(This article and its content were first published in the Buenos Aires Herald—print edition— October 20, 2015).
By Orlando Jenkinson—Herald Staff
Non-profit organization offers weekly activities for disadvantaged youth in southern BA
A group of children from the Barracas and Constitución neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires City are finding a safe space for fun weekly activities thanks to a non-profit volunteer organization that is largely run by a group of expats.
“It’s about creating a positive space for the kids that they might not always get at home. So the hope is that if they have a skateboard or guitar or whatever in their hands, they can spend their time on that and not on the street,” Unión de los Pibes founder and director Will Aquino told the Herald.
Aquino, who grew up in the US state of Georgia and has been living in Buenos Aires for more than seven years, helped Union de los Pibes grow from the ashes of a former organization based in nearby La Boca — Club Acorn — that shut its doors in 2010.
“I got together with other volunteers from Club Acorn to see what we could do,” he said.
The group now meets every Saturday afternoon and hosts a variety of activities in addition to monthly field trips that are paid for through fundraising events, often held at bars popular with foreigners who have made Buenos Aires their temporary or permanent home.
The space where the group often meets — a small patch of grass and concrete football and basketball courts underneath an overpass — may be modest, but the kids don’t seem to mind.
“My sister comes here every Saturday and I started coming too — it’s fun!” Lautaro, 10, beamed as he took a breather from a game of Frisbee. “I don’t like playing soccer much, but there’s lots of other things to do,” he added, pointing to the tranquil arts and crafts session taking place at the time where kids made colourful animals from recycled cardboard. In another corner, kids were playing chess and others a game of Twister.
Lautaro, though, was clearly in the minority as soccer is one of the most popular activities on offer.
“The soccer!” yells Marcos from Barracas when he’s asked for his favourite part of the weekly meetups.
Beyond the weekly activities, the children who take part in the group also spoke highly of the special activities that take place around once a month and can involve anything from a day trip to Tigre to skateboarding classes.
The group is run exclusively by weekly volunteers, including many expats like Peter Fitzsimmons, a 30-year-old risk assessor from Ireland currently teaching English in Buenos Aires alongside his wife Emily, who were eager to volunteer but were often put off by organizations that required them to pay in order to help.
“We wanted to take a hiatus and help out. We were looking for something genuine, rather than a company that asks you for a load of money to simply go for a few days and take pictures with kids,” he said.
While most of the volunteers are expats, there are a few locals in the mix.
“I’m a local guy, from just near here in fact,” Nico told the Herald, pointing to the surrounding tower blocks near the park. “I knew how it can be with kids being in the street and surrounded by crime and I think the group is helping to change that a little.”
For Aquino, the next big challenge is to, as he says, find “a place to call home.”
“We have around thirty kids and I think that, with a club house or location of our own, we’d easily double that,” he explained.
In a bid to boost fundraising efforts, the group held a self-described festival in late July that included bands, food stands, other non-profit organisations and activities in Palermo.
Renting out the space cost the group almost all of the funds they had stored away, but Aquino says it proved to be a successful gamble not only to raise much-needed cash but also get the word out about their organization. The next Union de los Pibes festival is scheduled for November 8.
(This article and its content were first published in the Buenos Aires Herald—print edition— October 19, 2015).
By Orlando Jenkinson Herald Staff
Foreigners find it almost impossible to order books, deal with bureaucracy at central Post Office
Foreigners living in Buenos Aires eager for items from their home countries are increasingly turning away from the postal service, as a complex and time-consuming collection process often translates into hours of navigating a difficult bureaucratic system filled with complicated and sometimes contradictory rules and regulations.
Norman Clarke, a 42-year-old software developer living in the neighbourhood of Belgrano has given up on printed books as a result of all the hassle.
“I used to order books online all the time, but after several experiences of going to Retiro and waiting for hours to pick them up, I gave up and bought a tablet,” Clarke told the Herald.
And books should, at least in theory, be one of the least complicated items to receive from abroad because they are not subject to special duties.
Some immigrants have become so frustrated by their experiences at the central Post Office’s international package depot in the Retiro neighbourhood that they have learned to rely on friends — and sometimes friends of friends — to bring them things from their homelands.
