the city budget for urbanisation is the lowest in recent history.

Money for “vivienda”, or housing, has steadily declined over the past ten years, with only a slight uptick in 2010. In 2015, housing will receive 2.4% of public funds, making it the lowest amount in a decade. This money is reserved for anything from urbanising villas to helping the estimated 600,000 Buenos Aires residents living in emergency housing situations. One in six people in the capital, according to ACIJ, lives in an emergency situation and would theoretically receive that aid. ACIJ projects that only 0.6% of the city 2015 budget will be allocated to villas.

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

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

If past is prologue, most of these dwindling funds won’t be used. The city has a deep history of under-executing on social housing spending, and over-executing on works in tourist-dwelling areas like Palermo and Puerto Madero. In 2013, only 31% of allocated housing funds were actually spent. In 2014, only 28%. Meanwhile, last year, the city government was 78% over budget for government advertising, according to the 2015 ACIJ housing report.

Julian Bokser, psychology professor at University of Buenos Aires and member of Corriente Villera Independiente, or CVI, works on improving villas without government aid. His organisation fights for urbanisation and social equality through an anti-capitalist, leftist social movement.

Bokser is well aware of the city’s under-spending, and is clear about why it happens. “They spend less than they have budgeted for, and that is a political decision, it’s not an anomaly or that something went wrong. If they wanted to do it, they would have done it already.”

Bokser works with neighbours like Natalia Molina from Villa 21-24, in Barracas, a few kilometres south of the Casa Rosada. She said they’re much better off in 2015 than they were when she was growing up. As a child, she and her family would go weeks without power, and had to walk ten blocks to get clean water. She now lives with her three kids and husband Roberto with running water, electricity, and a patio for her seven-year-old daughter and enormous white dog to play outside.

“But it is the neighbours who have built all this,” Molina said. “It’s not like the government came and said ‘there’s a plan to build a water network, there’s a plan for a power grid’.”

Any materials provided, she added, are “low quality building materials, that are not going to last through time.”

Alvaro Arguello worked on the 2009 urbanisation law for Villa 31, and is still campaigning for its implementation. He said there seems to be more money spent on patching up emergency situations than building infrastructure in neighbourhoods like Molina’s.

The number of people applying for emergency aid, or “emergency housing stipends”, according to ACIJ, rose almost 600% since 2006. In response, the city has increased the amount allocated for emergency situations by more than 200%, according to an annual report from CEYS, the Economic and Social Council of Buenos Aires. The report says that the increases in emergency funding have not resolved or reversed these temporary living conditions

Arguello explained that in the long run, it would be cheaper to build infrastructure housing than to keep paying for temporary subsidies. The increase in emergency funding, he said, feeds the cycle of poverty.

“The [housing] policy is not designed to resolve emergency situations,” Arguello told The Indy. “The local government says ‘every city in the world has a housing deficit’ which is partly true, but what is happening here is that, due to an absent state, the issue is getting worse, year after year.”

Improvised construction work in Villa 21, Barracas (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Improvised construction work in Villa 21, Barracas (Photo: Kate Rooney)

The Reasons

Arguello explained that most politicians publicly support urbanisation. But the word “urbanisation” isn’t explicitly defined in the laws, complicating discussions between parties.

“They have different visions about how to make these things better,” he said. Who will pay? Who are the recipients? What role will different people play? were some of the questions raised when negotiating the Villa 31 law.

Arguello’s colleague, Rocío Sanchez Andía, was deputy of the housing commission from 2009 to 2013, and helped organise and present the 2009 urbanisation law for Villa 31. Andía is a member of Coalición Cívica para la Afirmación de una República Igualitaria or CC-ARI, a social-liberal party founded in 2002 that does not see eye-to-eye with either city Mayor Mauricio Macri or President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Sánchez Andía does not blame the law for ambiguity. She mostly points the finger at a lack of leadership by both the city and national governments.

“If we have organisations that are fighting and are willing to move forward, what’s missing? Political will,” she said. “There’s no decision to abide by the urbanisation law, no decision to abide by the constitution.”

She said that the city and federal governments have “different outlooks and different administration styles” but are able to work together when it comes to clearing real estate.

In 2014 for example, city police and national gendarmerie joined forces and bulldozers, to demolish homes of informal settlers, leaving 1,800 people homeless. They had moved onto the state-owned land six months earlier, demanding urbanisation after they say the government failed to deliver on a 2005 law to develop nearby Villa 20.

