“Them” and “Us”, a Metaphor for Ur­ban In­equal­ity

La Semana - - FRONT PAGE / PORTADA -


For the in­hab­i­tants of “Bajo Au­topista” (Un­der the Free­way), a slum built un­der an ex­press­way in the Ar­gen­tine cap­i­tal, “they” are the peo­ple who live in ar­eas with ev­ery­thing that is de­nied to “us” – a sim­ple def­i­ni­tion of so­cial in­clu­sion and a metaphor for ur­ban in­equal­ity.

Ka­rina Ríos’ roof is the Il­lia free­way, one of the main ac­cesses to Buenos Aires. The shan­ty­town is at the edge of Vil­las 31 and 31 Bis, where some 60,000 peo­ple live just a few me­tres away from El Re­tiro, one of the posh­est neigh­bour­hoods in the cap­i­tal.

Rios gets light and ven­ti­la­tion through the space be­tween the two halves of the el­e­vated ex­press­way, which is the roof for her two dark, damp rooms with bare brick walls where she lives with one of her daugh­ters.

“[I]n the past 20 years, the general ten­dency seen in Latin Amer­ica was the growth of ur­ban in­equal­ity.” -- Elkin Velásquez

“Am­bu­lances won’t come in here un­less the po­lice ac­com­pany them. That’s be­cause here, as the po­lice say, a ‘negrito’ (poor, dark-skinned per­son) who dies is just an­other negrito. For them, we negri­tos are no­body,”

That’s how her son Saúl, 19, died last year, when he was stabbed in a fight, de­fend­ing a friend. The knife per­fo­rated his liver and spleen, and he bled to death, she said, be­cause he wasn’t “one of them.”

“If the am­bu­lance hadn’t taken so long to get here, my son would be alive to­day,” lamented Ríos.

As an ac­tivist with the com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tion “Pow­er­ful Throat”, Ríos rep­re­sents her neigh­bour­hood now, de­mand­ing bet­ter liv­ing con­di­tions. The main de­mand is “ur­ban­i­sa­tion”.

“We slum-dwellers are stig­ma­tised. And it’s be­cause we’re not ur­banised, we don’t have de­cent streets,” she said.

“When we look for work, we don’t say where we live be­cause if you give an ad­dress from here, they won’t hire you. ‘Villeros’ (peo­ple who live in ‘vil­las mis­e­ria’, the name for slums in Ar­gentina) are all seen as thieves.”

For Ríos, ur­ban­i­sa­tion means streets have names and are paved. The streets here, most of which are dirt, are muddy and im­pass­able when it rains.

It also means there are clin­ics. “There is a health post but the doc­tors only see five pa­tients (a day) be­cause they aren’t get­ting paid, and they at­tend the kids out­side. They weigh the ba­bies naked out­side in this ter­ri­ble cold,” she said.

Nor are there ba­sic public ser­vices. The list of de­mands is long: “We need sew­ers, elec­tric power. Fires hap­pen here be­cause ev­ery­one is il­le­gally con­nected, and short-cir­cuits hap­pen and the houses start to burn,” said Ríos. (IPS)

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