“I basically stopped ordering anything on the Internet from abroad and instead bring things back from the US with me when I travel, or ask friends to bring things back for me,” Clarke added.
The lack of clarity in which packages will be sent to a recipient’s home and which will be kept in Retiro is one of the main obstacles. The criteria often seems random.
Some who have braved the office in Retiro quickly vowed never to try to navigate the complicated system again.
“There were multiple lines you have to get into. One to check your paper saying that you have a package waiting, then one to pay, then one to show your ID, then one to wait until they call your package number,” explained Meagan Edwards, a 33-year-old Candian from Alberta currently working in Buenos Aires as a teacher trainer.
“The second time it was the same process but took almost 5 hours. After our third time, we told our families to just stop sending things. It wasn’t worth the hassle,” she added.
For the time being at least, any changes in the system seem unlikely.
The AFIP tax bureau, which is in charge of some of the postal service’s management, insists there is no issue with how international packages are handled and delivered.
“There are no problems,” AFIP spokeswoman Adriana Pintabona said, adding that any issues encountered when receiving packages could be solved through the normal procedures as outlined by the Post Office guidelines.
“If you don’t receive your package then you’ll get a note. Then you have to take it and the AFIP form to the central office at Retiro and collect the package. There may be some waiting in line but you will receive it eventually,” she said.
Some immigrants echoed that sentiment, noting that there may be long waits and multiple rounds of paperwork but they were ultimately able to receive their packages.
“I’ve sent many packages to Argentina from the States for many years and have yet to lose one. I think you just have to look out for the messages of arrival and then bite the bullet and go to customs,” said Lilian Neal, a retiree from the United States.
For others, however, the red tape can become insurmountable.
(This article and its content were first published on thebubble.com, October 14, 2015).
As The Bubble reported soon after the news broke across social media, a video emerged last month of police in Tucumán mercilessly beating up a teenager inside his cell while other officers looked on, completely complicit. As he throws punches into the defenseless minor’s face and torso, the officer can be heard bawling:
“WHY DON’T YOU RESPECT ME KID? WHY DO YOU KEEP MESSING WITH ME ON MY SHIFT? WHY DON’T YOU LISTEN TO ME?”
The fact that the video caused such outrage after it surfaced was the positive to take away from what happened. Among the mountain of negatives was the sad truth that despite the condemnation, the images surprised few people here in Argentina, where stories of police brutality seem to emerge with almost clockwork regularity, 30 years since the fall of the last military dictatorship.
The event reminded us all that cruelty, corruption and violence at the hands of the police in Argentina has been a recognized norm here for decades.
This makes the institutional and illegal violence latent within the police — metropolitan, federal, gendarmerie… they’re all tarnished — all the more dangerous because it becomes normalized and almost accepted as an unchangeable constant that the government is seemingly at pains to do as little as possible about.
But is stoicism towards the corruption, the racism, the normalization of human rights abuses the best response, especially when the violence is so persistent? It has certainly not helped stem the tide.
According to Gerardo Netche, lawyer and researcher for the anti-police corruption organization Correpi “there is almost one case of police violence every day,” in Argentina. Yet it’s impossible to know with any precision how many abuses have been buried entirely by the police themselves on top of a chilling estimate like this.
CATALOGUE OF VIOLENCE
We can only judge the situation from the cases we know about, and these happen all too often. The video of the teenager brutalized at the hands of police came just days after federal police forces had repressed a non-violent demonstration in Tucumán, with a liberal spraying of rubber bullets and healthy doses of tear gas, after proved instances of electoral corruption in the province had prompted the protests.
This time on Homeland Security Secretary Sergio Berni’s orders, the border guards wounded over 30 workers in the process, two of whom ended up in intensive care, before the Labor Ministry and corporate owners of the bus route eventually backed down and conceded to the workers’ demands anyway.
Berni showed no contrition whatsoever and in fact blamed the protesters themselves for getting shot, the latest offering from the expanding catalog of his “tough on crime” bullshit sound bites.
In both cases, the action of all those police officers involved in the use of rubber bullets to repress a democratic protest was illegal according to prominent human rights group the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), which cited a resolution tied to Berni’s own Security Ministry forbidding such suppressive acts.
