The occupation of land divides and paralyzes Peronism | International

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More than 1,000 people live in tents and precarious houses on land taken in the Buenos Aires town of Guernica.JUAN IGNACIO RONCORONI / EFE

The occupation of land has become a problem for Peronism. There are sectors that want to stop the phenomenon and others justify it. The president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, is not opting. The taking of plots to build precarious homes is not new in the South American country and usually occurs in times of economic and social crisis. The problem for the ruling party is that on the one hand it governs and must enforce the law, and on the other it contains groups that help families to usurp other people's land.

The land seizure is gaining momentum in the province of Buenos Aires. According to the police, up to six attempts are recorded daily. The Buenos Aires governor, Axel Kicillof, wanted to be blunt last Friday: “The usurpations are not only illegal but also produce unfair situations. The Ministry of Security has been working tirelessly to prevent new take-offs ”.

The Buenos Aires Minister of Security, the "tough" Peronist Sergio Berni, appeared on television to accuse certain Peronist movements of participating in the occupations: "There are many people from the social movements, many people from the Evita Movement, I am not afraid of what I say; I hope justice investigates, "he said. Fernando Navarro, leader of the Evita Movement and secretary of Parliamentary Relations in the national government, rejected the accusation and challenged Berni to file a judicial complaint. Both Berni and Navarro are unconditional of the former president and now vice president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The Minister of Security of the national Government, Sabina Frederic, permanently confronted with Sergio Berni, tried to justify her inaction by saying that it was a housing problem, not a police one. It is true that the Buenos Aires provincial government itself estimates that it would take at least 400,000 new homes to alleviate the housing deficit, aggravated by the crisis resulting from the pandemic. It is also true one of the emergency measures adopted in the face of the pandemic prohibited evictions and evictions until the end of September. But in municipalities like La Matanza or Presidente Perón, large spaces of public land are turning into makeshift cities. The mayors fear being forced to provide services in those urbanizations that have nothing, no electricity, no water, or sanitary services, and where no peso is collected.

In other episodes of very serious economic and social crisis, such as in 2001, thousands of looting of supermarkets were registered. Now there are no such assaults, but land seizures. According to the opposition, some local Peronist leaders already promised during the 2019 electoral campaign that they would protect the occupations. And in Peronism itself it is admitted that the tolerance of their own benefits the mafias that are in charge of dividing the land into lots and "selling" them to their occupants. Sometimes the same lot is sold to several different families, resulting in violence.

The president of the Chamber of Deputies, the moderate Peronist Sergio Massa, proposed last week that those who occupy land be deprived of subsidies. The opposition backed the idea. The vast majority of land usurpers are, however, part of the traditional Peronist electorate, and both that and the participation of Peronist movements in the occupations keep President Fernández and Governor Kicillof paralyzed.

The problem of Buenos Aires is added to that of Chubut and Río Negro, two Patagonian provinces where Mapuche indigenous movements have been occupying spaces in the Nahuel Huapi National Park and destroying private homes for months. The latest usurpations have affected schools and recreational centers of the Catholic Church. The conflict is not new. It acquired more intensity from 2017, when the police acted to vacate occupied land and killed Rafael Nahuel, a young Mapuche man, with a shot in the back.

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