Tag Archive | "buenos aires"

Editorial: On Lynchings, The Media, and Missed Opportunities


It began on 26th March. “18-year-old thief lynched by locals in Rosario dies”, read the headline in La Nación. The ‘thief’ was David Moreira, who succumbed to severe head injuries four days after being beaten by a mob of up to 50 people who accused him of snatching a handbag from a young mother in the street.

Lorena Torres, David Moreira's mother holds a photo of her murdered son (photo: Carlos Carrión / Indymedia)

Lorena Torres, David Moreira’s mother holds a photo of her murdered son (photo: Carlos Carrión / Indymedia)

In the days that followed, reports started coming in of similar incidents around the country. Then, on 29th March, a Twitter user gave a vivid account of another brutal mob attack on a suspected mugger in Palermo, catapulting the issue to the front pages and opening a national debate.

Analysing the causes and psychology of collective violence is beyond the scope of this article. But before the news cycle moves on, it’s worth reflecting on some of the things we have seen and heard over the last week, and adding a bit of context and perspective to the hyperbole.

Modern-day lynchings are not a new phenomenon, nor unique to Argentina

Lynchings are already an established phenomenon in other parts of Latin America, especially in Guatemala, which reported 488 cases (and 47 deaths) in 2013 alone. However, these typically take place in rural areas and display more ritualistic tendencies, such as dragging the victim to a symbolic public place and burning or torturing them. There are more lines of comparison between here and Brazil, where a similar national debate is underway after a 15-year-old boy was beaten, stripped, mutilated, and chained to a lamppost with a bike lock by a mob who accused him of stealing in a middle-class neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro.

There is no official data on lynchings in Argentina, but one university study found 24 cases reported by the media between 1997 and 2008, while an online search reveals sporadic recent examples, including an almost identical case in November 2012 on the same corner where Moreira was murdered.

Experts signal that there are also likely to be other cases that are not reported at all. Sociologist Javier Auyero, co-author of ‘La violencia en los márgenes‘ (Violence in the margins) spoke on radio about how violent revenge attacks are not uncommon in the shantytowns and poor urban neighbourhoods, yet the press pay little attention. When it comes to crime and security, says Auyero, the media focuses overwhelmingly on that which affects the middle and upper classes, even though it is the poor that suffer from it most on a daily basis.

There is a disconnect between crime rates and the feeling of insecurity in Argentina

When Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri recently expressed relief that his daughter spent 2013 living in San Francisco, he probably had not checked that the murder rate was higher there last year than in Buenos Aires. Yet Macri is not alone: according to Latinobarometro, 35% of Argentines consider crime the biggest problem in the country, more than any other Latin American state except Venezuela and Uruguay, despite data suggesting it is relatively safe.

National crime statistics have not been published since 2009 – a major problem in itself – but in the province of Buenos Aires, the most populous and most affected by crime, the murder rate in 2013 was an estimated 9.7 (per 100,000 people). This is among the lowest in the region, according to UN data, with only Chile and Uruguay enjoying significantly lower rates. Even localised spikes in violence – the homicide rate in Rosario reached an alarming 22 last year – remain far below the worst affected urban areas of Brazil, Colombia, and most of Central America. The same UN report does show that Argentina has the highest rate of robberies in the region, though it has not changed significantly since 2005.

Rosario has seen a surge in violent crime related to drugs gangs (photo: José Granata/Télam/ef)

Rosario has seen a surge in violent crime related to drugs gangs (photo: José Granata/Télam/ef)

Argentine sociologist Gabriel Kessler, author of the book ‘El sentimiento de inseguridad’ (‘The feeling of insecurity’), says this disconnect comes from a mix of relatively high and risings rates of victimisation (the number of households that have been a victim of crime, mainly minor offences), and the media exposure of the most violent crimes and murders. This generates fear about the potential to be a future victim, centred especially on the arbitrary nature of street crime.

None of this is to deny the existence of violent crime or diminish the emotional impact it has on those who suffer its consequences. But a legal system exists precisely to strip emotion from the judicial process – everyone has a right to demand a better judicial system, but not to circumvent it. And if there is to be a considered debate on the problem, it should be based on objective reality and not a feeling of persecution.

Condemnation comes in shades of grey

One thing that has resonated is the public response to this outbreak of lynching attacks, today more visible than ever thanks to social networks. Opinions in newspaper comments and social networks range from outright rejection of violence to unashamed celebration at the death of a ‘criminal’. Of course, virtual anonymity tends to bring out extremist views, and there has also been a strong online campaign rejecting vigilantism under the slogan ‘No cuenten conmigo‘ (‘Don’t count on me’). Yet a softer version of this ‘uno menos‘ (one fewer) mentality seems to have at least a foothold in the social conscience: two separate surveys published late last week found that around 30% of respondents support the use of violence against suspected criminals.

Media pundits and public figures have been almost universal in condemning the lynchings, though this is often nuanced with understanding for those that took part in them. Meanwhile, subtle judgements are cast through the select use of language: the person being beaten to death remains the ‘criminal’ while the mob is made up of ‘locals’ who are taking ‘justice’ into their own hands. The word ‘murder’ is largely missing from the coverage of the Moreira case, even though at least two Supreme Court judges and several prosecutors have made it clear that this is the only way it can be treated by the law.

Efforts to empathise are also one-sided. Talk of social frustration, suffering, and injustice is directed at the ‘normal’ people who resort to brutality out of ‘desperation’. The background story and social context of the person they are beating is largely irrelevant – he is defined solely by his alleged criminal act, and disregarded as just another anonymous thug from the slums.

