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Poverty, immigration and land rights in Argentina

Violent protests have erupted in areas of Buenos Aires over the last week, which have shocked Argentina’s population. The clashes were sparked by hundreds of poor and immigrant families moving to patches of open land in the rundown area of Villa Soldati to the south of the capital. Local residents remonstrated with the squatters, resulting in the deaths of three people, two Bolivian men and a Paraguayan woman.

Large groups of the homeless have been taking over unoccupied plots of land, disused factories and sports pitches, since police in Buenos Aires began evicting residents from illegal shanty towns in the city. Around 1,000 people, many from Bolivia and Paraguay, pitched tents in a park, after being forced out of their shanty dwellings. But not all the homeless families are immigrants. Some of the squatters are unemployed Argentines who have no way of affording a home in the city.

The number of people occupying the shanty towns of the capital has grown by 25 per cent over the past two years. Around 200,000 people (roughly 7 per cent of the city’s population) now reside in the 14 rough settlements which have sprung up around the edges of Buenos Aires. Some poor immigrants find work on construction sites or as domestic servants, some end up selling goods on the streets.

Locals to the south of the capital say that certain districts are becoming no-go areas as poverty and violence are on the rise in the city. They accuse the authorities of manipulating official statistics on poverty and hiding the true situation the country is facing. Since the economic crash in 2001-2002, there has been a recovery, but Argentina still has a huge debt. This means the country is denied access to world credit markets and it may soon fall out of the world’s top 30 markets. Government statistics say the economy is growing healthily because of strong performance in the agricultural sector, but many analysts are sceptical about the official data. Some believe Argentina may have suffered a recession last year, despite the official recorded Gross Domestic Product growth of 0.9 per cent.

With inflation rates running high and political uncertainty after the untimely death of former President Kirchner (husband and political mentor to the current President, Cristina Fernandez), 2011 looks set to be an uncertain year for Argentina and there may be even harder times ahead for the country’s poor.

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