Security forces watch on as hundreds of families were evicted from 'Villa Papa Francisco' in 2014 (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

Security forces watch on as hundreds of families were evicted from ‘Villa Papa Francisco’ in 2014. (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

The razing came one week after the murder of 18-year-old Melina López nearby, allegedly by villa residents. This informal settlement, provisionally named Villa Papa Francisco, was outside of areas covered by the existing urbanisation laws, thereby removing protection against eviction.

There were attempts at dialogue for months but the city’s Social Development Minister, Carolina Stanley, later said they were not willing to “negotiate with those who break the law”. The possibility of economic aid to settlers was quickly also out of the question, and their homes were razed to the ground.

Election Time

The neglect of the villas seems to cool down during elections. Macri ran his 2007 campaign on the promises of 10km of subte lines per year, one policeman on every corner, and urbanising the villas. He projected that in ten years, you could urbanise the entire capital.

“These settlements should be gradually urbanised and integrated into the rest of the city,” Macri said in his 2007 campaign. He pledged “open streets so you can have access to an ambulance, rubbish collectors, and the police”, as well as the extension of sewer and water utilities, land rights, and to build permanent housing.

Daniel Filmus and Pino Solanas, opposition candidates in the last mayoral race, published a 2011 evaluation of Macri’s promises. It painted a significant shortfall for housing. “From his promise of 40,000 homes, only 350 were built,” Filmus said in the assessment.

The city government points to steps it has taken to urbanise, even if it is not what neighbours envisioned. Last August, more than 200 volunteers gathered to “urbanise” the Cildañez neighbourhood, or Villa 6, in southern Buenos Aires. The group, according to the Buenos Aires government website, painted 140 houses, planted 350 trees and 600 plants. A “citizens pact” was signed, a commitment from residents and the government to work together in the transformation process.

“If we all work together, we can make a better future for all, especially for our kids, convinced that they can have more opportunities than we had,” Macri said at the event.

Yet this brand of urbanisation is not what neighbours have historically blocked streets and protested for. Molina recalled events like the one in Cildañez in her own neighbourhood, but never a permanent solution.

“The solution is not fixing a lane or putting cement and covering a hole, and that’s it. That’s not urbanisation,” she said. “Because the officials come in, they make promises at election time, they come round to buy some votes, and then they disappear and the problems remain.”

Six existing urbanisation laws for villas in Buenos Aires have not been implemented (Courtesy of ACIJ)

Six existing urbanisation laws for villas in Buenos Aires have not been implemented (Courtesy of ACIJ)

Stigmas and Incentives

Molina supposes that the lack of commitment to urbanising reflects a lack of support for the residents. She said there is a myth about villas, a dearth of understanding that is shaped by people who have never been there. For years, she has felt unable to integrate into a city “that puts you in a different dimension and that excludes you, based on the fact that you live in a villa.

“There’s more than what the media shows,” she says, referring to the dominant stories about gangs and drugs. “Here we also have people who want to better themselves, who do so every day, despite us not having a dignified wage.”

She used to blame herself: “Maybe I don’t make enough of an effort, that’s why I live the way I live, or maybe I deserve this?” she remembered. But doubt shifted. She found an answer, and it was not to leave her neighbourhood.

“I realised there’s another reality worth fighting for. That’s the reality I will continue to build together with my neighbours to be able to leave a better place, a better future for my children and for the children of all the villa residents,” Molina said.

It is a misconception that people are always looking for a way out of the villas, she explained. There is a culture, a physical and emotional closeness, that does not exist in other parts of the city.

“You can say ‘well, I’m off somewhere’ and I know my neighbour knows I’m gone, and he will look after my house,” she said. “Here you know most of your neighbours – maybe in the city you may live next to someone for 50 years and don’t know that person, maybe in the same building.”

But even if they do not want to leave the villas, some residents fear that eventually, they will be forced to. Mackoviak says Villa 31, with its prized location for real estate, is especially vulnerable.

“They want to evict us from this place because it’s very sought after, it’s the most expensive part of the city,” she said, adding that she is worried about her area becoming “Puerto Madero 3”.

Modern towers loom over Villa 31, which is located on a valuable patch of land (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Modern towers loom over Villa 31, which is located on a valuable patch of land (Photo: Kate Rooney)

The start of this process, ironically, could be setting up title deeds for villa residents.

By handing over land rights without proper infrastructure and support, ACIJ’s Benítez says people living on this valuable state-owned space might be incentivised to sell their property. In places like Villa 31, a stone’s throw from the Four Seasons and luxury restaurants in Puerto Madero, this brand of urbanisation could be lucrative for real estate developers.

“If the villa is located in an area that is very valuable to the urban space, it will start to get gentrified,” Benítez said.