Lurking behind it all is an undercurrent of racism. Even though in Spanish, the translation ‘linchamiento‘ does not have the same connotations as the English original, there is a clear profile of the dark-skinned, cap-wearing criminal that is reinforced by the media. It is this type of stigmatisation that led to a group of taxi drivers in Rosario to chase down, shoot at, and beat up a young man on a motorbike last week because he looked like someone who had just robbed their office. If we are talking about the feeling of insecurity, what about those of a certain complexion who now have to fear being wrongly accused by an angry mob?

Talk about an ‘absent state’ is misleading

Politicians have also weighed in on the debate, with opposition leaders Sergio Massa (Frente Renovador) and Macri (PRO) quick to point the finger at an ‘absent state’, as though Alto Palermo were South Sudan. This media-friendly soundbite is designed to appeal to those who demand a quick solution to the problem of crime via more police, more prisons, and harsher sentences.

This call to get ‘tough on crime’ has been heard before. But the state has long contributed – through corrupt or abusive security forces – to the violence that exists in the marginalised areas most affected by crime. In 1999, ex-governor of Buenos Aires province, Carlos Ruckauf, boasted about how his police would “use bullets” on criminals, effectively legitimising a type of lynching in uniform. News this weekend of current governor Daniel Scioli’s knee-jerk declaration of a “security emergency”, and the reincorporation of 15,000 retired police officers, is not going to be comforting to all.

A protester outside a villa dresses up as the grim reaper in a police uniform (photo: Kate Stanworth)

A protester outside a villa dresses up as the grim reaper in a police uniform (photo: Kate Stanworth)

The demands for sterner punishments are also selective: last week, there was an outcry over the swift release of the adolescent who was allegedly caught stealing and ‘lynched’ in Palermo, but no one seemed too concerned in September after the acquittal of five men who took part in the beating to death of 15-year-old Lucas Navarro in La Matanza in 2010 after he attempted to rob one of them with a toy gun. Meanwhile, little is being said about the fact that no one has even been arrested for the murder of Moreira.

The real state deficit in these “factories of violence”, as Auyero calls the slums and impoverished suburban enclaves, is the failure to provide public education, social services, and work opportunities. Those who were cut adrift in the rampant neoliberal reforms of the ’90s and have not felt the benefits of the so-called ‘decade won’ under Kichnerism know more about injustice and helplessness than most. As the villa-based cooperative magazine La Garganta Poderosa surmised last week: if inequality does not justify anyone going out to steal, why do some claim that insecurity justifies some people going out to kill?

An opportunity is being missed

Amid tragic circumstances, there is an opportunity to discuss seriously the complex and sensitive issue of crime, justice, and security. However, this discussion needs to be balanced and without prejudices: if we are going to try and understand social violence, we need to examine all of it. If we only ask ourselves whether it is acceptable or not to lynch a certain type of criminal (no one is talking about lynching people who cause road accidents or businessmen who steal), it will inevitably reinforce stereotypes and social divisions.

A full debate cannot exist without more voices from the margins, like those of La Garganta Poderosa or César Gonzalez, the former teenage drug addict and mugger who is now a publisher and filmmaker, and perhaps the most powerful argument against those who support lynching. “The demand for more security is shared by all,” said Gonzalez on one radio show last week. “But it’s only a certain social sector that ends up getting beaten.”

@marcdrogers

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Buenos Aires Gears Up for BAFICI 2014


This Wednesday marks the start of this year’s BAFICI, ten straight days of screenings of films from all around the world. Whether you are looking for sexploitation, serious documentaries, classic pictures of yesteryear, or top picks from the indie film circuit, this year’s BAFICI has it all, with a selection of more than 400 features and shorts.

(Photo courtesy of BAFICI Festival)

(Photo courtesy of BAFICI Festival)

The festival kicks off with ‘The Congress’, directed by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman. For the second consecutive year, the opening film — previously relegated to an exclusive event for BAFICI dignitaries — will be shown at the Parque Centenario amphitheatre in a free outdoor event on Wednesday 2nd April (8pm). The decision on this more inclusive beginning to the festival belongs to Marcelo Panozzo, who is back for his second year as BAFICI’s artistic director.

If your Spanish leaves a lot to be desired, BAFICI is the perfect place to become acquainted with Argentine cinema, since all of the Spanish language films are subtitled in English. There are more local titles than ever this year, with three Argentine films making it into the International Competition (‘Algunas Chicas’ by Santiago Palavecino, ‘La Salada’ by Juan Martín Hsu and ‘Mauro’ by Hernán Rosselli). There is also an exciting lineup in the Argentine Competition, with plenty of anticipation around films like ‘Historia del Miedo’ (Benjamín Naishtat), ‘Ciencias Naturales’ (Matías Lucches), and ‘El Escarabajo de Oro’ (Alejo Moguillansky). Oh, and don’t miss a chance to see some classics from the golden age of Argentine filmmaking in the retrospective of comedic director Carlos Schlieper.

Besides the Argentine and International Competition, there’s the Avant-Garde and Genre section, which always promises some wild things you never would have imagined on the big screen. This year’s offering includes ‘G/R/E/A/S/E’ by Antoni Pinent, a deconstruction/collage/appropriation of the seventies musical film with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes is back to premier his short film ‘Redemption’, after his feature film ‘Taboo’ was one of the most commented of the 2012 edition of the festival. Another strange film in this section is a half-documentary, half-fictional account of people coming and going to a temple in Nepal, Manakamana, which is also the name of this film by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez.

