September 18, 2014
Trying to stay warm after eviction
Small group of families try to stay warm as Human Rights Obervatory examines slum razing
The aftermath from Saturday’s forced eviction from the so-called Papa Francisco (Pope Francis) improvised shantytown in Buenos Aires City continued to unravel yesterday, with questions remaining about what would happen to the approximately 90 people who remained on the perimeter of the 12-hectare space near the Villa Lugano neighbourhood yesterday.
Several opponents of the eviction also questioned its legality and wondered what the future would hold for the 700 families who had come to call the area home. Six people face charges of having planned the take-over of the land that the City government says is contaminated.
On a day characterized by its cold winds and chilly winter temperatures, some of the people remaining in the vicinity of the Papa Francisco site said yesterday they have nowhere else to go and claimed City Hall’s offers to relocate them into temporary accommodation were in vain because they want a permanent solution to their lack of housing. Even those willing to go to hotels say there often is no room at City-designated locations.
Staff from City’s Social Development Ministry had offered those evicted “to go to a hotel for three days but when we wanted to go there weren’t any rooms left, they were overbooked,” said one woman who claimed to be a former resident of the sit-in, speaking to Mitre radio. Other accommodation providers in the area, she claimed, were trying to capitalize on the people’s situation by charging inflated prices.
The people remaining within walking distance of their former makeshift homes were camping out in an adjacent square. Of those, Mayor Mauricio Macri’s deputy María Eugenia Vidal told the TN news channel yesterday that only 15 had been living in the sit-in prior to Saturday, while the others had approached City Hall officials to take them up on the offer of alternative accommodation despite not being affected by the eviction. She said 850 evictees were lodged in alternative accommodation paid for by the City.
Out in defence
Housing is a controversial issue in City politics and, unsurprisingly, yesterday saw a swathe of public statements for and against the decision to put an end the six-month-old sit-in.
The City judge behind the eviction, María Gabriela López, came out most strongly in defence of the joint operation between the Metropolitan Police and the National Gendarmerie that resulted from the shooting death of a woman living in Papa Francisco, Melina López, but has its roots in months of tensions over what to do with the sit-in.
For López, the operation was “successful” and was carried out “without human losses to lament nor major injuries.” Her comments, published in a press release, echoed Vidal, who on Sunday seemed to praise the operation, while playing down the immediate impact it had on residents of the precarious sit-in by saying “most relocated through their own means.”
The judge also took the opportunity to warn of future sit-ins of the same area if “immediate action” isn’t taken, without however specifying what that would entail.
“We hope this is a transitory situation because people need health care and kids need to go to school,” said the City’s Ombudsman Alejandro Amor.
“Being in an inn is absolutely a transitory situation,” he said, claiming he would be meeting with City Hall’s Social Development Minister Carolina Stanley to request a “subsidies policy that is more significant and lasting.”
For his part, Father of Villa Lugano’s Parish, Franco Punturo, decried the situation facing people in the country’s villas — or shantytowns — and said the people who organized Saturday’s eviction “did not think about how to provide answers to these people.”
“Here, nobody imagines this place as a place of progress. Being in a villa is the worst, it’s being in the marginalization,” he told Rock & Pop radio.
The priest had strong words for security officials who took part in Saturday’s eviction, saying “if they (the people living in Papa Francisco) were animals, they would have been treated better.”
“I sometimes doubt that public servants think that inside these spaces there are people, since there was a lot of physical violence. They hit young girls,” he added.
Meanwhile, the City’s Human Rights Observatory confirmed yesterday it had lodged an information request with the City’s Justice and Security, Social Development, Health and Education ministries to determine the series of events behind the eviction.
“The eviction took place in violation of current legislation given due criminal process and was in violation of the norm that establishes the obligation of the State to provide adequate alternative accommodation to each of the affected families prior to carrying out the eviction,” the entity said in a press release.
The Observatory said it wants City Hall to provide a report on the “repression and injuries suffered by residents and legislators who went” to Papa Francisco during the incident, any information about possible warnings City officials gave to residents prior to the eviction and clarification as to what happened to residents’ belongings after they were forced out of the area, among other demands.
Ombudsman Amor also yesterday called for “compliance” with a law that obliges the City government to implement “a housing policy that considers and improves on the situation of people living in the streets.”