There are also those within the villas who oppose idea of urbanisation. Those sitting on their hands are landlords who profit from a recent boom in population, as internal and international migrants relocate to Buenos Aires.

The number of people living in villas grew by more than 50% between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. The actual amount is likely much higher than reported, since many residents are recent immigrants and are not documented. More people meant a bigger demand for housing, and a huge opportunity for landlords. They unofficially rent to multiple families, and control the price of housing. Some of these landlords own 20 homes, and run an unregulated, lucrative system, which CEYS called “predatory” in their 2015 annual report. The urbanisation laws would bring regulation to the villas, and one new house per family, ruining profits for some landlords.

Walls Rising

Mackoviak could barely be heard over nearby drills as she spoke to the Indy in CVI’s abused women’s shelter. Villa 31 has been buzzing with construction lately, but again, not in a way locals hoped for. A four-metre wall is slowly being built on the side facing the upmarket Recoleta neighbourhood. It will separate the villa from a nearby highway and train tracks.

Mackoviak’s room is less than 90 metres from the tracks. Construction workers line both sides of the tracks, just feet from the only bus stop.

“In a couple of months it’s going to be like the Berlin Wall. We’re going to have a wall we can only cross using that bridge, and that’s it,” Mackoviak said.

There is already a wall on one side of the highway, at least one metre tall, with a fence on top. Mackoviak described it as a way to keep them out of Buenos Aires society, rather than integrate them. She wonders why they would build a wall instead of a park.

“It looks like you’re a prisoner when you get close to the wall and you’re behind the fence looking at the cars drive by,” she said. “Like if you were in a jail looking out from the other side.”

The justification was safety. “We’re going to make this bigger so the trains can go through here, we don’t want any accidents,” she said quoting the city government’s logic.

“That’s a lie. There has never been an accident in that crossing… there’s always people’s lack of care and they’re not going to stop accidents from happening just by putting up a wall or a pedestrian bridge.”

The train tracks running alongside Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

The train tracks running alongside Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Moving Forward

Julian Bokser of CVI laughs when asked about his hope in the urbanisation laws, almost spitting out his coffee at the CVI-owned La Dignidad café in Villa Crespo. He explained that many people, especially foreigners, expect something to happen because a law exists.

“That’s not the way it works here,” Bokser said. “The law was an achievement, but our hopes don’t lie solely on what happens with legislation.”

Bokser says the CVI is not hanging around. The group often shoulders the physical and financial burden of rebuilding villas, working with residents, building everything from nurseries to healthcare centres, and a shelter for abused women in Villa 31. He says they focus on the small improvements. They exist, he said, so people can fight for change.

Bokser, to put it lightly, is not optimistic for upcoming presidential elections. Macri, the current city mayor blamed for his inaction, is running for president in October. Macri’s PRO party could not be reached for comment on his record with villas, or his campaign platform regarding the issue.

But Benítez of ACIJ held on to hope through public awareness.

“It’s slowly taking a more important place in the public agenda,” he said. “More people are becoming aware that they are people that have rights.”


Posted in Urban Life, Villas2 Comments

Chile: Bachelet Signs Law Allowing Same-Sex Civil Unions

President Michelle Bachelet declared the area that Tuesday's earthquake hit to be a 'catastrophe zone' (Photo: EFE/Ariel Marinkpvic/Télam/lz)

President Michelle Bachelet declared the area that Tuesday’s earthquake hit to be a ‘catastrophe zone’ (Photo: EFE/Ariel Marinkpvic/Télam/lz)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet yesterday signed a new law that will grant homosexual partners the same rights as heterosexual couples in civil unions.

The new law, which was approved by Congress in January and will come into full effect in October, creates a new legal status for ‘civil partnerships’ to run alongside the existing ‘single’, ‘married’, ‘widowed’, and ‘divorced’.

“Today we advance as a society,” said Bachelet in a ceremony to sign the law. “We are taking a fundamental step on the part of rights, justice, and respect for individual freedom. Today we promulgate a law that recognises and formalises the unity of partnerships, both those involving couples of the same sex and those with a man and a woman.”

According to the law, those in civil unions will share the same rights as married couples in terms of medical decisions, family relationships, inheritance, and employment benefits. The estate of each person will remain separate in a civil union, unless the partners decide to combine them as one. In addition, same-sex marriages celebrated abroad will be recognised as civil unions in Chile.

Bachelet said that the new law would benefit up to two million people in Chile. “Our social institutions should be in the service of people’s reality, and not the other way round,” declared the president.