Israel is the guest country at this year’s edition, with an a wide variety of films from the country as well as a retrospective on Uri Zohar, a prolific director who made nearly a dozen films critical of the history of the Zionist nation, including ‘The True Story of Palestine’ (1962) and ‘Every Bastard is a King’ (1968). Other directors treated to a retrospective this year include Rita Azevedo Gomes (Portugal), Jean-Stéphane Bron (Switzerland), Robert Fenz (United States), Cao Guimarães (Brazil), and B-movie master Frank Henenlotter (United States).

'La Salada' by Juan Martín Hsu is one of three Argentine films in the International Competition (photo courtesy of BAFICI)

‘La Salada’ by Juan Martín Hsu is one of three Argentine films in the International Competition (photo courtesy of BAFICI)

In a year of two major international sporting events (the Winter Olympics and the World Cup), BAFICI has added a Sportivo section with a well-selected list of films about sports. It includes pictures like the Hungarian war drama ‘Two Half Times in Hell’ (Zontán Fábri) where Nazi soldiers take on Hungarian servicemen on the soccer field, and a classic Argentine film about soccer talents, ‘El Crack’ (José Martínez Suárez). ‘Head Games’ (Steve James), another film in this section, documents a topic that has become particularly pressing in terms of American football, but also other sports as well: the long term effects of repeated head injuries. James’s earlier sports documentary, ‘Hoop Dreams’, is also included in the Sportivo section.

The number of film premiers at this year’s festival is also noteworthy, with directors like Júlio Bressane, Raya Martin, Kelly Reichardt, Alan Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Edgardo Cozarinsky, Ti West, and Takashi Miike all showing their new films at the 16th BAFICI. For the youngest BAFICI goers (or the youngest at heart), there is a pre-debut of two much-awaited sequels, ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ (James Bobin) and ‘Rio 2′ (Carlos Saldanha) and the usual list of animated films from across the globe, not to mention a special section, Retro UPA, dedicated to classic cartoon films by the United Productions of America.

All in all, no matter what tickles your moviegoer’s fancy, there is bound to be a film or two for you at this year’s BAFICI. As always, tickets for the hottest films often sell out, so buy in advance online on the official BAFICI website, or in person starting 3rd April at any of the BAFICI locations: Village Recoleta, Village Caballito, Centro Cultural San Martín, Malba Cine, Planetario, Fundación Proa and Arte Multiplex Belgrano (the free outdoor BAFICI screenings will take place at the amphitheatre at Parque Centenario, but tickets are not on sale there). Finally, if you have a valid student ID, you can get into the free press showings (provided the theatre doesn’t fill up with journalists, which it rarely does); pick up a schedule at the BAFICI press room at the Centro Cultural Recoleta.

Check back with The Indy for film reviews during the festival and happy viewing!

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Street Child World Cup: Becoming Somebody in Rio


Messi, Ronaldo and co. won’t be arriving in Brazil for another two months, but in Rio de Janeiro this weekend, a different type of global football tournament kicks off. Over the next ten days, the Street Child World Cup (SCWC) will bring together 230 teenagers from 19 countries that have lived or worked on the streets in a festival that combines football, art, and campaigning to deliver a simple yet empowering social message: I am somebody.

The first SCWC in Durban in 2010 (photo courtesy of SCWC)

The first SCWC in Durban in 2010 (photo courtesy of SCWC)

The event will take place in a large complex in the Vargem Pequena neighbourhood of Rio, with football pitches, swimming pools, conference centres and accommodation for all of the participants and their supervisors. “We’ll have children from Pakistan with children from Argentina,” says Joe Hewitt, director of communications for SCWC. “There will be language barriers, but what we found last time was that the football and the art takes over, and these kids build a bond that is really unique and remarkable.”

The first SCWC took place with eight teams in Durban, South Africa, in 2010, in the months before the FIFA World Cup, with the aim of challenging the negative perception and treatment of street children across the world. The idea came from the decade-long campaign by local non-profit Umthombo Street Children to end the illegal round up of street children by local authorities, an activity that had intensified in the run up of the FIFA event. “We helped them win the campaign,” says Hewitt. “The municipality said they would no longer do the round ups and would instead work with the [Umthombo] project. It started like that and reached the point where the Durban municipality will be sponsoring the South African team to come to Brazil, so it’s a complete shift in their thinking.”

In Brazil, the SCWC is supporting the local ‘Criancia não é de rua‘ (No child should be on the streets) campaign, which seeks a national policy response to provide short-term support and a long-term alternative for children on the streets. Aside from trips to Rio’s famous attractions like the Cristo Redentor statue and the Maracana stadium, the SCWC participants will also spend two days in Vidigal, a favela on a hill rising above Ipanema beach, integrating with the local community and getting to know the kind of environment the members of the Brazilian boys’ and girls’ teams have come from.

Hewitt says encouraging a connection between children that, despite their vastly different backgrounds and daily realities, often share experiences of neglect and abuse, is one of the key goals of the event. “For example, the team from Burundi can hear about what the government is doing in the UK, and the safety net they have in the US – they can never dream of that, but it is something they can start to build into their advocacy.”

Team Argentina

According to a national survey by Unicef and the Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Family (Sennaf) published in June 2012, there are 14,675 children without parental care in Argentina, with half of these concentrated in Buenos Aires and the surrounding metropolitan area.

It is here, some 40km west of the centre of Buenos Aires, that the Argentine SCWC team is training at the Fundación La Casita, a local NGO that has been working with street kids for 38 years in a suburb of Moreno. After some free play – a chance to showboat some skills – some of the boys start running laps of the pitch while others watch from outside the fenced area.