These cases of government-sponsored repression at the hands of the police were rightly condemned by main opposition candidate Mauricio Macri of the Cambiemos center-right coalition.
But Macri and his political allies failed to recognize the extreme levels of hypocrisy berthed from slamming the federal government and police for unwarranted violence and force during a peaceful demonstration. After all, perhaps the most notorious and shocking instance of mass police violence in the last few years was dealt by the hands and truncheons of the metropolitan police in Buenos Aires City, of which Macri has been mayor for the last eight years.
Then there are the ongoing, clandestine and extremely concerning reports of forced disappearances of those living in the impoverished villa neighbourhoods on the edges of the City, as detailed in recent documentaryNunca Digas Nunca (“Never Say Never”).
Why are brutality and human rights abuses so persistent within the various police forces?
At the crux of the issue in Argentina is the weight of a dark past. Unlike most other state institutions — such as the executive, for example, who is now a president people elect instead of a psychopathic general and his thugs imposing “order” — the police have not undergone any serious reforms since the fall of the dictatorship.
As Editor-in-Chief of the Buenos Aires Herald and longstanding human rights advocate Sebastian Lacunza told me last year, this is a root cause of ongoing malpractice within the police forces in Argentina:
“The main problem, once again, is the Argentine police; supposed to catch criminals and gather evidence against them. In more than 30 years of democracy, no government has led a much-needed reform of security forces which had been deeply involved in illegal repression during the dictatorship.”
“Hundreds of police officers took part in killings, tortures and snatching babies. Even though many of them were judged and Argentine society lives under the rule of law, forces still work with unacceptable practices from a human rights perspective,” he said.
In reference to the new Criminal Procedural Code which placed extra unaccountable powers in the hands of the police, he added:
“SO IT’S NO TIME TO REPLACE THE PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS INCLUDED IN THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM BY A TOUGH-ON-CRIME APPROACH.”
As an organization, therefore, the police maintain, to a lesser or greater extent, many of the traits institutionalized during the dictatorship that now run through their ranks like seams of coal through a mountain. They do not by any means touch every part or person across the forces but are clearly present throughout.
The racism, authoritarianism and willful neglect of human rights espoused by the Generals are all engendered as a result, as Amnesty International detailed in a recent report on human rights in Argentina.
Police violence is also linked intrinsically to a decaying and often inhumane prison system. Amnesty also reported that many prisons here are woefully overcrowded, that torture of inmates inside whether by guards or other prisoners is endemic and that despite the overcrowding, many inmates are forced into solitary confinement for over 20 hours each day.
The scarcity of denunciations of such abuse from within the police itself is a key reason so few cases are met with justice. Lack of accountability is at the heart of the problem. It alludes to the endemic nature of mistreatment espoused by the police.
If superiors are willing to turn a blind eye to the crimes and misdemeanors of their junior officers, or even be actively complicit in the abuse they deal out, hope for an improvement of police behavior coming from within the organization looks wistful at best.
Of those cases of police violence that did result in punitive measures against the cops involved, justice was invariably served in spite of the police authority’s best efforts to avoid any punitive measures against officers within their own ranks. The recent charges brought against the Chief of Federal Police in Tucmán, José Dante Bustamante, who was indicted by a government-sponsored judicial investigation following the Tucumán debacle earlier in the year, illustrated this.
Expecting self-regulation from the same police forces that were willfully complicit in the crimes of the last dictatorship and have undergone no significant reforms since then is probably wishful thinking. The impetus for change must come from outside, and those with the most obvious power to affect a change are our elected representatives.
So it is a bitter irony that one of the most striking aspects of the current state of the Argentine police and its many discontents is the way the subject unites the main political parties and coalitions in Argentina behind the current status quo.
All three front-runners for the presidency in Daniel Scioli (Victory Front), Mauricio Macri (Cambiemos) and Sergio Massa (A New Alternative) have attacked the others when instances of brutality at the hands of the police have surfaced. Yet none have made any significant foray into territory which suggests they might embark on a widespread, progressive shake up of the police forces that could help clamp down on the corruption and recurring brutality, both of which are documented extensively by human rights groups.
On the contrary, all three, and particularly the two Peronist candidates in Scioli and Massa, have prioritized a massive expansion of police power if they triumph at the pivotal general election two weeks from now.
