Tag Archive | "President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner"

Judge Rules President Fernández’s Term Will End at Midnight

Judge María Servini de Cubría today ruled that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s term officially ends at midnight tonight. The decision comes after Fernández’s party confirmed that she will not attend president-elect Mauricio Macri’s inauguration ceremony in Congress on Thursday 10th December.

The court ruling is the latest twist in a heated, almost farcical, power struggle between the outgoing president and the incoming opposition leader that has disrupted preparations for tomorrow’s inauguration ceremony.

President Fernández was greeted by supporters outside the Sheraton hotel (photo: Presidencia/CF)

President Fernández was greeted by supporters outside the Sheraton hotel (photo: Presidencia/CF)

The democratic change of leader in Argentina historically consists of two parts: Congress swears in the incoming president, and then the outgoing president hands the presidential sash and baton to the successor.

President Fernández initially wanted the handover to take place at Congress at the same time that Macri is sworn in to office. Macri instead argued that the ceremony should take place at the Casa Rosada, and neither has been willing to back down.

The debate then turned towards the official time at which Fernández’s presidency ends. Macri argued that her term ends the 9th December at 11:59pm, meaning that he has the power to decide where the inauguration ceremonies will take place on the 10th.

The government’s Notary General told press on the 6th December that Fernández’s presidency expires 10th December at midnight or the moment that the incoming president is sworn in, whichever comes first.

Macri was not satisfied with this opinion, and even as negotiations continued, filed a legal injunction arguing that Fernández’s presidency actually ends at midnight on 9th December.

Prosecutor Jorge Di Lello agreed to take on the case and sent the injunction to court. Today the presiding judge, María Servini de Cubría, ruled in favour of Macri and decreed that Fernández’s presidency officially ends at midnight tonight.

Even before the judge’s official ruling, Fernández took the opportunity to announce that she would not attend either part of the ceremony. She argued that by Macri’s reasoning she will no longer be president at the time of the proceedings and therefore has no right to be there.

“We will conclude this discussion, this debate: the President will not attend the handover under these conditions,” head of the Argentine Federal Intelligence agency (AFI), Oscar Parrilli, told press yesterday.

“Under this degree, Argentina will not have a president for 12 hours. This is a grave institutional error. There is little difference between this and a coup d’état.”

In accordance with constitutional procedures, provisional Senate leader Federico Pinedo, of Macri’s PRO party, will be interim president between midnight and the time that Macri is sworn in on the 10th.

In what is now set to be her last public act as leader, President Fernández is due to lead a rally outside the Casa Rosada this evening, during which she will present a bust of her late husband and former president Néstor Kirchner.

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Macri Names Key Posts in Future Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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President Fernández Diagnosed With Laryngitis

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (photo: Luis Cetraro/enviado especial/Télam/cf)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (photo: Luis Cetraro/enviado especial/Télam/cf)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has suspended her agenda for the next 48 hours after being diagnosed with acute laryngitis.

The illness was diagnosed by the presidential medical team, which released a press release confirming that: “The President of the Nation, Dr. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has an acute laryngitis, and is receiving the appropriate treatment with the suspension of activities for 48 hours.” The diagnosis was signed by doctors Marcelo Ballesteros and Daniel Fernández.

President Fernández had planned to lead a ceremony today in Puerto Madryn, Chubut in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Welsh migrants to Patagonia.

This isn’t the first time the head of state has suffered medical issues. In November last year, she missed 26 days of activities with sigmoiditis, and in October 2013 had a lengthy absence after surgery for a subdural hematoma.

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Inside The Centro Cultural Kirchner

Amid what she claimed to be the most “prolific period” in Argentine history in relation to the construction and enhancement of cultural spaces, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recently inaugurated the Centro Cultural Kirchner (CCK) ahead of the annual celebrations for the 1810 May Revolution.

The restored post office building, re-opened as the Centro Cultural Kirchner (Photo courtesy of CCK)

The restored post office building, re-opened as the Centro Cultural Kirchner (Photo courtesy of CCK)

The project, carried jointly by the Ministry of Federal Planning, Public Investment and Services and the Ministry of Culture, was originally planned by former president Néstor Kirchner in 2006.

After six years of construction and its first inauguration in 2010, the centre is now, once again, partially open to the public. The Indy joined one of the free guided tours available to get an insight of what promises to be the most important cultural centre in Latin America. But first, some context.