Team Argentina in training (photo: Marc Rogers)

Team Argentina in training (photo: Marc Rogers)

“We are working a lot on positioning and tactics,” says coach Leandro Amoedo, speaking briefly between attack versus defence drills. “They used to just run all over the pitch before, but now we’ve got some order”

La Casita currently houses around 50 adolescent boys – the numbers fluctuate given the home’s open door policy – and nine of them will represent the country for the first time in the SCWC in Rio. They are, understandably, excited. “I’m looking forward to seeing Brazil and meeting other people from all over the world,” says Javier, who prefers to play enganche – the Argentine name for a number 10 or playmaker. “I’ve been training every day.”

“It sounds crazy, but there are kids in the team that have never even been to downtown Buenos Aires. Imagine what it means to them to leave the country, take an aeroplane, to go to Brazil,” says Isidro Villanueva, administrator of the home. “It offers a chance to meet others and find out how they are working and what difficulties they face, because this is an international problem… It also gives a chance for people to know the home [La Casita], the work we do and why we do it.”

Villanueva entered La Casita 26 years ago as a street child like any other, and after finishing his studies and leaving, he decided to come back and work with the next generations of children coming through the same doors that he did.

He has witnessed first hand how things have changed for youngsters out on the streets over the last three decades. “There wasn’t as much drug usage before. In my day, those with drug problems were 20 or so, nowadays children of ten or 11 come to the home having tried practically everything,” he explains. In Villanueva’s experience, the socioeconomic changes of the country over that period have also had an impact: “Values have been lost. Getting an education was something normal then, but now it is something exceptional. We had a work culture because we came from generations that worked – now younger children come from three generations of parents that haven’t had work, and that changes values, conduct, everything.”

The staff and volunteers at La Casita try to restore these values through classes and workshops in all kinds of practical crafts. “The idea is that they have to learn something – it doesn’t matter what, but they have to take something away with them,” says Villanueva. “One of the fundamental goals of the home is that the children start to acquire habits – in study, hygiene, cleaning. This event [SCWC] creates more habits, to take part in a sport, to dedicate a certain time each week to training… this contributes a lot to the lives of the children.”

Team Argentina in training (photo: Marc Rogers)

Javier (right) takes on a teammate in training. (photo: Marc Rogers)

The nine-person squad includes two brothers, Martín and Emmanuel, who along with a third sibling, live in La Casita. “Since I came to the home and went to school I stopped taking drugs,” said 15-year old Emmanuel in a recent interview for the foundation’s own newsletter. “I used to take a lot of drugs, of all kinds, but now I’ve stopped that because I think it’s bad for me… [The SCWC] is going to change our lives. We’re going to see another country, make friends – we’ve worked hard all year to go to Brazil.”

Rio Rights

The children from La Casita will have a chance to share their experiences with those from all over the world in what is arguably the most important aspect of the SCWC, a participatory international conference in which the children themselves develop a universal call to action for governments over children’s rights.

In 2010, it was through this conference that the so-called ‘Durban Declaration’ was prepared, and later delivered to the governments of participating countries and the UN Committee on Human Rights. The statement carried one key message from the children: ‘listen to us’. Hewitt says the ‘Rio Rights Declaration’ this year is likely to be more focused on specific requests to governments. “It will demand that governments guarantee street children certain minimum standards.”

In addition to sharing personal experiences via an accessible football-themed methodology called Team for Life, the conference will cover broad areas like addiction, for the children or their family members, violence against adolescents, and gender issues, as girls tend to be more invisible on the streets, and are often abused by street boys. However, Hewitt stresses that the children themselves will determine the exact content of the declaration. “There will be a focal point, but we don’t know what that is yet because it will come out of what the children say. We won’t presume what they say, we’ll wait to find out.”

This year’s conference is given extra significance by the killing of one of the children in the Brazilian boys’ team last month. Rodrigo Kelton was shot on a visit to his family home in the north-eastern city of Fortaleza – it was his 14th birthday. “The rates of child and teen mortality are incredibly high in Brazil,” says Hewitt. The entire tournament takes place against the backdrop of increased social tension in Rio, with the army recently sent in to control a rise in violence in the city’s favelas. It is in this type of climate that children on the street are particularly vulnerable. “One of the UPP [Brazil's Pacifying Police Unit] was killed recently, and they went in a killed six kids in the favelas,” says Hewitt, adding that the SCWC organisers hope increased media attention on these issues can prompt authorities to act, as they did in Durban. “The media can help change this idea that there is a society and then these ‘animals’, which is how street kids are seen.”

Back in Moreno, Villanueva and the other directors at La Casita are hoping that the SCWC will create more awareness of its work within Argentina, and in that way, help reduce its heavy dependency on limited state subsidies going forward. “For many years we worked with the idea that doing a good job day to day was sufficient, but things have changed in recent years and we also need to promote,” says Villanueva. “I’m worried about the future of the home, because today the economic situation is difficult, and if we can’t generate resources from within the home and become self-sustainable, this institution will have an end date.”

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Argentina News Roundup: 7th March 2014


New subte station San José de Flores opened today on the A line (photo: Beatrice Murch)

San José de Flores subte station (photo: Beatrice Murch)

Subte Fares to Increase: Subte fares in the city of Buenos Aires will increase as of next Friday 14th March, from the current $3.50 to $4.50 for rides purchased with electronic cards, such as Sube and Monedero. Tickets bought in cash will cost $5 each, and the premetro will go up from $1 to $1.50. Those travelling more than 20 times per month will see the price of the 21st to the 30th ticket reduced to $3.60; the 31st to 40th will be reduced to $3.15, and all the trips from the 41st onwards will cost $2.70. The measure was published in the City’s Official Gazette this morning, and justified by a yearly rise in costs of 16%. The City’s General Auditor, Eduardo Epszteyn, criticised the rise, indicating that a report produced by his office at the legislature’s request found the subte‘s operational costs to be significantly lower than those mentioned by the government. “I can’t understand how [Mayor Mauricio] Macri’s government could reach that value. Their costs are grossly inflated,” he said.

