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October 22, 2014
Sunday, April 6, 2014

Macri defies order to heal ‘Elefante Blanco’

Nearly 300 families are illegally living inside the abandoned structures of the former Mataderos Health Centre.
By Mariano Beldyk
For The Herald
Having met the deadline given by City Court to heal the so-called “Elefante Blanco” (White Elephant) occupied building in Villa Lugano neighbourhood, the Ombudsman’s office denounced that City Hall has disobeyed Judge Elena Liberatori’s ruling and demanded further action from her part.

Nearly 300 families are illegally living inside the abandoned structures of the former Mataderos Health Centre and nearby areas, surrounded by rats, excrement and tons of garbage, a source of all kind of infectious diseases.

In response, Judge Liberatori scheduled a first-hand inspection of the area for next April 15 that she will personally head to check on the works carried out by Mayor Mauricio Macri’s administration since last December.

Both parties involved in the judicial file, City Hall authorities and civil rights watchdog agency representatives sponsoring the Elefante Blanco’s inhabitants, were notified to assist.

“Judge Liberatori will verify by herself that little has been done to improve the extreme conditions in which local residents are living,” attorney Ramiro dos Santos from the City Ombudsman office told the Herald.

“The time limit expired and the local government didn’t come up with a complete road-map detailing how they would accomplish each of the tasks listed by Liberatori in her previous ruling,” he added.

Three months ago, Liberatori listed a number of priorities to be urgently sorted out by the centre-right PRO party’s administration like providing 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.

Liberatori established a 15-working day deadline for City Hall authorities to present their technical proposal and start work following an injunction request filed by a local resident, Gustavo Serra, with the legal counsel of the Ombudsman’s office.

Holidays and January’s judicial recess gave extra time to Mayor Mauricio Macri’s officials to intervene. And although some measures were taken, Dos Santos believed that further progress would have been registered if City Hall had taken the emergency more seriously.

“The City government has been reporting a number of operations in the area like the removal of debris and the installation of metallic handrails in upper floors to prevent people from falling or disposing of garbage. But it is not enough to satisfy the court’s demands,” Dos Santos highlighted.

The City Hall’s version

Asked by this newspaper about the City Hall’s position on the Elefante Blanco’s healing procedure, an official source from the City Attorney-General’s office which mediates in the dispute as the local government’s judicial muscle, rejected all the accusations launched from the Ombudsman’s Office.

“These are no isolated actions but part of broader healing programme. We maintain that the court ruling has been obeyed,” the authorized source insisted.

The Herald had access to the list elaborated by the City Attorney-General’s office to notify Liberatori during past weeks about the actions allegedly implemented by the PRO administration in Elefante Blanco like supplying drinking-water or the latest opening of a tender by the BA City’s Infrastructure General Unit for building maintenance.

In the same document, the legal branch of City Hall reported to the court that the Social Intervention Managing Unit (UGIS) has already arranged a number of periodical pest control and fumigation sprayings, both in the building and its perimeter. And it has initiated the administrative process to collect the necessary funding for cleaning up all traces of garbage from basement levels.

Furthermore, UGIS anticipated via the City Attorney-General’s office that water-tanks have been cleaned and that a tender is due to be called for the repair of sewerage drains, the water network as well as the definitive closure of the basement level — currently an improvised giant trash disposal full of rats — following its total sanitization.

Finally, Mayor Macri’s administration also informed that the Social Development ministry established a schedule of weekly visits from its officials to keep track of any requests or needs from Elefante Blanco inhabitants; the Education Ministry has initiated works to reduce the school drop-out rate in its population and the Socio-Communitarian Empowering Unit has established a local office to tackle drug addiction and domestic violence among residents.

Although the Ombudsman’s office recognized that a number of activities have been compromised for the short and medium term, they still remain suspicious of Macri’s word.

“All promises are insufficient until they are turned into visible results. Based on City Hall’s known record, it is hard to give them any credit until works are finally seen,” Dos Santos argued.

Liberatori’s demands

On November 18, 2011, a group of families denounced to the Mataderos-Liniers neighbourhoods’ Decentralized Attention office that “water, garbage and sewage accumulate in the lower levels (of the Elefante Blanco building), causing the presence of rats, mosquitoes, fleas, cockroaches and other insects, as well as humidity and a putrid stench.”.

In the same exposition, they talked about excrement being thrown down the elevators, empty holes and windows and piling up in the basement with no sewage system operational.

Last December, Judge Liberatori took as a basis that 2011 report together with other testimony and information gathered by the City’s Environmental Health Office a year later among other proof to rule a number of priorities which the PRO administration should enforce immediately in the Elefante Blanco and its surroundings where nearly 300 families were living.

The first orders were to guarantee the supply of drinking-water and the covering of all holes in upper floors, both of which have been allegedly followed by City Hall.

In a second order of importance, Judge Libertatori required the cleaning of the basement level and fumigation and pest-control campaigns to prevent plagues from further extending through the building and surroundings.

Finally, Liberatori ruled that the 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 dumps.

Although it was originally planned as the largest Latin-American hospital in 1923, the project was never fully completed by a series of national governments. Finally, in 1978, the property was transferred to the BA City orbit before it gained its administrative autonomy.

Decree No. 1739/07 signed by Mayor Jorge Telerman during his interim watch put Elefante Blanco under the aegis of the Social Development Ministry where it currently remains. Its authorities were consequently summoned by Judge Liberatori to show up during her next week’s visit to the site.

Yet, they are not the only City Hall’s representatives included in the subpoena since the social area has been extensively divided into a number of agencies as part of Mayor Macri’s territorial approach on the poverty and housing shortage issues.

Therefore, the City Housing Institute and the UGIS were also called by Liberatori to take matters in hand and appear next April 15 together with the City Childhood and Youths’ Council.

In Dos Santos’ view, the multiplicity of negotiators and offices involved complicates more than it helps in solving the problem.

Be that as it may, Judge Liberatori will have the last word.

@mibeldyk

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