The largest branch of the Spanish Cultural Center of Buenos Aires is located in the heart of San Telmo and boasts interesting exhibitions for audiences of all ages. It also acts as the starting point for Juanele’s San Telmo Art Walks, for which I’m a tour guide. However, last week when I popped down to take some sprightly guests on a tour, a more politically sensitive exhibition was taking place on the building’s doorstep.
The cultural center is currently closed due to some hearty protestors from La Cooperativa de vivienda, crédito y consumo, San Telmo Limitada demanding “what was rightfully promised to them” when the ever-just porteño government booted them out of this building in 2003 and gave it to the Spanish government.
Not to put it so blasé, but this is not an uncommon sight here in the city. Over the past few years, and in particular under the government of Mauricio Macri, in an attempt to create fear and insecurity in the city, various campaigns have spread across the city evicting people living in squats or occupying buildings that are not, technically and legally, theirs. However, in doing so, these people, which often consist of large families, are given no other option and are often forced to find other buildings to occupy, head to the villa or to the street.
This story however, has a twist in its tale. In fact, La Cooperativa de vivienda, credito y consumo, San Telmo Limitada, rightfully owns this building, and it is written and laminated for all to see whilst passing this illustrious building. To this day the La Cooperativa have been protesting for 47 days outside of the CCEBA. The families that used to live in this building are alternately camping out on the street campaigning and fighting for what is rightfully theirs.
To brief you with a bit of the nitty-gritty history about the protest, the story starts way back in 1981 when about 40 families were occupying the original building which was found in a state of abandonment. In 1986, the municipality attempted to turn these families out onto the streets and in turn the families created La Cooperativa de vivienda, credito y consumo, San Telmo Limitada, to defend their rights as occupants of the building.
In 1991, during the government of Carlos Menem, the Cooperation received documentation to own 70% of the building. 25% would go to commercial equipment and the remaining 5% to community facilities. However in 2003, the government of Anibal Ibarra violently evicted the families. According to official reports, this was based on instability in the foundations of the building that could create landslides. One can only speculate the truth in this statement, as under the government of Mauricio Macri, the 70% that was rightfully owned by the Cooperative was expropriated by law on April 13, 2009 and in return, La Cooperativa was promised a housing solution. To this day that promise has not been fulfilled. Macri then gave — yes, gave — the building to the Spanish Embassy and the new Spanish Cultural Center was created.
To make things clear the families of La Cooperativa are not campaigning to get their building back, but they want what was promised to them by the porteño government. They were promised relocation and a secure future for their families, but nothing was ever done.
I was given the opportunity to speak to the Secretary of La Cooperativa, Teresa Naomi, who explained to me the current situation. “Once we were kicked out of the building, we were promised a subsidiary to pay for a hotel until the works could be completed on the building. We have this in writing and as you pass by the front of the CCEBA all of the legal documents stating that the cooperation owns the rights to this building can be seen clearly.”
Currently, La Cooperativa consists of 120 families. Between them, they are taking turns camping outside of the CCEBA. Teresa continued to explain to me the families’ struggle: “We are not here because we want things for free. We work, campaign, we just want the right to a just and dignified life for our families and children.”
She continues: “However, what we feel is that the porteño government of Mauricio Macri is on a consistent campaign to kick us — ‘los negros villeros’ — out into the provincia, so he can create his ideal rich world.” Divisions of race and class re at the core of this struggle. Teresa continues to demand, “How can the government of Buenos Aires put its own people on the streets and sell the homes of indigenous people to our conquerors, the Spanish.”
When I asked about the objectives and the future of the struggle, she explained how La Cooperativa had met with the government of the city, but there seems to be no resolution. The Spanish embassy came down and they promised to bring the government down to sort out the problem but nothing seems to be getting done. This story echoes a continuing struggle within the city.
Additionally, Teresa explains how “the neighbours, police and people passing by understand us. We have everything in writing that this building rightly belongs to us, so no-one has a leg to stand on. We never intended to cause problems or havoc in the street. we are here quietly protesting and have been here 47 days now. We want no conflict with anybody, nor with the CCEBA — our problem is with the government and what they promised us and that was never given to us. We are not asking for money, only the right to a just and secure life for our families”.
Right now there seems to be no easy solution to the problem. La Cooperativa has all the certificates and legal paperwork that rightly shows their rights to the property. La Cooperativa has support from the Evita movement and other campaigns that follow similar struggles.
Teresa points out “it has been cold, wet and windy. It can be difficult when you are here camping out with your family. It is a complicated, sad and difficult struggle. We have been here 47 days now and we will keep fighting.”
Support La Cooperativa by visiting their Facebook page for more information.