On a cold Sunday night in June, sitting on plastic chairs in a grey town hall in the Buenos Aires suburban town of Ciudad Evita, a dozen residents are gathered. They have heard that a landfill is going to be constructed just outside their town to receive rubbish produced in the city of Buenos Aires – and they have decided to stop it.
Like every Sunday since December 2007, they have come with material to boost their fighting spirit. Various banners with sentences such as ‘to bury rubbish is to bury our future’ are brandied, a gigantic picture of Evita’s face covered in a gasmask is pinned on the wall and printed on t-shirts sold for $30.
Ciudad Evita, a city of 68,000 residents whose shape is designed to look like Eva Duarte de Perón’s profile when seen from the sky, is a quiet town. With its one-storey red brick houses, its parks, woods and sports centre, the city offers a peaceful lifestyle just 21km west of Buenos Aires.
“We are very worried,” says Néstor Abalo, one of the residents. “Landfills have proved to be very dangerous for people’s health as toxic elements infiltrate the earth, water and air.”
He decided to take action after hearing the residents’ experiences in the city of Gonzales Catán, where the most active landfill of the province is installed. Locals have been diagnosed with cancer, allergies, hepatitis and tuberculosis and blame it on the landfill. They say it emanates acid and gas fumes, which are contaminating their water.
Like Abalo, hundreds of residents have decided to uncross their arms and have set up the ‘Asamblea de vecinos autoconvocados’ (Assembly of self-convened residents). They have no official status, a new president is chosen every month, and the group comprises professionals working in diverse fields such as geology, engineering and law among others, who all dedicate their free time to the cause.
Marching on the streets, blocking an alley of the motorway every first Sunday of the month, and handing out information door to door: the residents promise they won’t give up. They are convinced they have enough reasons not to.
Apart from the landfill being a health hazard, the neighbours also point out the historical value of the land. “Ciudad Evita is a national monument, and we can’t let anyone destroy her profile,” states Abalo. The location of the future construction, on 24 hectares of land next to the motorway, also has an important archaeological value. “It is where the Corpus Christi battle was fought between the Indians and the Spanish, and where Mendoza’s brother died in 1536,” he specifies. “We can’t allow history to be turned into a dustbin!”
The residents also claim that having a landfill as close as 7.5km from the international airport of Ezeiza violates the safety rules dictated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. “Waste attracts birds that can then get caught in reactors and be fatal for airplanes,” they write in a report published on their website (www.noceamseciudadevita.com.ar).
“We keep pressurising the government of the province but it refuses to give us answers or even speak to us,” deplores Abalo. “We only found out about the landfill when we saw our local authorities analysing the grounds. All they are saying now is that it’s not going to be a landfill any longer but a transfer station, where wet and dry waste will be transferred into specially adapted lorries heading for another destination. But we don’t believe them, as they wouldn’t need 24 hectares just for that.”
Landfills in the province of Buenos Aires are created and controlled by Ceamse (Coordinación Ecologíca Area Metropolitana Socieded del Estado), which is a state-owned company created in 1978. When contacted by The Argentina Independent, the company confirmed it was looking for new locations for landfills as the current ones were full, but that Ciudad Evita hadn’t been considered as a potential site.
“We are however studying new areas on which to build two transfer plants, and one of which will be in the north west zone of the province,” said Alfredo Vega, Ceamse spokesperson. “Where exactly, we still haven’t decided.”
He added that no construction would be undertaken without a feasibility study and without having the ‘best universities’ analyse the impact on the environment beforehand.
According to Vega, landfills are an ecological solution to deal with rubbish as they have been specially designed to bury waste without having a negative impact on the environment. “Moreover, once the landfill closes, we turn it into a green space, as we did in Villa Domínico, which can be used for different outdoor activities,” he points out, specifying that landfills are the most commonly used solution for dealing with rubbish worldwide.
Residents of Ciudad Evita won’t listen to any ecological argument Ceamse puts forward. “I don’t believe one word they say,” reacts Claudia Llamos, one of the neighbours who attends Sunday night meetings with a ‘No al Ceamse’ badge pinned on her jumper. “They try to hide the reality by covering landfills with grass, but a lot of research shows it’s just theory and waste starts building up above ground, contaminating the air we breathe.”
Recycling at Home
The Assembly is perplexed that the government is still using the same solution to deal with rubbish since the creation of Ceamse under the last dictatorship. “Our solution is simple,” the members say. “We want waste to be recycled and not buried!”
As it happens, the city of Buenos Aires has had a law in place since 2007, called Ley Basura Cero (Zero Litter Law). Under this legislation, the city is supposed to have separate containers in the streets. This is to encourage citizens to recycle from home in order to diminish the amount of trash driven into the province to be buried. But many environmental organisations are accusing the authorities of not fulfilling their task.
“If the city government of Buenos Aires were obeying the new law to encourage people to recycle, landfills wouldn’t be such a problem as there would be fewer of them and they would be filled with organic components only,” concludes Abalo. Ciudad Evita’s residents are therefore also putting pressure on their local government to create a similar law. “And meanwhile, we are going to set the example,” says Llamos. “We are going to install containers for
plastic remnants all over the city which we plan to collect ourselves.”
Troubled Eva Duarte
Ciudad Evita was founded by Juan Domingo Perón in 1947. His idea was to honour his wife by creating a small city that looks like her profile when seen from the sky. It was designed to be home to 15,000 residents and to provide facilities such as libraries, schools and sports centres. From 1963, new districts were created by the municipality of La Matanza after it took over its administration.
The name of the city was changed by successive military governments. Hating its connection to Perón, they renamed the town Ciudad General Belgrano, then Ciudad General Martín Miguel de Güemes in 1977. The city finally recuperated its original name in 1983, with the return of democracy.
Ciudad Evita was declared a national historical monument in Argentina in 1997.