Scioli’s campaign videos play up his massive expansion of the police in Buenos Aires Province as governor, and show him addressing rallies of rank upon rank of drilled police recruits in matching uniforms. His insistence that this “new” police force embodies authority but not authoritarianism was unconvincing amid so much evidence to the contrary.
Meanwhile, having ditched the use of crying babies for electioneering purposes, Massa’s latest video is perhaps even more sinister still. It seems to amalgamate the police with the military completely. “We declare war on drug trafficking!” he proclaims as narco-trafficking cops and, bizarrely, fighter jets charge towards the northern border regions.
NB: (No one has told Massa that he’s missed the War on Drugs boat, which left harbor over 40 years ago and shows every sign of sinking without trace but for the tragic escalation of violence and death it has fueled, needlessly, in this part of the world in particular).
What is to be done? Clearly, the police force must be strong when accountable force is necessary in order to deal with some of the most pressing criminal problems continuing to plague Argentina, not least of which are the shameful and ongoing cases of human trafficking, which continue despite swelling police numbers.
Nevertheless, the failure to address the institutionalized violence that national and international rights groups all say continues to exist within the Argentine police forces is a political failure that needs addressing if we are to avoid more incidents like Tucumán’s and Borda’s or villa disappearances in the future. Discussing the need for reform from a human rights perspective would be a start. The longer this is avoided, the longer ordinary citizens will continue to pay the price for their own government’s inaction. At present, the biggest political forces in Argentina keep their heads buried in the sand.
(This article and its content were first published in the Buenos Aires Herald—print edition— October 13, 2015).
By Orlando Jenkinson Herald Staff
As tourist bus faces deep crisis, biking sees ‘amazing growth’ fuelled by new start ups
Tourists in Buenos Aires are turning away from traditional organised excursions as a blossoming bicycle tour industry continues to grow from strength to strength.
The Herald reported earlier this year that the primary bus tour company in the City, Buenos Aires Bus, is facing a crisis of falling customer numbers (down 15 percent in the first five months of 2015), in tandem with the latest INDEC statistics on tourism which show that fewer people are coming to Argentina (foreign visitors dropped 4.3 percent in July) — with those who do spending increasingly less.
Amid the gloom, however, an embryonic bike tourism industry is enjoying an expansion, spawning multiple start-up businesses in recent years, which are tapping into the new corner of the market.
“It’s been an amazing growth from our the original idea: to go and ride bikes with our friends. It really started like that, as a hobby for us, and now we’re taking out hundres of customers every month,” William Whittle, the co-founder of Biking Buenos Aires, told the Herald.
Company data given by the firm showed consistent increases each month from the previous year’s total number of customers, reflecting a rise in fortunes at odds with the falling number of foreign tourists arriving.
Overall, the company attracted 3,092 customers in tours in 2014 (up by over 200 from the previous year) and was already well on course to better that total again this year with over 2,350 people having chosen to book one of many guided tours or rent a bike with Biking Buenos Aires.
The same growth in customers, with an improvement year on year, was also reflected in monthly totals, and can be said for other bike tour companies that have emerged across the City recently. BA Bikes, for example, based in Monserrat, witnessed strikingly similar patterns of growth and rising customer numbers since it was founded five years ago.
“At the start, we had just ten bicycles crammed into a tiny garage like you wouldn’t believe. Now we have 150 bikes, stores here in Monserrat and Palermo and plans for a third in Recoleta,” Director Diego Salamone said.
Offering a suggestion as to what could be behind the cause of such a dramatic growth bike tours, Salamone said that customer’s often cited a more intimate way to experience the sights of Buenos Aires on choosing to explore the City in this way.
“One of the things that customers have responded to biking around the City is that it’s a much stronger, more direct connection. You’re always active and engaging with your surroundings much more than you would be on a bus for example,” he said.
The multiple fledgling businesses tapping into this growth in popularity of bicycle tourism are attempting to cover all areas of the market even as it expands. Alongside putting on multiple separate tours which focus on different zones or aspects like culinary or historical points of interest in the City, most bike tour companies also offer the option to rent out bikes for those that prefer to go their own way.
And among the market, a range of tastes and budgets are catered for. BA Bikes for example, courts most of their customers through the more basic northern or southern-specific tours priced at 350 pesos apiece.
