21 April 2008

Another villa miseria (followup)

Last October I wrote a couple of posts about the Qom ethnic group (also known as the Toba) and their migration from Chaco to Santa Fe and Rosario, where they ended up in villas miseria (slums), marginalized from the rest of society and subject to discrimination. A blogger called mdiana found those posts and left a comment asking about Father Arturo Paoli and his work among the woodchoppers of the La Forestal logging company (the British-owned company which felled most of the quebracho trees of the Chaco, where the Qom tribe lived, and turned it into a desert).

Paoli, a missionary priest, came and settled in Fortín Olmos, in the north of Santa Fe, and organized a fraternity and cooperative with the woodchoppers and small local producers who were left without a job when La Forestal closed down in 1960. In November 2007 a section of Santa Fe's Provincial Route 40 was named after him in homage, and then-governor Jorge Obeid noted he had known Paoli when he was a young man, in the 1960s. At that time Paoli was over 90 years old and living in Italy, from where he sent a letter speaking of the strength of those woodchoppers as a symbol of Latin American endurance.

Well, I just learned that. My original intent was to post a video I took a few days ago, from the bus. It shows the expansion of the villa miseria I mentioned back then in those posts. The settlers have decided to occupy the neighbouring terrain, a large lot that was mostly vacant, though parts of it were devoted to vegetable gardens. The owner has never done anything with the lot, and the municipality, which long ago should have expropriated it for some purpose, looked the other way. Now a sprawling slum is forming, the neighbours are upset, and that's all for nothing, because the poor people who've illegally settled on the land will eventually be pushed away later, when the tortuous bureaucracy of the judicial system decides to command their eviction. This is a sad way for a free people to end.

The video is bumpy and the sound is that of the bus; you can turn it off if you want to. It's only a short stretch, maybe two blocks, along the street where I live (but 10 or 12 blocks from my house), just before and after the railway tracks. On the first part you can see precarious homes that were already there years ago; the rest is all new, a small shanty town assembled almost overnight.

I don't know how this can be solved. You can't let those people set up their huts anywhere; you can't build them houses in the short term; you can't bulldoze them; you can't send them back to their ancestral lands; but the thing you absolutely can't do is ignore them.


  1. Anonymous12:43

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This is the comment I removed above. I did that because it included an unmasked e-mail address, which could be "harvested" by spambots.

    For the attention of 'D for Disorientation',
    I am very interested in your interesting piece on the villa miseria and the shanty towns near your house. I am a film producer from Ireland who will shoot a documentary in Latin America and I plan to shoot in Rosario. I would like to speak to you about this story and how best I could document their plight in a visual format.
    Kindest regards,

    (please write to me at ------@-----.ie)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.