Buenos Aires migrant squatters face deadly xenophobic violence

 Violence flared last week in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Villa Soldati, where thousands of homeless migrants are squatting a public park. After police failed to forcibly evacuate their makeshift camp, unknown armed mobs began taking matters into their own hands.


Parque Indoamericano occupied by homeless migrants. Photo by Sorrel Moseley-Williams.


Violence flared last week in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Villa Soldati, where thousands of homeless migrants are squatting a public park. After police failed to forcibly evacuate their makeshift camp, unknown armed mobs began taking matters into their own hands…


Over 5,000 people, mostly migrants from neighbouring Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay, have set up camp in the Parque Indioamericano, a vast, grassy expanse in southern Buenos Aires. They swear they will not leave the small plots of land they have cordoned off and occupied unless authorities offer them a decent housing alternative.


Footage from inside the Parque Indoamericano,  where squatters have cordonned off "their" plots of land and built makeshift tents. Video posted on YouTube by juianimassi on December 12.


Last Tuesday, two migrants were killed during the federal police's failed attempt to forcibly evict the occupants after several days of protests by furious residents. After the police pulled out, local armed gangs began attacking the camp at nightfall, killing one.


On December 10, Argentine televisions showed shocking footage of an injured youth from the park being pulled from an ambulance by an angry mob, to shouts of “Out with Bolivians! Go back to your country!” Although police have not confirmed the fatality, the Metropolitan Emergency Medical Service said the 19-year-old Bolivian was shot in the head.


The government sent militarized police to secure the park on Saturday, and a fragile status quo has held in Villa Soldati since then. But fresh violence broke out on December 14 after dozens of migrants tried to occupy plots of land in the nearby neighbourhoods of Lugano, Barracas and Bernal, signalling that the conflict between desperate migrants looking for a home and angry Buenos Aires residents is far from over.


Over 1000 militarized police (the coast guard and border guard) secured the park on December 11, blocking anyone from entering the park. Video posted on YouTube by hefestionsradio. 


“Kirchner is reticent to send federal police to clear the occupants of the park because it has a history of being violent and trigger-ready”

Cristina Civale is an Argentine blogger and journalist.


This is a highly complicated social issue, much more complex than “a bunch of homeless migrants decided to permanently squat a park”, which is the main summary you hear on mainstream media. In reality, it reflects complex issues of police violence, mafia wars and rivalries between the Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri and President Kirchner.


First of all, it’s important to bear in mind why Kirchner is reluctant to send the federal police to clear the occupants of the park: quite simply because when she sent them the first time, last Tuesday, they shot two people dead. [Police have denied they are responsible for the deaths, saying they used only rubber bullets]. The first time they intervened in Villa Soldati on December 8 to evict families from the parque Indoamericano, they shot two people dead. After that, the government pulled the federal police out and refused to intervene for several days, but the chaos that resulted from this power vacuum was even worse, because the heavies of local mafias stepped in to terrorise the populations, in an atmosphere of strong xenophobic sentiment. The central government has accused “political activists of the Buenos Aires province”, by which they mean thugs employed by Buenos Aires' football club Boca Junior, which belongs to Maurico Macri. [Boca Junior is one of Argentina's largest football clubs, and notorious for its violent hooligans].


Secondly, the incidents beg the question: how did more than 5,000 people suddenly show up at one place at the same time looking for a place to live? It’s no coincidence. There is an illegal, mafia practice in Argentina of “selling” land that no-one owns to people desperate for a home, and it’s more than likely that the Bolivian and Peruvian migrants, as well as poor Argentines, were lured to the site by offers of this type.”

“The occupants of Parque Indoamericano are prepared to wait it out”

Sorrel Moseley-Williams is a British journalist and blogger based in Buenos Aires. She published her account from inside and around the Parque Indoamericano on her blog. Here are some extracts from her latest posts:


Conditions are desperate in Villa Soldati. Under precarious, makeshift tents made of bin bags, blankets and corrugated iron, immigrants have come from nearby shantytowns in the hope they can keep their plot and build. But they daren’t move from what is “theirs”. Someone will come and claim it before they can even blink.


“The park looks like a refugee camp”


Freddy [one of the occupants of the park], a Bolivian who has lived in Argentina for seven years, leaves the relative dryness of his teepee to talk to me. “We were renting for 400 pesos a month in Villa Lugano and my handyman work comes and goes so we can’t afford to rent any more. We are three families here with our kids. We’ve been here since Sunday night and we’re hoping Cristina (Fernández de Kirchner) will give us a solution. We were evicted on Tuesday, but we came back because we don’t have anywhere else to go.”


The park looks like a refugee camp. These people have nothing except what they believe in. And they believe that this is better than living in Villa 20 or Villa 1-11-14 [Buenos Aires slums] – and they are prepared to wait it out.


Outside the park, a man, probably of Bolivian origin, is having his bag searched by three men. A woman lazily eyes the exchange. The group, from the Nueva Chicago football club hooligan gang, finish the inspection and tell the man to walk back from where he came from. He does so. A passive-aggressive encounter that doesn’t develop into anything further. This time.”


Read Sorrel Moseley-William's full report in the Buenos Aires Herald.


Residents protest the occupation Parque Indoamericano


Villa Soldati residents block a highway to protest the occupation of the Parque Indoamericano on Saturday, December 11.



Police trucks approach the blocked road (Escalada) and pass through the barrier to the park (Parque Indoamericano) on Saturday, December 11.



Protesters carry signs reading: "We are hard-working citizens, not murderers. We protest peacefully". All photos by Kate Sedgwick.


Kate Sedgwick is an artist, writer and editor at  Matador Networks.

Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.