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Locked-down Buenos Aires for the G20 summit. Tensions over the economic crisis and widespread poverty

It’s a historic moment for Argentina and for its capital city. A G20 summit will take place in South America for the first time. Argentina has never hosted such a large-scale event before. But it will happen at the worst possible time: the Country has plunged into a serious economic and monetary crisis, poverty is surging and the summit’s preparations took place in a climate of tension

The city’s centre is set to be on lockdown and practically inaccessible.  In suburban districts, the so-called “villas miserias”, long lines of people are seen outside parishes to receive aids and foodstuffs. These are the two snapshots of Buenos Aires that will soon host the G20 – November 30th and December 1st. The leaders of the greatest world Countries and their numerous delegations (totalling 10 thousand people) will soon be landing at Jorge Newbery airport, located next to the Palermo neighbourhood, to be transferred to the nearby Costa Salguero Convention centre. It’s a historic moment for Argentina: A G20 summit will take place in a South American city for the first time. Argentina has never hosted such a large-scale event before. But this will happen at the worst possible time: the Country has plunged into a serious economic and monetary crisis, amid growing poverty. The summit’s preparations took place in a climate of tension.

In the past few days the city – still shocked by the incidents that took place ahead of the Copa Libertadores finals, involving the city’s major football teams, the River Plate and Boca Juniors – has been practically locked-down. The stakes are high and national authorities, notably President Mauricio Macri, can’t afford to face violent clashes and unrest. Thus, in the city, contrasting feelings – anger, indifference and resignation- are simmering beneath the surface, along with some glimpse of hope.

Growing poverty and a locked-down city.  In the past days the Argentinean Catholic Church held a position of discretion and caution, given the huge risk of manipulations and of being instrumentally used. But her daily activity of support to the poor and marginalized people continues, carried out especially through the so-called “curas villeros”, the priests of the villas, whose pastoral care was given renewed impetus when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
One of them, Father Carlos “Charly” Olivero, who serves in the largest villa of Buenos Aires, 21-24-Navaleta, is presently in Rome to attend a seminar on drugs and addictions at the Vatican. “I don’t have the necessary competence to discuss the G20 agenda – he told SIR – but I doubt the Summit will answer the needs of the poorest social brackets.” The life of families living in high-poverty suburbs is deteriorating day after day: “Throughout the country the situation is extremely difficult – the priest went on – faced with high inflation and wages that don’t keep pace. People line up every day outside our parishes. They are desperate.” Moreover, although the problems of the “villa miseria”- slums often found near landfills, with a high migrant population and social outcasts – are unquestionably linked to the agenda of major global issues (inequality, social injustice, environment, drug trafficking, crime),

the G20 appears as a distant, blurred and inaccessible reality.

“The city deployed heavy security forces – added Father Charlie -. The centre is on lockdown and inaccessible, the subway has been shut down and many streets are closed, public transport has been cancelled. It should be said that in the past weeks social tensions have been growing, but I doubt they will be given room to express their claims, the Government is scared that something might happen.”
An opportunity for Argentina. But hope continues to thrive. It is the belief of Eduardo Donza, economist, Professor at the Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA), a researcher for the annual yearly Barometer on social unease. “It’s a critical period; and the fact that a G20 summit will take place in the present circumstances may seem paradoxical. However,

I firmly believe that this event can become an opportunity and a chance to showcase the Country.

I am thinking of exports of Argentinean products and tourism. In my opinion, highlighting these positive aspects instead of focusing on the limits is a sensible choice.”  With regard to the Country’s economic situation Donza observed that after the agreement with the International Monetary Fund the “peso-dollar exchange rate remained stable, but it brought further restrictions. Let’s hope that in 2019 we will see some concrete improvements.”

The proposal of faith communities. With no doubt the G20 has been taken seriously by religious and ecumenical organizations that two months ago promoted the “G20 Interfaith Forum” in Buenos Aires, under the banner of inter-religious dialogue. Participants released a final declaration that includes an appeal to G20 Countries, which “have the opportunity to take on an active role through actions aimed at stemming inequalities that pose a threat to the future of humanity. As religious leaders and believers we are committed to jointly promoting good practices to reduce scandalous inequalities and to collaborate in the creation of greater opportunities, thereby ensuring that the whole of humanity can access a full and prosperous life.”

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