The obsolete Palacio de Correos y Telégrafos (Central Post Office), resurrected now as the CCK, was designed by French architect Norbert Maillart and inaugurated in 1928.

The building comprises ten floors and three sublevels, accounting for 110,000m2, of which 40,000 have been recuperated for the CCK. It served for decades as the country’s central post office and was proclaimed a national historic landmark in 1997.

The Argentine postal service was privatised in 1997 and remained in private hands up until its nationalisation in 2003, under Kirchner’s presidency, when its former owner, Grupo Macri, led by Franco Macri, failed to pay a debt of over $900m.

The Post Office Palace under construction in 1920 (Photo via Wikipedia)

The Post Office Palace under construction in 1920 (Photo via Wikipedia)

“The re-functionalisation and enhancement of the Central Post Office and ideas for its urban environment,” was the project that the studio B4FS proposed in 2009 and initiated that same year.

Located in the most important civic-political area of Buenos Aires, the CCK aims to be on a par with the greatest cultural centres in the world, fostering a bridge between the nation and its people through artistic expression and the appreciation for culture.

“The idea is to count with a modern space dedicated to artistic manifestations, as part of a democratic political project that seeks to promote inclusion, popular participation, and to facilitate the access of cultural assets to the community,” state those behind the construction and operation of the centre.

However, there exist controversies regarding the budget of the refurbishment project, which was expected to be $925m, but is estimated to have more than tripled that amount.

There have also been disagreements over the name of the centre. The city of Buenos Aires enforces a law that prohibits the naming of public spaces and streets after a person whose passing has been within the last 10 years. However, since the building is property of the federal state, the law does not apply in this case. Others argue that former-president Kirchner does not deserve to have a cultural centre named after him because of his limited influence in the artistic world.

President Fernández responded to the criticism in her speech on 25th May: “It seems that some resent [the centre] bearing the name of the former president. If it bothers them that much, why don’t they make a better one and name it what they want?”

The Tour

During the 60-minute guided tour, I had the privilege to hurriedly appreciate the beauty of limited spaces in the CCK. I say limited because only a portion of the centre is actually finished, with construction on the project set to continue until 2016.

The structure is currently divided into two symmetrical sectors – the Noble area and the Industrial area – all enclosed within the original exterior of the building.

The Noble area, with its entrance on Sarmiento, recreates the now extinguished function of the building as the main post office, with the original structure restored and enhanced. The Industrial area includes most of the new innovations incorporated into the structure. “This wonderful building of the 19th century has incorporated the architecture of the 21st century in a masterly way,” stated architect Santiago Bo, referring to the aesthetics and functionality of the centre.

La Gran Lampora (Photo via CCK official Facebook page)

La Gran Lámpara, one of the innovative additions to the original building (Photo via CCK official Facebook page)

The guided tour started in the Noble area, walking the public through its main hall. While on my visit, I could overhear some visitors reminisce with nostalgia about their old visits to the former post office. The elegance of the main hall – covered in marble and decorated with the original wooden furniture of the building arranged as though it still functioned as the central post office – gave a first-time visitor like me an idea of its historical significance.

As we moved to the second floor and the Salón de los Escudos, where the only active exhibition is currently taking place, the tour guide explained that the free tickets to all the exhibitions and activities can be acquired at one of the desks downstairs.

We continued our guided visit to the most significant addition to the centre, La Ballena Azul (‘The Blue Whale’), a symphony hall which now serves as the home of the Argentine National Symphony Orchestra. La Ballena Azul is an extensive chamber, accommodating 1,750 spectators, within which the massive tubular organ that resides inside is a key attraction.

Aside from its impressive scale, the magic of this hall lies in the structural design, which assures that the vibrations of downtown Buenos Aires don’t affect the internal acoustics. The hall itself is suspended in the air within the building, with a wooden interior and a mobile stage that makes the performance more visually accessible. While sitting in the audience, the importance the centre puts on national artists, as well as the international recognition it seeks to achieve, became evident as the tour guide described the first performance in the hall as an emotional event for all.

We quickly stopped at the Sala Eva Perón, which in 1946 served as the donations office of the then First Lady during Juan Perón’s presidency. Since we didn’t get a thorough explanation of the hall, I confusingly assumed that its decorations, which vary from toys to cider and panettone, constituted part of the actual donations.

