April 17, 2014
Court orders Macri to heal ‘Elefante Blanco’
For The Herald
Buenos Aires City Judge Elena Liberatori demanded that Mayor Mauricio Macri’s administration urgently intervene in the structural healing of the so-called “Elefante Blanco” (White Elephant) building and near-by areas in the Villa 15 slums, also known as “Ciudad Oculta” (Hidden City), where nearly 300 families currently live in unhealthy conditions.
According to her ruling, City Hall has a 15-working days’ time limit ahead to present to the court a complete report on the number of works to be carried out and the respective deadlines for each step to be completed.
However, with holidays and January’s judicial recess ahead, the local government may win some days to obey the ruling.
“That shouldn’t be the right way to do things. City Hall has a responsibility over this situation beyond a court ruling. Here we are talking about years of idleness and abandonment”, attorney Ramiro dos Santos from the City’s General Ombudsman office told the Herald.
After visiting the building and the surrounding slums a few weeks ago, they sponsored local residents for requesting an injunction in court which was finally ruled in their benefit last Friday.
Liberatori listed a number a list of priorities to be sorted out by the local government, starting with access to drinking water for residents and covering all open windows and holes which connect upper storeys with the basement level to prevent people from further contaminating the lower levels with garbage.
“Water, garbage and sewage accumulate in the lower levels, causing the presence of rats, mosquitoes, fleas, cockroaches and other insects, as well as humidity and a putrid smell”, the residents denounced back on November 18, 2011 to the Mataderos-Liniers neighbourhoods’ Decentralized Attention office.
“Excrement is thrown down the elevators, empty holes and windows and piles up in the basement, as there is no sewage network installed.”
Those conditions never changed but multiplied for years as new families settled in. A 2012 research by the City’s Environmental Health Office quoted by Liberatori in her ruling confirms all residents’ complaints and even added horrifying details: “(Rats) enter the houses, walk over sleeping children at nights, bite them and destroy walls, clothes and food”.
Cleaning the basement level and ordering fumigation and pest-control campaigns periodically to prevent these plagues from further extending through the building and surroundings are in the second order of concerns which the City judge exhorted Mayor Macri to heed..
Finally, Liberatori ruled that BA City government clean and keep in healthy condition both the water tanks and the dump containers placed inside the “Elefante Blanco” building which currently served as garbage disposals.
Despite all published reports, City Hall only enforced a number of limited measures to ease the resident’s living conditions but they were not continued in time.
“A City health centre works a block from there. They can’t say they don’t know what is happening”, Dos Santos insisted and pointed out that a number of City officials even took part during public hearings recently and were notified about the situation.
Liberatori urged the Social Development Ministry, the City Housing Institute, the Social Intervention Managing Unit and all corresponding organizations to accomplish their obligations and guarantee “Elefante Blanco”’s residents basic rights.
Originally planned as the larger Latin-American hospital in 1923, the project was picked up by many administrations including Juan Domingo Perón’s first two terms but never fully completed.
Nowadays, the abandoned structures rest as a forgotten colossus in the Capital’s southern neighbourhood of Villa Lugano. Instead of patients, it houses a large number of low-income families who cannot afford a room of their own, or even to rent one.
In 2004, the City Housing Institute counted 50 families living within its walls and another 105 families in the surroundings. Three years later, the total of families registered doubled in a new report made by the BA City’s Ombudsman office.
Another 200 families were registered residing, against its walls in the outside.
Its image was recently made popular by filmmaker Pablo Trapero’s “Elefante Blanco”, a history about a group of priests and social workers who share daily life with marginalized people in the slums.
In 1978, the property was transferred to the BA City, before it gained its administrative autonomy, and has remained under its name since then. It is currently under the aegis of the Social Development portfolio after the1739/07 decree signed by Mayor Jorge Telerman during his interim government and published on December 3, 2007.
Between October and November, 2011, a group of 98 families denounced their catastrophic situation in front of City Hall authorities. They described that locals consumed “contaminated water” and children were not allowed in schools due to the diseases they carried, caught in the Elefante Blanco area, and many of them frequently ended in hospital and clinics as a consequence of unidentified viruses.
“We live with rats, bats and garbage”, they accused. And they also talked about recurrent electric power cuts. But nobody seemed to be paying much attention then.