New Squatter Violence in Argentina Prompts Call for Evictions

BUENOS AIRES – The Buenos Aires city government called on federal authorities Saturday to evict squatters from a sports club after a new round of clashes erupted between land grabbers and local residents.

Friday night’s disturbances at Club Albariño, located in a southwestern neighborhood of the Argentine capital, come on the heels of clashes at a nearby public park earlier this month that left three squatters – two Bolivians and a Paraguayan – dead.

The Buenos Aires government’s Cabinet chief, Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, said Saturday that the Federal Police, which answers to President Cristina Fernandez’s government, must execute a court order to remove the squatters from the club.

Rodriguez Larreta said he tried on three occasions Friday to reach Security Minister Nilda Garre – appointed last week amid clashes involving thousands of squatters occupying Indo-American Park and other properties in the capital – but did not receive a response.

He warned about the potential for further violence after a rock fight Friday between squatters and neighbors at Club Albariño left at least three people injured. Police brought the situation under control by establishing a cordon between the two groups.

According to Rodriguez Larreta, the squatters at the sports club are “more violent” that the occupiers of Indo-American Park who engaged in deadly clashes earlier this month with police and local residents.

The conflict at that park also touched off a political and regional controversy when Mayor Mauricio Macri said the squatter problem stemmed from “uncontrolled emigration” to Argentina.

“It would seem that the city of Buenos Aires is having to support neighboring countries and that’s impossible. Between 100 and 200 new people come to the city every day in connection with (a rise in) drug trafficking and crime, and we don’t know who they are,” the mayor told reporters on Dec. 9.

President Fernandez, speaking at day later at a ceremony to mark International Human Rights Day, accused Macri of making xenophobic remarks and asked the forgiveness of Argentina’s “Paraguayan and Bolivian brothers and sisters.”

The remarks by Macri, leader of the opposition conservative Republican Proposal party, touched off protests in Bolivia and Paraguay.

The squatter conflict erupted on Dec. 7 when a Bolivian and a Paraguayan were shot dead in clashes with federal security forces and municipal cops executing a court order to evict the squatters from Indo-American Park, while another Bolivian man died in clashes two days later involving squatters and local residents.

The roughly 13,000 squatters vacated the park early Wednesday after the national government and Macri’s administration reached an agreement to provide low-cost loans for housing construction.

The agreement stated, however, that people who carry out future land grabs would not be eligible for the credit.

On Friday night, Garre met with other Cabinet members to seek a solution to the conflict at Club Albariño, while concern persisted about illegal occupations of railroad properties in the eastern Buenos Aires district of Retiro.

A rail workers’ union in Buenos Aires began a strike Saturday in connection with those land grabs, citing a lack of safety guarantees.

The railroad properties border a teeming shantytown that is home to 163,000 people and has grown by 52 percent over the past nine years, according to recent census figures.

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