Decorations in the Sala Eva Perón (Photo: Victoria Arabskyj)

Decorations in the Sala Eva Perón (Photo: Victoria Arabskyj)

Our next stop was at one of the six multimedia auditoriums, which accommodate over 100 spectators each, and where an accordion player demonstrated the room’s highly-efficient sound system while playing tango. The meeting of modernity with old Argentine artistic and cultural traditions put a smile on people’s faces.

Finally, on our last stop, we got to see La Gran Lámpara (‘The Great Lamp’), hanging from the ceiling above La Ballena Azul. The impressive structure simulates a glass lamp that provides two levels for art exhibitions inside, which are currently open to the public with pieces of the original architecture of the building on display. It is a symbol of the innovative design that inspires awe in the visitors on the tour.

The modern interventions reach all the way to the terrace of the building, where a glass dome (‘La Cúpula’) is illuminated with LED lights that can illustrate the flag of any country in the world. The terrace offers a free panoramic view in Buenos Aires, where emblematic buildings, both private and public, can be seen, along with the luxurious neighborhood of Puerto Madero and the Río de la Plata. Disappointingly, although this space is extensively advertised, it is one of the many areas that wasn’t open to the public at the time of the tour (though this particular room is now hosting various cultural activities).

What sets this cultural centre apart from existing ones, besides its scale and grandeur, is the social responsibility it seeks to be accountable for. Eventually, the centre will offer an extensive amount of space for the public use, free of charge. It comprises 40 exhibition halls, six multimedia auditoriums, and two public squares. It will also contain three restaurants/bars.

Personally, if you have time, I would recommend waiting until it’s closer to being finished to make a visit. The centre has a lot of potential and I have no doubt that it will be an extremely useful tool in the life of up-and-coming artists, however, it is frustrating that much of the work remains incomplete. For those who don’t have long in Buenos Aires, unless you are particularly interested in the history and architecture of the building, I would recommend visiting one of the upcoming performances rather than attending a guided tour of the centre, which is also suffering some teething problems (although the staff were very kind, they seemed to be disorganised and uninformed).

Centro Cultural Kirchner, Sarmiento 151. During June, opening hours are Thursday 2pm-8pm; Friday-Sunday 2pm-12am.

Free guided tours are available Friday-Sunday, 2pm-5.30pm. Tours last around one hour and begin every 30 minutes.

More information and the calendar of exhibitions, performances, and workshops can be found on their website. Tickets for shows and events can be collected at the venue until two hours before they start; they are all free, with a maximum of two tickets per person.

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Indigenous Peoples Make Joint Declaration After Summit

Representatives of 25 indigenous peoples from around Argentina signed a joint declaration in demand of basic rights after holding a national summit in Buenos Aires last week.

“No more sisters or brothers must be killed or abused for defending their land and Mother Earth!”, declared the statement.

The declaration called for the repeal of Argentina’s anti-terrorist law, which it stated was used to “penalise indigenous leader who claim their rights in defence of their territories”.

Indigenous leaders were joined by Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel in a march to the Casa Rosada (Photo via Resistencia Qom)

Indigenous leaders were joined by Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel in a march to the Casa Rosada (Photo via Resistencia Qom)

It also demanded that charges be dropped against indigenous leaders acting to defend their land, and called for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to meet with representatives from Formosa that have been camped in downtown Buenos Aires for more than 100 days.

“We have come from our territories to demonstrate that indigenous communities and cultures are still alive, so as to leave future generations a life based on our principles and values,” read the declaration, which was presented on Friday after a three-day summit that gathered indigenous leaders from 17 provinces around Argentina.

“We preserve our own history, autonomous education, traditional medicine, common law, language, and ancestral mandate that is passed from generation to generation.”

The statement added that by not respecting the rights of its indigenous peoples, the Argentine government is violating dozens of national laws and international agreements, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Argentina’s national constitution.

It all urged all indigenous peoples in Argentina to unite to “face the reality we are living.”

“Whether we come from the north or south, east or west, we are fight to become free people again, autonomous and on our own land, and exercising the right to self-determination.”

Refused Entry

On Friday, indigenous leaders led a march from the protest camp on Av. 9 de Julio and Av. de Mayo to the Casa Rosada to present the joint declaration, but were not received by government officials.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, who joined the march, criticised the administration for refusing to meet the protesters.

“We requested entrance [to the Casa Rosada] to hand in the conclusions from the Summit of Indigenous Peoples: they blocked out entrances and wanted us to hand over the document through the barriers,” wrote Pérez Esquivel after the march.

