October 23, 2014
More than one default
Whenever the foreign debt is a major issue in Argentina, there are invariably voices wanting to know why the “internal debt” is not being paid first but it is also worth asking where that internal debt most lies — in satisfying the worker grievances being pressed by tomorrow’s general strike organized by anti-government trade union groupings, for example, or in last weekend’s eviction of Papa Francisco shantytown residents? Since we will doubtless have plenty of occasion for commentary on tomorrow’s strike both before and after the event, today’s editorial will concentrate on the latter problem.
Such evictions are often accompanied by police brutality (one notorious example being the expulsion of squatters from the Indo-American Park in late 2010, an epic tragedy which ended up being the immediate cause of the creation of a national Security Ministry) but while repudiating this brutality is absolutely necessary, this debate also tends to distract attention from the underlying problems. While any eviction involves the use of force by definition, last weekend’s clearance of the shantytown was far from being the most outrageous example and therefore we will for once leave the security forces out of it to focus on the chronic housing shortage which these clashes expose. The official response to this problem tends to be playing the blame game between national and municipal governments — if the vacuum is as mucb legal as physical, can squatters be criticized for moving in? And when there is a law (for example, 1770/05 to urbanize the nearby Villa 20 shantytown in Villa Lugano), it is not implemented, thus also abdicating to squatters — since Mauricio Macri has been running City Hall for seven of the nine years since this law was passed under the centre-left mayor Aníbal Ibarra, it is very difficult not to hold his administration largely responsible for its failure (especially with the notorious underspending of its own housing budget, among other social areas). There have now been over 30 years of democracy (including a “won decade”) to come to grips with this disaster — many people imagine that this is a new phenomenon but the fact that over a half of the 1,800-plus shantytowns throughout Argentina are more than 20 years old points to a structural problem.
Unlike in the Indo-American Park, nobody died last weekend but this does not alter the fact that these shantytowns with their appalling hygiene and exposed wiring among other perils are slow death traps— a problem which been around for a long time but is no less vital and urgent for that.