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

10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of BAFICI

10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of BAFICI

15th April marks the start of one of the most popular festivals organised by the city of Buenos Aires: the BAFICI international film festival, ten days jam packed with cine and more cine. The Village Recoleta is once again the official headquarters of the festival, but there are screenings across the city in neighbourhoods like Caballito, Belgrano, Palermo, Parque Centenario, and Microcentro. With tickets at an affordable $30 ($25 for students, and also for all screenings of classic films and for BAFICITO, the children’s films) and the usual amazing lineup of foreign and national films, BAFICI is the perfect chance to see what’s happening in independent cinema here and across the globe.

BA Culture Minister Hernán Lombardi speaking at the presentation of BAFICI 2015 (Photo courtesy of BAFICI)

BA Culture Minister Hernán Lombardi speaking at the presentation of BAFICI 2015 (Photo courtesy of BAFICI)

BAFICI’s annual sections include the International Competition, the Argentine Competition, Argentine Short Films, Avant-Garde and Genre, Restored Classics, Music, and BAFICITO. Then there are the Retrospectives, with Isabelle Huppert, Pascale Ferran, Luke Fowler, Mario Monicella, and the label Heavenly Films on this year’s list. Other focuses include Weimar Cinema (1918-1933) and Peruvian film.

Buenos Aires Lab (BAL) is also back with a chance to see what directors are working on; this year Santiago Mitre, the Argentine director of the 2011 film ‘El Estudiante’, will present his work in progress, ‘La Patota’, a remake of a 1967 classic. There are free screenings outdoors, especially at the Parque Centenario amphitheatre, where you can catch films like Studio Ghibli’s ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ or John Carpenter’s ‘Big Trouble in Little China’. And as if all these films were not enough, there are free talks and seminars on a wide range of film-related topics.

Like almost all of the cultural events organised in the city, BAFICI is usually mobbed, and just showing up at the festival on a Saturday can be overwhelming: the queue for tickets will snake back and forth endlessly and inevitably the best films will be sold out. However, with just a little advance planning, you can manoeuvre your way through the festival and enjoy some great screenings.

Big Trouble in Little China is among the classic films being shown at this year's BAFICI (Photo courtesy of BAFICI)

Big Trouble in Little China is among the classic films being shown at this year’s BAFICI (Photo courtesy of BAFICI)

Here are ten tips to help you make the most of this year’s BAFICI:

1) Go and see Argentine films. Especially the ones in the Argentine Competition, and those that make it into the International Competition! Many Argentine films are relegated to Cine Gaumont or only given a week in local cinemas, so BAFICI is the time to dive into cine nacional. Plus, even if your Spanish still needs some polishing, all the films are subtitled in English!

2) Get tickets in advance. Though the festival officially starts on Wednesday, the only film screened that day is ‘El Cielo de Centauro’ (directed by Hugo Santiago). Thursday the 16th is when things really get rolling. In the meantime, tickets are already on sale at Village Recoleta (Vicente López and Junín) or online at The festival’s excellent website has information on every film and in many cases, trailers as well.

3) If you can’t get tickets in advance, at least get to the festival early. Argentines aren’t generally morning risers so if you’re there before 11am, you’ll still avoid the throngs and the worst of the queues. And while we’re on the topic of time, don’t be late for a film – they often won’t let you in the theatre after it has started!

4) See something at the Planetarium and experience 360 degree cinema! It doesn’t even matter what the film is, it’s worth the experience (and the neck craning).

5) Narrow your options. If the selection seems overwhelming and you don’t know where to start, my recommendation is to start with the official competition categories. Being in competition is not a guarantee of a great film, but it’s much less likely to pose a serious risk of putting you to sleep.

‘Artificial Generation’ is one of the films in the official Argentine Competition.

6) Take a chance. Then again, I also suggest taking a chance on a random film you know nothing about. Or a film from a country you know nothing about, or in a language you’ve never heard before! In a world where film offerings are increasingly limited to the latest Hollywood blockbusters (and maybe a token French film), BAFICI is a real chance to see films you may never have a chance to see otherwise.

7) See films for free (if you are a student). A tip for students: one well-kept secret of the festival is that students can get in to the press screenings for free provided there is room left in the theatre after the press people have gotten in (and there almost always is). If you have a valid student ID and are interested, pop by the press office of the festival (inside the Centro Cultural Recoleta) and ask for the list of the press screenings.

8) Go see the Argentine short films. I know I already mentioned seeing Argentine films in general, but the shorts are a great opportunity to experience a whole gamut of emotions in the time a usual feature film lasts. And the best part? If one of the shorts is terrible, you don’t have to suffer for much more than ten minutes (or regret having purchased the ticket!).