Macri to Avoid Trial Over Wiretapping: A judge ruled that there is not enough evidence to bring Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri to trial over the 2009 wiretapping scandal. Former Education Minister Mariano Narodowski, former Metropolitan Police chief Jorge ‘Fino’ Palacios, and alleged spy Ciro James will undergo trial. Judge Sebastián Casanello considered that neither the prosecutor or the complainants “specify direct evidence supporting the allegation that Macri ordered that Néstor Leonardo and Sergio Burstein be spied on.” According to Casanello, the political responsibility that may be attributed to the Mayor is insufficient for criminal proceedings. Despite this latest development in the case, Macri is still prosecuted and the judge has ordered new evidence to be presented to him in order to decide whether to acquit him or to bring him to trial with the rest of the accused.

Buenos Aires Province Teachers to Strike Next Week: Teachers’ unions in the province of Buenos Aires confirmed they will go on strike on Monday and Tuesday next week. In a statement, the Teachers’ Unions Front (FGDB) said that they will “continue with the struggle until we receive a wage offer from the government that can be analysed by the teachers.” The FGDB has rejected the provincial government’s offer of a 25.5% wage increase, as they demand at least a 35% raise. Schools in the province did not start the term as expected this week due to the strikes.

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Argentina News Roundup: 18th February 2014


Flooding in San Juan (Photo: Rubén Paratore/Télam)

Flooding in San Juan (Photo: Rubén Paratore/Télam)

Government Increases Support for Flood Victims: The head of the National Administration for Social Security (Anses), Diego Bossio, announced this morning that the national government would boost its support for those affected by widespread flooding in the provinces of San Juan and Mendoza. Bossio said that Anses would double its pension and social welfare payments to those affected by the floods, while subsidised loans from the social housing programme Procrear would be provided for those needing to repair their properties. Bossio added that an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 families would qualify for this additional support.

Up to 3,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in San Juan in recent days due to the floods. In some areas an estimated 100mm of rain, approximately the annual average for the region, has fallen in the last week. The provincial education minister, Cristina Díaz, also announced today that the start of the school year would be delayed by two weeks until 10th March due to the impact of the floods, with many evacuees taking refuge in public schools. The National Meteorological Service (SMN) has warned that unstable conditions would persist in the region until the end of this week.

Security Secretary in Favour of Decriminalising Drugs: Argentina’s national secretary for security, Segrio Berni, said that on a personal level he is in favour of “decriminalising the entire supply chain [of drugs], from production to consumption.” Speaking on radio show Tierra de Locos today, Berni added that violence associated with drug trafficking gangs was “the natural evolution of the business of illicit goods” and called for a “serious and responsible debate” on the subject. Earlier today, Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich affirmed Berni’s claims that Argentina is not a producer of drugs on a meaningful scale, contradicting a statement last week by Defence Minister Agustín Rossi. Both played down media rumours of a division in the ruling party over official drugs policy.

Road Accident Deaths in Buenos Aires Increased in 2013: A report by the Ombudsman for Buenos Aires revealed that deaths caused by traffic accidents in the capital increased by 11.7% in 2013. The report counted 10,124 serious accidents during the year, up 2.9% compared to 2012, causing 10,621 injuries (up 1.1%) and 86 fatalities. Almost half (39) of those that died were pedestrians, with motorcyclists and car drivers the next most vulnerable groups. Road safety remains a major issue in Argentina, with NGO Luchemos por la Vida estimating an average 21 fatalities every day on roads around the country.

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BA Embraces the CrossFit Challenge


You may have heard your friends or colleagues excitedly talking about a little thing called “CrossFit”. The exercise craze that’s been spreading like wild-fire all over the world has arrived with a bang in Buenos Aires. Crossfit gyms, or as they like to call them “boxes”, which are in actual fact large warehouses, are popping up all over Buenos Aires.

Having spoken to friends about the workout, upon arrival at the gym in Palermo Hollywood, I was mainly feeling fear. CrossFit is a high intensity workout that promises to tackle every muscle in your body. The workouts change daily, meaning that no two classes are the same. Unlike many other exercise classes, in a CrossFit box there are no mirrors – the philosophy is that you leave your ego outside of the box and work your hardest to push your boundaries physically. A typical one-hour class will include elements of cardio, weight lifting, gymnastics, and core training.

Crossfit military training (photo by Arctic Warrior, via flickr)

Crossfit military training (photo by Arctic Warrior, via flickr)

If that doesn’t scare you enough, the description on the official website most certainly will: “CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning programme for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundred of other elite and professional athletes worldwide.”

But, having decided that this year will be the year I finally get into tip top shape, I decided to face my fear and head on down to a box to give it a shot.

The workouts are hard, but in actual fact, I found the entire experience exhilarating. It is not (just) an hour long sweat-fest: in reality, 45 minutes are spent perfecting various exercises like lunges, squats, burpees, and a combination of weight lifts with squats. We’ve all heard the phrase before – it’s not how many squats you do, it’s HOW you do them! It’s all about the technique: if you do it right, you’ll only need a few repetitions of the exercise in order to reap the benefits.

This is where CrossFit wins as an all-round class that really helps you achieve results. The trainers focus on exactly this – making sure you are doing exercises correctly. While one instructor leads the class, another walks around and adjusts your posture and technique.

