BUENOS AIRES – Plans to build a wall on the outskirts of this capital to separate an upscale residential area from a poor neighborhood have touched off an intense debate over the legitimacy of crime-fighting methods in Argentina.
The mayor of the affluent suburb of San Isidro, Gustavo Posse, has confirmed his municipality’s plans to build a wall measuring more than 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) in length, even though authorities in Buenos Aires province have said they will impede the project.
The barrier is to be built at a spot that is located some 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) north of the Argentine capital and which straddles the border between San Isidro and the neighboring town of San Fernando.
On Thursday, indignant San Fernando residents and a group of labor unionists demolished a completed stretch of the wall, even as dozens of police officers deployed to the area to prevent violent incidents – looked on.
The debate over the wall has erupted at a time when crime yet again has emerged as a pressing concern of the Argentine people and a top campaign issue ahead of June 28 legislative elections.
The heavily populated urban belt surrounding Buenos Aires is an area with one of the highest crime rates nationwide.
“Within the bounds of the law, I’m going to do all I can to protect my constituents. That place is a crime corridor,” Posse said in justifying the construction of the barrier at San Isidro, where upscale residential communities predominate though there are also some shacks.
And responding to Buenos Aires Gov. Daniel Scioli’s characterization of the wall as a “symbol of discrimination,” Posse fired back that provincial authorities had failed in their “obligation to provide security.”
For his part, the mayor of San Fernando, Osvaldo Amieiro, has lodged an appeal to prevent Posse’s “shameful” initiative from being brought to completion.
The intention of the town of San Isidro is for the concrete wall to be topped off with barbed wire and have three crossings manned by police officers.
Among the hundreds of residents who demonstrated Wednesday against the project was Mirta, who told Efe that she works “at a community kitchen in San Fernando that feeds elderly people from San Isidro and that she has never denied them anything even though they’re from another neighborhood.”
“It’s outrageous what’s happening. This wall does nothing more than deepen the differences between the neighborhoods. We want solutions that have to do with security and don’t discriminate so that we poor people end up killing each other,” said Maria, a resident of San Isidro.
Marcos, a resident of the upscale La Horqueta neighborhood who also took part in the demonstration, said he had come out in support of the protest because he is “totally in disagreement with this wall.”
“What we need in Argentine and especially in San Isidro is to build bridges and not walls that separate us. One of the main problems we have is the lack of public safety, but the ones who most suffer from it the most are those who live in the poorest neighborhoods,” he added.
Provincial Security Minister Carlos Stornelli said the plan to build the wall “is an error that must be corrected” and that “it’s the responsibility of the provincial government to prevent” the project – which was suspended on Wednesday – from continuing.
“There can’t be more walls that impede free circulation and the police is there to stop it. Despite the concerns of people in that area and elsewhere (about crime), there’s no crisis that makes such a ridiculous idea necessary,” he said.
The national government also weighed in Wednesday on the planned barrier.
“The wall is a step backward. I’m amazed. These are separatist measures (and) instead of separating what we need is to build,” President Cristina Fernandez said in a telephone conversation with San Fernando’s Mayor Amieiro, her aides said.
Due to an increase in crime and grassroots pressure, the Argentine federal government announced a $107.5 million plan at the end of last month to put more police on the streets and improve their equipment.
But in presenting that initiative, Fernandez took a swipe at Argentine television for excessively focusing on crime, echoing earlier criticisms from two members of the country’s Supreme Court.
“There is a political manipulation” of the issue of crime, Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni said, accusing unnamed parties of seeking to “generate and manipulate fear through the creation of a media reality.”
And one of his high court colleagues, Carmen Argibay, took aim at the thousands of people who held marches last month in Buenos Aires and other major cities to protest what they described as growing threats to public safety.
“I haven’t seen those people marching about hunger or poverty. We don’t get anywhere this way. Let’s not put the cart before the horse,” Argibay said. EFE