9) If a film does turn out to be horrible, just get up and leave. Seriously. I know so many people who refuse to leave the theatre no matter how bad the film. It’s not a marriage—just stand up and exit quietly.

10) Check back here at the The Indy for our reviews during the festival!

11) [Editor’s note]BONUS TIP! Get in the mood for this year’s BAFICI by watching some of the top titles from previous editions online and for free this month at Qibit (registration required) and Cinemargentino (until 15th April).

Posted in Film, The Arts, The City1 Comment

The Indy Eye: BA Celebrates Scotland, Japan, and Calabria

The Indy Eye: BA Celebrates Scotland, Japan, and Calabria

The 2015 ‘Buenos Aires Celebra‘ series – paying homage to the city’s different migrant groups and their traditions – began with a bumper weekend as thousands of people joined festivals for Scottish, Japanese, and Calabrese communities. The outdoor events included live music, colourful costumes, and traditional dance, with street stalls selling local crafts and delicacies.

Indy photographers Michalina Kowol and Marc Rogers joined the festivities and share some of their images below.

Av. de Mayo was full of tartan and bagpipes in celebrations for the local Scottish community (Photo: Marc Rogers)

Av. de Mayo was full of tartan and bagpipes on Saturday in celebrations for the local Scottish community (Photo: Marc Rogers)

The Buenos Aires Scottish Guard marches along Av. de Mayo (Photo: Marc Rogers)

The Buenos Aires Scottish Guard marches along Av. de Mayo (Photo: Marc Rogers)

A traditional Highlands toast with a special single malt (Photo: Marc Rogers)

A traditional Highlands toast with a special single malt (Photo: Marc Rogers)

Local clan emblems and craft jewellery (Photo: Marc Rogers)

Local clan emblems and craft jewellery (Photo: Marc Rogers)

Leading the bagpipes band (Photo: Marc Rogers)

Leading the bagpipes band (Photo: Marc Rogers)

Girls dress in traditional clothing for a taiko (drum) show (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

At BA Celebra Japan, girls dress in traditional clothing for a taiko (drum) show (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

A geisha in traditional dress (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

A geisha in traditional dress (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Colourful toys and textiles on display (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Colourful toys and textiles on display (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

There were live martial arts demonstrations... (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

There were live martial arts demonstrations… (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

...and of course, plenty of sushi (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

…and of course, plenty of sushi (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Food was the main protagonist at the event to celebrate the Calabrese community (Photo: Marc Rogers)

Food was a major protagonist at the event to celebrate the Calabrese community (Photo: Marc Rogers)

A leg of pork slow cooked in a homemade tomato-sauce (Photo: Marc Rogers)

A leg of pork slow cooked in a homemade tomato-sauce (Photo: Marc Rogers)

Posted in Photoessay, The City0 Comments

Hand of Pod: Refereeing Controversy Revives Video Debate

Hand of Pod: Refereeing Controversy Revives Video Debate

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 week’s Hand Of Pod sees Sam and Andrés discuss referee Germán Delfino’s decision to rescind a penalty and red card seemingly on television evidence during Vélez Sarsfield’s 2-1 win over Arsenal de Sarandí on Saturday – what happened, and how have the Argentine media tried in places to twist the story? Other topics on this episode are River Plate’s weekend clásico win, 1-0 over San Lorenzo, and Boca Juniors’ 2-0 victory away to Huracán which took them top of the nascent league table. We also find time for a six-goal thriller between Defensa y Justicia and Rosario Central, the end of Unión de Santa Fe’s unbeaten record, and much more besides. This week’s history section is devoted to Omar Sívori, the great former River and Juventus striker who made his debut 61 years ago last Saturday.


Mystic Sam’s 9th round predictions (last week: 8/15)

Crucero del Norte v Atlético de Rafaela
Temperley v Colón
Gimnasia v Aldosivi
Godoy Cruz v Vélez
San Lorenzo v Independiente
Racing v Huracán
Central v San Martín
Banfield v Lanús
Boca v Chicago
Olimpo v Defensa y Justicia
Argentinos v River
Unión v Sarmiento
Arsenal v Newell’s
Belgrano v Quilmes
Tigre v Estudiantes

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

Posted in Life & Style, Sport0 Comments

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24th March marks the anniversary of the 1976 coup that brought Argentina's last dictatorship to power, a bloody seven year period in which thousands of citizens were disappeared and killed. Many of the victims passed through ESMA, a clandestine detention centre turned human rights museum

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