CrossFit class at Tuluka (photo via CrossFit Tuluka Facebook page)

CrossFit class at Tuluka (photo via CrossFit Tuluka Facebook page)

After 45 minutes of this comes the hard bit. The last ten minutes focus on the notorious “workout of the day” (WOD) which each instructor will decide on at the beginning of the day. The day I attended, the WOD was a strenuous combination of ten burpees, 25 squats, 50 lunges, and 100 star jumps… TWICE! They put a ten minute timer on and you do as much as you can before the buzzer goes off. The point is to get a high impact training and to test your fitness level.

The idea is that, as you keep attending CrossFit, you’ll see your ability to make progress on the WODs increase. Without those pesky wall-mirrors, you’re encouraged to concentrate on your ability to keep going rather than how you look. The attentive instructors encourage you and ensure you are sticking to the technique. They are the hardest ten minutes of the entire class, but you end up feeling invigorated and full of energy.

Writing this in the days after the class, I have a seriously bad case of the aches in areas I didn’t even know existed. It was definitely worth it, however, and the prospect of actually doing exercise properly for once makes it all the more appealing.

The CrossFit team are serious: before you attend, you must go through a health check to ensure you are able to take part in the class. Throughout the workout, you’ll feel as though you have your own personal trainer. CrossFit is really a mentality, and while I was sceptical at first thinking it was just a hipster fad, I quickly realised it lives up to the hype. It’s a serious workout that encourages participants to focus on technique and push their boundaries. Try it out for yourself!

I tried a class with CrossFit Tuluka, an established group with various locations in Buenos Aires – to find the nearest box to you and information about prices, visit the website.

There are other options in the city, including CrossFit Rex, with a box in Monserrat (near San Telmo), Kasten CrossFit (Palermo) or CrossFit Unidos, located in Villa Crespo.

Posted in Expat, SportComments (0)

On Now: Tango 360


Now showing at the Galileo Galilei Planetarium in Buenos Aires is one of the most unique pieces of cinema available to the public in South America.

A part of the city government’s summer cultural programme, Tango 360 is a film designed to be projected onto a dome, a ‘360 degree film’. In this case, it is projected onto the domed ceiling of the Buenos Aires planetarium, a Palermo landmark most recognisable for the flashing lights encrusted on the dome’s exterior.

Tango 360 (photo via GCBA)

Tango 360 (photo via GCBA)

The planetarium was opened to the public in the late 1960s and since then has been a site of huge astrological interest to the city, providing free access to its telescopes and lectures. Now, and until the end of February, it adds tango to the collection of wonders it displays.

The 26-minute film’s narrative focuses loosely on the lives of a couple, but more than that, on the city of Buenos Aires. The film is an ode to the Argentine capital, and for those who love it as much as the filmmakers clearly do, this alone is enough reason to see it. Images of the city are ubiquitous in the film, moving to the soundtrack of ground-breaking Argentine tango musician Astor Piazzolla, making for an innovative creation that would struggle to be more porteño, especially showing at one of Buenos Aires’ most iconic venues.

Words and phrases sometimes adorn the images: they float and dive freely across the screen like the rest of the images, joining a curved, tango-themed, moving collage. Although I was left with the impression that the use of words in the film could’ve been handled slightly better, they were a good addition to a film that is more abstract art than narrative cinema, guiding viewers along the main points of what little plot there is.

On the top floor of the planetarium, the film theatre is a 20 metre diameter room with 360 seats all steeply reclined to face the ceiling. The full dome projection system is an impressive machine, represented by the huge projector in the centre of the room, which only just slips out of your line of vision when sat back in the seat.

There are many difficulties inherent to tackling a 360 degree film projection, and for the most part, Tango 360 does fairly well. The projections fills the entire screen – so people on opposite sides are not seeing the same images in front of them – though it also rotates slowly so that everyone catches most of it. It does sometimes display a similar image on both sides of the dome, but never without some kind of variation, so the experience is marginally different for everyone. I did find myself occasionally craning my neck uncomfortably to catch an important part of the film which was showing on an awkward part of the screen to see from my seat. This was especially the case with words, which are difficult to read upside down.

Despite these minor inconveniences, and a relatively steep admission price, the show that is ‘Tango 360’ is well worth a visit.

Tango 360 shows until 28th February at the Galileo Galilei planetarium in the Bosques de Palermo (Av. Sarmiento Y Belisario Roldán) on Saturdays and Sundays at 8pm. Tickets, $50, can be bought on the door. For more information, visit the website.

Posted in FilmComments (1)

Argentina News Roundup: 14th January 2014


Antarctica icebergs(Photo by Marc Rogers)

Antarctica icebergs (Photo by Marc Rogers)

Death in Antarctica: According to the Ministry of Defence, an army official died today at the Esperanza base in Antarctica after a flammable material exploded. Thirty-nine-year-old Alberto Ramírez of the Antarctic Command was removing waste material from the base when the incident happened. Esperanza base is one of six permanent Argentine sites in the Antarctic and the only one with civilian personnel. It is situated in the extreme north of the Trinidad peninsula in Esperanza Bay, and has a population of 70 in summer and 51 in winter, as well as receiving over a thousand tourists during the summer months.

Inflation: According to figures released today, inflation was 28.38% in 2013, a year which culminated in a rise of 3.38% in prices during December. Last month’s rate is the highest rate of inflation for a month in the last 22 years, and the annual level is the highest rate since 2002. The figures are based on calculations by private consultants who create the Congreso consumer price index, and their release comes days ahead of the official figures are released by Indec on Friday. Since 2007, Indec’s figures have been seen to not be trustworthy, when it was deemed the government had started interfering with the index, and as a result many private consultants offer parallel inflation rates.