“Furthermore, showing a clear racist attitude, they offered to let me come in to leave the document on behalf of the indigenous peoples, but without the others – something that I obviously did not accept.”

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The Indy Eye: 25 de Mayo Celebrations

A long weekend of patriotic celebrations culminated yesterday on the 205th anniversary of the 1810 May revolution that led to Argentina’s independence. It was a day of live music and performances, with huge crowds filling Plaza de Mayo and the surrounding areas with the blue and white colours of Argentina.

Celebrating her last 25 de Mayo event as president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner attended the traditional morning Te Deum at the Luján Basilica and then returned to deliver an early evening speech from the stage in front of the Casa Rosada. President Fernández recalled the achievements of government since her husband, the late Néstor Kirchner, became president on 25th May, 2003. “This is a collective project – it can’t depend on just one person,” said the president. “It depends on you to make it happen, to deepen it, to take it forward.”

After the presidential speech and fireworks show, the live music continued, with Plaza de Mayo still full of people until after midnight.

Our photographers were there to capture the occasion.

Activists honour some of the government's main achievements since 2003 (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

Activists honour some of the government’s main achievements since 2003 (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

Trumpets and fanfare as activist groups arrived at the celebrations (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Trumpets and fanfare as activist groups arrived at the celebrations (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

The image of President  Fernández overlooking the square (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

The image of President Fernández overlooking the square (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

The festivities also included produce from provinces around the country (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

The festivities also included produce from provinces around the country (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Activists from La Campora secured a prime spot in front of the main stage (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

Activists from La Campora secured a prime spot in front of the main stage (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

The Casa Rosada was illuminated throughout the show (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

The Casa Rosada was illuminated throughout the show (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Selling snacks to the crowds (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Selling snacks to the crowds (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Families stayed in Plaza de Mayo until late (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Families stayed in Plaza de Mayo until late (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

A photo to remember the occasion (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

A photo to remember the occasion (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

There was live music and performances from the stage on Plaza de Mayo (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

There was live music and performances from the stage on Plaza de Mayo (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

The president leads a rendition of Argentina's national anthem (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

The president leads a rendition of Argentina’s national anthem (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner spoke about the need to continue with the government's model after her term ends (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner spoke about the need to continue with the government’s model after her term ends (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

There were fireworks after the presidential address (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

A fireworks show closed the presidential address (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Posted in News From Argentina, Photoessay, TOP STORYComments (1)

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, VillasComments (2)

Judge Rafecas Rejects AMIA Cover up Case Against President

President Fernández was accused of an alleged cover up in the AMIA bombing case. (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Fernández was accused of an alleged cover up in the AMIA bombing case. (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas today dismissed the criminal case against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner over an alleged plan to cover-up any Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre.

The accusations were made by prosecutor Alberto Nisman in January, just a few days before he was found dead in his Puerto Madero apartment. On 13th February, prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita took on the investigation and requested that President Fernández and other high-ranking members of her administration be formally charged with attempting to divert the criminal investigation into the AMIA attack.

According to Nisman’s accusations, Argentina would shield Iranian suspects in the AMIA case in exchange for increase trade in oil and grains.

Judge Rafecas ruled that the accusations did not meet the “minimum conditions” to warrant further investigation. He stated that two main elements on which the cover up hypothesis was based – the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Iran and Argentina’s supposed efforts to remove Interpol’s ‘red notices’ for the Iranian suspects – were not supported by facts.

Approved in 2013, the MoU with Iran, which included plans to create a Truth Commission to investigate the AMIA bombing, was deemed unconstitutional in 2014 and never implemented. Meanwhile, days after Nisman’s formal accusation, Interpol’s ex-Secretary General Ronald Noble stated that the Argentine government had not requested the removal of ‘red notices’ for six Iranian suspects even after signing the MoU.

According to a statement by the judge: “It is clear that neither of the two alleged crimes cited by Prosecutor Pollicita in his petition hold up. The first (the creation of a Truth Commission), because the supposed crime never occurred, and the second (the removal Interpol’s “Red Notices”) because the evidence gathered emphatically rejects the prosecutor’s version of evens, and also leads to a conclusion that no crime was committed.”

Prosecutor Pollicita is now able to appeal the decision by Rafecas.

