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Macalester College

Publication Date

Fall 2008

Program Name

Argentina: Social Movements and Human Rights


In the Villa 31, an extensive informal settlement in the heart of Buenos Aires, thousands of precariously constructed brick homes reach four, five or even six stories and stretch shakily toward the sky. Beneath poorly constructed foundations, the land on which the villa’s thousands of homes rest is valued at up to $6000.00 (U.S. dollars) per square meter. Villa 31 finds itself in the “heart” of Buenos Aires, built up against extensive railways (bus and train), a central automobile artery, and the city’s well developed port, all of which give the villa the potential to be some of the city’s most lucrative real estate. In spite of the undeniable safety issues in the villa and the clearly violated housing rights, the even more serious problem confronting the villa has to do with a more expansive right – the “right to the city.” Although the villa has over 70 years of informal tenancy, its inhabitants have constantly faced the threat of “desalojo” – forced eviction by the city government. The villa’s prime location and precarious housing underlie the motivation for removing its residents and bring the notion of the “right to the city” to the forefront. The work presented here focuses on the “right to the city”, a new and constantly changing concept. Unlike the “right to housing”, the “right to the city” considers more broadly the rights to participation in the city, democratic representation, and social inclusion, rights that have continually been denied to the people of the Villa 31. In particular, this work looks to how the “right to the city” is reflected in the experiences of the Villa 31. Currently, the residents of the villa are confronted with a grave legal and political struggle – a struggle against a city government that seeks to “eradicate” the area, a national government that retains all of the legal land rights and a political, social and economic environment that largely excludes the villa and its residents from the city. A protest organized by a group of approximately 100 residents, on November 19th, 2008, marked the specific focus of this work. The residents blockaded the Autopista Illia, a central artery that runs through the villa, creating extensive traffic standstills and effectively calling the attention of the city government. The protest cited a “Demanda Judicial”, a legal document authored by the city government that calls for the government of Argentina to uphold certain housing regulations and demolish all homes that do not comply. Alarmed by the threat of eviction, the group took to the streets, protesting for the ability to participate in negotiations with the government and for the implementation of urbanization (rather than eviction) in the villa. Urbanization of the villa would imply a regularization of public services, a widening of the villa’s streets, a renewed representation system and other methods for improvement in the Villa 31. Ultimately, this work considers the relevance of the “right to the city” in the current political fight. After a consideration of the relevant theory, the work explores the formal human rights at hand, the villa’s long history and the current political struggle. The information collected comes from interviews with residents, observations of the villa, newspaper articles, a number of helpful books and several key theoretical articles. Overall, it becomes clear that the “right to the city” is a powerful rhetorical tool for the cause of the residents of Villa 31. The residents of the villa continually identify not only their right to “dignified” housing but also their rights to participation, to fair and democratic representation, and ultimately, to social inclusion and political legitimacy in their own hometown. The implications of the “right to the city” are clear in the issues of representation (the right to be seen) and participation (the right to be heard) that Villa 31 struggles against each and every day.


Inequality and Stratification | Place and Environment | Politics and Social Change


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