Plan to restrict trucks in capital: Florencio Randazzo, national Interior and Transport Minister, has announced a plan to reduce the number of trucks on the streets of Buenos Aires. The plan is to encourage the movement of lorries around the city at night, and for those wishing to transit the capital during the day, a fee of $185 per truck would have to be paid. Horacio Rodrígueuz Larreta, Buenos Aires City Goverment’s Cabinet Chief, praised the plan as a move to decongest the streets of the capital. He said: “In the city you have a port in the middle, behind the centre, and the idea is for trucks to be able to freely access that area at night.” No timeline has been given for the plan to be implemented.

 

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (0)

A Rough Guide to Surviving a Buenos Aires Heatwave


Last month, Buenos Aires was paralysed by a heatwave of implausible magnitude. In fact, it was the longest heatwave to hit the city since records began, leaving us unprepared inhabitants sweating and squirming our way through the days, dreaming, or more accurately hallucinating from the heat, of a white Christmas. It was a heatwave that disarmed even the most hardened sun dwellers, and with temperatures set to soar once again, here are a few useful tips for surviving the hottest days that the vicious Argentine summer has to throw at us.

Pre-Christmas heat in Buenos Aires (photo: José Casal/Télam/lz)

Pre-Christmas heat in Buenos Aires (photo: José Casal/Télam/lz)

“¡Hace Mucho Calor!”

Whether you’re in Buenos Aires for business or for pleasure, one phrase that you simply have to learn is “¡hace mucho calor!”. Roughly translated as: ‘Blimey, it’s bloody hot today!”, this is the go-to phrase to excuse any misdemeanor that you may commit during a heatwave. Two particular examples include:

Arriving late. The more time that you spend in Buenos Aires, the more detached you become with your sense of punctuality. Therefore tardiness can become an obstacle that you are constantly struggling with. However, if you happen to be late for an appointment on a day in the midst of a heatwave, simply arrive bellowing “¡hace mucho calor!”, and all will be excused. Everyone in the city is well aware the heatwave can disrupt even the most carefully laid plans.

Poor hygiene. During 40°C heat, it is inevitable that you will sweat, and sweat a lot. Sometimes in places that you didn’t even realise had sweat glands. And you’re not always going to be within reachable distance of your shower. Besides, after five showers daily, the body starts to take the form of a dried prune. Thus, personal hygiene can’t always remain at a respectable level, but provided that you deploy the “¡hace mucho calor!” line as soon as you penetrate smelling territory, all will be excused, even if the smell may not easily be forgotten.

Avoid Public Transport

Public transport in Buenos Aires can be a fickle mistress. On the one hand, it is exceptionally cheap, on the other it can be woefully unpredictable and perilously overcrowded. Needless to say, during a heatwave these problems are amplified. As January is holiday time, the subtes and buses become distinctly less regular, leaving you baking in the sun or sweltering underground. Not a huge problem, especially if you’re not in a rush, however, the lack of regular service results in increased overcrowding. Combine this with the extra heat, and the carriages become insufferable infernos, filled with the intolerable smell of human chafing.

Befriend Somebody with a Swimming Pool

This is a pelopincho. Appealing, huh? (photo: Ferrabone Carlos on flickr)

This is a pelopincho. Appealing, huh? (photo: Ferrabone Carlos on flickr)

I am becoming increasingly aware that Buenos Aires is somewhat inhospitable to the intermittent swimmer, as it offers few options for those looking to combat the heat with a leisurely dip. The regularly trodden paths are Parque Norte, social clubs, or the high-end hotels, each with their own complications for the languid bather.

Parque Norte is an imposing complex of gargantuan pools and screaming children. Perfectly geared towards days with the family, but deeply opposed to genuine relaxation. The social clubs are a feasible option, but often require a monthly commitment, while the high-end hotels charge ludicrous prices for daily use of their aquatic facilities.

Much more advisable is to simply befriend somebody with their own personal pool, in which you can waste away the days between underwater handstands, and poolside yoga (not that I’ve ever actually tried this, but it sounds relaxing). Failing this, you can pick yourself up a pelopincho, or paddling pool. It’s not going to enable you to work on your breaststroke, but can offer much needed cooling in the afternoon heat.

Browse the Shopping Malls

It’s no secret that if you want to shop in Buenos Aires, ironically, the shopping malls aren’t the places to do it. The extensive markets and quirky side-street boutiques will trump the overpriced stores of Abasto or Alto Palermo every time. However, the malls do have one particularly appealing ace up their sleeve for the summer months: an endless supply of air conditioning. And if you, like many others in the city, are without that luxury in your home, immersing yourself in gloriously cool and fake air can be a momentary slice of heaven. It is unlikely that you will be inclined to part with too much money on your excursion, but so long as you feign marginal interest in the stores, a day of welcome refreshment is yours.

Don’t be Tempted by the Riverside ‘Beach’

After quickly scanning a map of Argentina you could be forgiven for thinking that Buenos Aires is a coastal city with a blustering beach and an elegant river, perfect for winding down on a hot summer afternoon. Well, I can assure you it is not. The reality is acutely underwhelming, in the guise of a dirty rock and mud beach in the Ecological Reserve. And, no matter how tempting it may be to pack your food cooler, erect your windbreaker, and marinade yourself in factor 50, it is unadvisable to embark on an expedition to the river’s ‘beach’, and even less advisable to submerge yourself in the squalid, brown liquid beyond it.

Even less tempting are the Buenos Aires Playa ‘beaches’ erected by the city government in Nuñez and Villa Soldati. Tonnes of sand has been shovelled into two city parks, in an attempt to recreate the idea of being at the coast. Unfortunately, there is no water feature you can actually take a dip in, so you will just get sweaty and sandy.

