Thousands of Families Take Over Lands in Merlo

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Residents of the town of Merlo, Greater Buenos Aires, have denounced an illegal occupation of a large area of land and a number of unfinished homes alongside route 1003 by around 3,000 families.

Neighbours of the land in the Barrio Nuevo area say that vehicles full of hundreds of people and supplies began moving into the area in the early hours of 22nd October. Since then, 340 unfinished social housing projects have been occupied, along with 60 hectares of privately-owned land.

Locals and opposition politicians have implicated outgoing mayor Raúl Othacehé in the incident, claiming he had orchestrated the take-over and that his government has done nothing to remove the families.

Othacehé, mayor of Merlo since 1991, lost his candidacy for the Frente para la Victoria (FpV) to Gustavo Menéndez in September’s primaries.

Menendéz, who won the 25th October local elections with 55.6% of the vote, told Radio Continental that he believes his predecessor ordered the occupation “in order to cover up embezzlement related to these houses, which Othacehé approved, charged to the federal government, and never finished”, referencing the unfinished construction of federally-funded social housing in the area.

He also accused Othacehé of draining funds from public services in Merlo, including the health department, through a series of budgetary manoeuvres prior to the general elections which resulted in the permanent hire of 2,000 public employees previously on fixed-term contracts and in sharp salary increases for public servants.

The situation is being compared to the 2010 occupation of Buenos Aires’ Parque Indoamericano, when over 1,500 families set up homes in the park and neighbouring lands, leading to violent clashes with residents and with police.

A spokesman for the owners of the 60 hectares of private land lamented that the “the idea had taken hold [in the area] that the owners of the land were absent and uninterested”.

He said, “We understand that someone who sees things like that, and who’s in extreme need, might dare to usurp the land. However that doesn’t mean it stops being an offence. […] The neighbours in the area are resisting the occupation today because they fear that one of the biggest villas in Greater Buenos Aires is being established opposite them.”

Basic services have been suspended in the occupied area and its surroundings and police patrols, ambulances, and buses are not circulating. Neighbours have denounced one incident of gun violence.

Menéndez, who will take office on the 10th December, says that he has already presented several complaints to the local justice department and has asked for intervention in the conflict from a number of provincial bodies.

Mayor Otahacehé’s office has issued a statement denying accusations of his involvement, saying “Instead of talking about proposals for our neighbours, [Menéndez] seeks only to injure Dr. Raúl Othacehé, wishing to cover up his own lack of competence to be at the head of a municipality of this size.”

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