Argentina: ‘villa’ residents fast for city services

As of May 18 a group of Argentine activists were continuing an encampment they had set up on April 21 at the Obelisk in Buenos Aires' Plaza de la República to push their demands for improved services in the city's 17 marginal communities, known in Argentina as "villas." The action's sponsor, the leftist Independent Villa Residents' Current, was calling on the government of right-wing Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri to declare a housing, health and educational emergency in the impoverished communities; to formalize their status as urban areas; to carry out audits of the cooperatives and businesses that work in the neighborhoods; and to regularize rents and housing subsidies. A statement by the group denounced what it called "the model of two cities that Macri proposes, where the rich city excludes the poor one…while officials of the city government don't hide their intention to fill their pockets." Leftist groups have confronted the Macri government in the past over plans that they say favor real estate interests over the needs of the majority of city residents.

The action at the Obelisk began with a hunger strike which was still in effect on May 5. The activists' outreach efforts have included setting up 100 informational tables at street corners throughout the city, with the support of other leftist groups, in a May 10 day of action to explain the purpose of the encampment; Julián Bokser, one of the organizers, called the response "very positive." On May 3 and May 17 the group organized hundreds of volunteers to carry out repairs and other maintenance work in various villas, highlighting the city's government's failure to provide these services. Adrián Lutvak, the president of a major student organization, the Buenos Aires University Federation (Fuba), visited the encampment on May 14 to express his solidarity; other political and social figures, including human rights activist and 1980 Nobel peace prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, have also visited. The protesters said they have already achieved one of their objectives by drawing the attention of the media and the capital's population to the crisis in the communities. (Página 12, Buenos Aires, Apr. 21; Adital, Brazil, May 5; El Comercial, Argentina, May 10 from Télam, May 17 from Télam)

In other news, Pedro Simón, a prosecutor in the northern province of Santiago del Estero, has filed a charge of "inciting to collective violence" against Juan Pablo Suárez, the director of the regional newspaper Ultima Hora. The charge, which could result in 12 years in prison for Suárez, stems from the paper's coverage of a demonstration last December by rank-and-file police agents in which a protest leader, Nelson Villagrán, was brutalized by police commanders. Suárez was arrested on Dec. 9 and held for 10 days; he was released after international media rights groups protested. But the prosecutor has now upped the charges to include "terrorizing the population" under a change made to the penal code's Article 3 in 2011. This is the first time a prosecutor has tried to apply the "terrorism" charge to newspaper coverage. (Thomson Reuters Foundation, May 14, from Reporters Without Borders; Adital, May 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 18.