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri opens the 'beach season' in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri opens the ‘beach season’ in Buenos Aires.

Daytime is for Sleeping

Siestas in Latin countries are certainly not closely guarded secrets. In fact they are rife, but never are they more beneficial than during the sweltering afternoon hours of a Buenos Aires heatwave. You might possibly be reading this with a wry smile, thinking: ‘Ha! You fool, those are my tanning hours!’. But, after 30 minutes battling both the sun and the intense humidity of Buenos Aires, without so much as a whiff of a breeze, I speculate that you may think again. More agreeable is to scurry home, close your curtains, set your fan to gale force, and escape under the covers. This can result in an uncomfortably damp and bedraggled affair, so a little tip for keeping your bed nice and refreshing is to slightly dampen your covering sheets before commencing.

Try to keep that fan going (photo: João Paulo Corrêa de Carvalho)

Try to keep that fan going (photo: João Paulo Corrêa de Carvalho)

Acquire a Petrol Powered Electricity Generator, but Don’t Leave it on in the House!

As the recent protests are testament to, electricity blackouts are a regular occurrence during the summer months in Buenos Aires, leaving you defenseless in your struggle with the heat. One method of countering these blackouts, if you have the financial means, is to procure a petrol-powered electricity generator, to keep your fan turning, and your food refrigerated. However, if you do adopt this approach to electricity blackouts, something extremely important to note is that they give off toxic fumes. Already this summer there have been a number of deaths as a result of people leaving their generators on inside without proper ventilation. So, no matter how overheated you become, remember to turn the generators off, especially when sleeping!

Wet Paper Towels

This simple but effective trick is not at all exclusive to porteño heatwaves, but we thought we’d share it anyway. More ingenious than simply slapping a wet paper towel across your face, being careful not to waterboard yourself, wrap one around a drink before deploying it into a freezer. This will result in increased cooling speed, and within about 20 minutes your drink should be ice-cold. Now, I’m no scientist, so I’m not going to confuse myself, or you, by attempting to explain the physics behind this, but what I can say is that it works surprisingly well. And when considering that during the intense heat of a Buenos Aires heatwave you are likely to consume a small reservoir worth of liquid on a daily basis, this is a particularly helpful tip to keep your beverages chilled.

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The Indy Eye: Christmas in Buenos Aires


Christmas traditions in Argentina are distinctly different to those we Northern Hemisphere expats are used to. For one thing, it’s way too bloody hot in December to get much enjoyment from mulled wine, gravy, woolly hats, and ice-rinks. What’s more, Argentina has not quite been fully submerged in the insufferable consumerism that dictates Christmas traditions in certain parts of the world. Not yet, at least.

Instead, Christmas here is mainly used as yet another excuse to have a late night asado with family and friends, while staying close to the air con.

That said, some more traditionally European and North American Christmas decorations have been slowly filtering through here, with varying success and awkwardness. Here’s a look at some of the festive adornments that you can expect to find dotted around Buenos Aires during the holiday period.

All photos by Sam Pothecary.

The owner of this stall is fully aware that no Christmas is complete without a baby dressed as Santa, even if its 38 degrees C.

The owner of this stall is fully aware that no Christmas is complete without a baby dressed as Santa, even if its 38 degrees outside.

Buenos Aires premier shopping centre (for overpriced clothes), Alto Palermo isn’t one to miss out on the Christmas cheer. This year, curious red and white baubles have been suspended from the ceiling to remind us all to spend generously.

Buenos Aires premier shopping centre (for overpriced clothes), Alto Palermo isn’t one to miss out on the Christmas cheer. This year, curious red and white objects have been suspended from the ceiling to remind us all to spend generously.

Santa loves Coca Cola in every country. But, if only Papa Noel knew what it will be mixed with on Christmas Eve in Buenos Aires...

Santa loves Coca Cola in every country. But, if only Papa Noel knew what it will be mixed with over Christmas in Buenos Aires…

More and more of the shops and eateries in the city are getting into the Christmas spirit with slightly awkward decorations. Here, a Palermo bakery displays a suitably garish pink tree to get customers in the holiday mood.

More and more of the shops and eateries in the city are getting into the Christmas spirit with slightly awkward decorations. Here, a Palermo bakery displays a suitably garish pink tree to get customers in the holiday mood.

Extra security for this Santa in Buenos Aires.

Extra security for this Santa in Buenos Aires.

Clinton Cards has, thankfully, yet to expand its enterprise to this part of the world. But, don’t distress, there is a distinctly Argentine alternative for purchasing your Christmas cards.

Clinton Cards has, thankfully, yet to expand its enterprise to this part of the world. But, don’t distress, there is a distinctly Argentine alternative for purchasing your Christmas cards.

Not traditionally known for his love of ice-cream, when in the Argentine summer, this ominous looking Santa swaps his mince pies for a refreshing Torpedo.

Not traditionally known for his love of ice-cream, when in the Argentine summer, this ominous looking Santa swaps his mince pies for a refreshing Torpedo.

Even Monseñor Dr. Miguel De Andrea has been given a fancy Christmas makeover for the holidays.

Even Monseñor Dr. Miguel De Andrea has been given a fancy Christmas makeover for the holidays.

And finally, in my very own apartment building, we’ve been blessed with this little slice of Christmas wonder. Sometimes I miss home.

And finally, in my very own apartment building, we’ve been blessed with this little slice of Christmas wonder. Sometimes I miss home.

Posted in Photoessay, The CityComments (1)

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