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April 24, 2017

Merlo occupation sparks concern over transitions

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

BA land grab raises fears of violence

A squatter in the Buenos Aires province district of Merlo looks at occupied land.
A squatter in the Buenos Aires province district of Merlo looks at occupied land.
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A large-scale occupation of land on the outskirts of Buenos Aires has raised the spectre of a conflict-riddled transfer of power between changing local administrations following last month’s general elections.

At press time last night, some 600 infantry officers deployed by the Buenos Aires provincial police were awaiting a judicial order to evict squatters from 60 hectares of land in Merlo, Buenos Aires province, that had been occupied by as many as 3,000 families with the acquiescence of defeated mayor Raúl Othacehé.
Governor Daniel Scioli, the Victory Front (FpV) candidate set to face Let’s Change contender Mauricio Macri in the November 22 runoff, did not rule out political motivations as the reason for the occupation.

“We’re entirely against illegal land grabs,” the FpV leader told reporters after a rally in the Buenos Aires City neighbourhood of Villa Lugano.

Governor-elect María Eugenia Vidal, a Macri ally, said for her part that images of the occupation were “the symptom of the end of an era.”

The issue could become a serious problem for Scioli and the national government at a time when polls say he is trailing in the race for the Pink House.

The land seizure in Merlo — which has now lasted for 22 days — led to cross-fire between mayor-elect Gustavo Menéndez, a Kirchnerite member of the Victory Front, and the outgoing local leader Othacehé, who has been ruling the district for 24 years.

On August 9, Othacehé lost the primary to Menéndez, who yesterday accused his former rival of deliberately attempting to sabotage him by leaving a chaotic situation in place before handing over.

“An organized group of people, led by political middlemen, who respond to the current mayor’s orders, occupied 340 houses built by a federal programme and 60 hectares of privately-owned land,” the mayor-elect told Radio Mitre.

The FpV local leader said almost 3,000 families were taking part in the land grabs, echoing scenes from the 2010 massive takeover of the Indoamericano Park in Buenos Aires City.

“It’s just like Nero burning Rome,” he said in regards to the incumbent mayor.

Othacehé, in turn, called Menéndez a liar and assured that the Merlo Municipality was operating “perfectly.”

Yesterday afternoon, Morón Federal Judge Juan Pablo Salas demanded the provincial administration prevent the entry of intruders and construction materials into the occupied area. At press time, families were still occupying the area near Provincial Route 1003, setting up tents and demarcating the area to build their houses.

Scioli tries to be hands-on

Hours later, the Buenos Aires governor said he was working alongside Menéndez to try to normalize the situation without resorting to violence.

“We need to deeply analyze the situation so the courts can answer the question of whether there’s a real need for housing or something political behind this, since we’re only days away from the election,” Scioli told the Todo Noticias (TN) news channel.

During a rally in the BA City neighbourhood of Villa Lugano, alongside Security Secretary Sergio Berni, the outgoing provincial leader vowed to take action “with social sensitivity and understanding.” A day earlier, he vowed to prevent protesters from blocking the country’s roads and routes, should he win the election.

Menéndez — who is expected to be sworn in in less than a month — revealed he had called both Scioli’s and Vidal’s offices.

Vidal, the Let’s Change governor-elect, who last month surprisingly defeated CFK’s Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández in the race in the country’s largest district, referred vaguely to the issue, saying that “some people believe that they can stop what’s coming through actions like these.”

The provincial government and Othacehé should be held responsible for the ongoing conflict, she said.

Disorderly transitions

Conflicts with outgoing mayors are hardly new in Argentine politics — but this week the number of accusations that local leaders were trying to leave things in disarray have grown.

In the Greater Buenos Aires district of Malvinas Argentinas, Kirchnerite mayor-elect Leonardo Nardini said the outgoing leaders were stripping assets from the district that until December 10 will be in the hands of Jesús Cariglino.

Local opposition leaders accused Cariglino — a dissident Peronist who has governed the district for two decades — of removing 15 airconditioners from public hospitals, as well as tools and machines from state-funded construction sites weeks before having to leave office.

Earlier this week, FpV legislators supporting Nardini decided not to attend a session of the local legislature where Cariglino allies dramatically increased the salaries of a number of top municipal officials. The outgoing Malvinas Argentinas mayor has backed both Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa and Let’s Change chief Mauricio Macri in the presidential race.

In Hurlingham, outgoing mayor and Massa ally Luis Acuña stopped paying salaries at the San Bernardino hospital and added 400 new employees to the payroll, according to sources from the FpV. Once again, the idea of a “bad loser” emerged: on October 25, Acuña lost the local race to Juan Zabaleta, a Kirchnerite ally.

In the provincial capital city of La Plata, outgoing mayor Pablo Bruera, who last month failed to secure a third term in office, destroyed documents, dismantled public spaces and had town-hall equipment removed according to news portal La Tecla.

Bruera, who has accused for his role in the 2013 massive floods that left dozens of dead, had lost the election to Let’s Change candidate Julio Garro.

Herald staff with DyN, Télam, online media

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