Story in development…

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

Prosecutor Seeks Charges for President over AMIA Cover Up

President Fernández faces formal charges for alleged AMIA cover up. (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Fernández faces formal charges for alleged AMIA cover up. (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

A federal prosecutor has today requested that a judge formally charge President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other high-ranking members of her administration with attempting to divert the criminal investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing.

Gerardo Pollicita’s petition to the court is based on the accusations presented by special prosecutor Alberto Nisman just four days before he was found dead in his apartment last month.

In the document, President Fernández is accused of masterminding a plan to cover up the role of Iranian officials suspected of being involved in the AMIA attack, which killed 85 and injured hundreds.

Also accused are Foreign Affairs Minister Héctor Timerman, Frente para la Victoria legislator Andrés Larroque, and social leaders close to the government.

Pollicita requested that an investigation be carried out “with the aim of proving, based on evidence to be collected, the existence of the fact and, consequently, (determine) if those responsible are to be criminally punished.”

However, Pollicita did not request that the president and other accused members of the government be summoned for questioning, as Nisman had done in his complaint.

The judge in charge of the case, Daniel Rafecas, must now decide whether to accept Pollicita’s request to go ahead with the investigation.

Judge Rafecas will cut short his holiday and return to Buenos Aires this weekend to take on the case.

‘No Evidence’

Earlier today, the legal body representing the Executive presented the same court with a 67-document including what it claimed was important material evidence relating to the accusation filed by Nisman on 14th January.

The report concludes that: “There is no evidence, not even circumstantial, that proves the existence of conduct attributable to the President or officials of the federal government that constitutes the crimes presented in the [Nisman] accusation, or any others included in the Criminal Code.”

This morning, Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich described the accusations against the president as a an attempt at a “judicial coup”.

A ‘silent march’, led by prosecutors demanding protection and justice, will be held on 18th February, one month after Nisman’s death.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (2)

President Announces Bill to Overhaul State Intelligence Services

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces reform of intelligence services (Photo via CFKargentina)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces reform of intelligence services (Photo via CFKargentina)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced yesterday that she was sending a bill to Congress to reform the country’s intelligence services.

Speaking to the nation in a TV broadcast, the president said the existing Intelligence Secretariat (SI) would be dissolved and replaced by a new Federal Intelligence Agency with “completely different governing principles”.

“This is a debt in our democracy that all governments have carried since 1983,” said President Fernández, who appeared in a wheelchair due to a broken ankle suffered last month.

The new Federal Intelligence Agency will be led a director and assistant director that are appointed by the Executive but require approval from the Senate to start performing their duties. Both positions will have a mandate of four years.

Meanwhile, control of the current System of Judicial Observations, which is responsible for tapping phones, will be transferred to the Public Prosecutor Ministry. The president said this was because the ministry operates uniquely outside of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government.

Other reforms in the proposed bill include: a ban on interactions between public officials and intelligence agents, unless conducted via the director or assistant director of the agency; the creation of data protection banks to ensure that private information is gathered and stored only when necessary; prison sentences of up to ten years for those who illegally intercept communications; and criminal charges for any public official or employee who makes contact with intelligence agents outside of institutional channels.

The proposal comes a week after the sudden death of AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman, which the government, including President Fernández, has linked to recent personnel changes made in the SI. The president also claimed yesterday that the Intelligence Secretariat was behind a “bombardment” of accusations against the Executive since the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Iran as part of the investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing.

“I will not bow to extortion, or intimation,” said Fernández. “I’m not afraid – they can say what they want, or make the accusations they want. I’m not interested whether judges call me to court, or prosecutors make accusations about me, I’m not going to change my mind one bit.”

The initiative was applauded by ruling party legislators, but some opposition candidates criticised the president’s message.

“The State Intelligence cannot be corrected with a law, but with a change of government,” said presidential hopeful Ernesto Sanz, of the Radical (UCR) Party.

“There is no substantial change,” declared PRO Senator Gabriela Michetti. “Phone tapping by the judiciary will now have to go through [Public Prosecutor] Alejandra Gils Carbó, and we all know by now who Gils Carbó responds to and about the problems of keeping the Public Prosecutor’s Office independent of the Executive.”

Meanwhile, former Supreme Court judge Raúl Zaffaroni said the initiative “takes the bull by the horns”. He added: “judging by the development of the current Intelligence Secretariat, any change will be positive.”

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (1)

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