Meanwhile Biking Buenos Aires and Urban Biking both provide all-inclusive tours, with their most popular full-day Citywide tours including drinks, lunch and over ten different sightseeing stops, for between US$90 and US$120 each.
The rise of companies like Biking Buenos Aires or BA Bikes, which itself has two stores in Monserrat and Palermo, has coincided with the City itself becoming more bicycle friendly.
Earlier this year, the Copenhagen Index 2015, an annual survey of urban biking infrastructure development around the globe, ranked Buenos Aires the 14th most friendly city in the world for bicycle users and top in Latin America (it was the highest-placed non-European city), citing the introduction of bike lanes across various neighbourhoods and the creation of the Biking public rental scheme.
“In a shockingly short amount of time, Buenos Aires has succeeded in modernizing itself to include bicycles as transport. In the past three years, over 140 km of bicycle infrastructure has been implemented — much of it protected — along with a bike share programme,” the report said.
Both the infrastructure of the bike lanes and Biking share scheme were introduced by the City government from 2011 onwards, and have proved popular with porteños. Now the bike lanes in particular are helping visitors to the City enjoy cycling too.
“The introduction of the bike lanes across the City has helped us a lot, really helped us grow and structure our tours better,” Salamone told me, adding that he was optimistic that the meteoric growth in the bike tourism industry witnessed in Buenos Aires City showed no signs of abating.
“It’s going to explode this summer. Our business ebbs and flows with the seasons, but we’ve noticed for the first time that many porteños and tourists have been choosing bicycles as a way of getting around the City throughout this winter, for the first time since we began. It’s a great sign for us,” he said.
(This article and its content were first published in the Buenos Aires Herald—print edition— October 2, 2015)
Hundreds of cases diagnosed anually despite major medical advances
Despite its virtual eradication from some developed corners of the world and association with ancient and pre-industrial societies, leprosy remains a significant health problem in Argentina, with hundreds of new cases reported every year.
Senior dermatologist at Buenos Aires City’s Ramos Mejía and leprosy expert Dr Jorge Tiscornia said that though the progress made against the disease had been remarkable during the second half of the twentieth century, the myths and dangers posed by the disease continued to be a serious problem in the country and across Latin America.
Tiscornia spoke to the Herald at the start of the National Campaign for Education and Prevention of Leprosy that runs in the first week of October.
“This was a disease that touched all corners of the globe historically, and in the past those suffering from leprosy were needlessly put away in colonies. It’s been a huge leap forward in last 70 years,” he said, adding that despite such progress, the problem remained.
“One problem with leprosy is that it’s a disease that can be hard to recognise straight away. There have been approximately 300 cases in Argentina since the new year. We are also treating patients from Paraguay that itself has a serious leprosy problem,” he added.
Part of the difficulty in seeking to curtail and eventually eradicate leprosy — as the World Health Organization (WHO) had hoped to achieve by the year 2000 — is the nature of its early development.
Early symptoms include faint blemishes on the skin and a numbness, rather than pain, in the affected areas. Consequently, many people suffering in the early stages of the disease when it is most treatable miss or dismiss the symptoms as unimportant.
“A common symptom is losing sensation in the skin on your hands, arms or elsewhere, and often people do not think much of it and may have contracted the disease without realizing,” Tiscornia said.
Further, according to the WHO leprosy disproportionately affects communities blighted by poverty with limited access to basic health necessities like sanitation or regular check-ups.
“Under-served and marginalized communities (are) most at risk from leprosy, often the poorest of the poor,” the WHO said.
This is true globally, where the three heavily populated countries with the most leprosy cases — India, Indonesia and Brazil — are all affected by endemic and widespread poverty.
It is also reflected in Argentina, where according to the Argentine Dermatology Society (SAD), the highest occurrence of new leprosy cases were in the Northern provinces of Formosa and Chaco, two of the poorest regions in the country.
Stigma and discrimination
One of the biggest obstacles in tackling the disease concerns the widespread misinformation about the causes, risks and of leprosy. Contrary to popular myths surrounding the disease, influenced by its historically taboo reputation, it is in fact extremely difficult to contract leprosy via contagion.
According to the SAD, in the majority of cases over three years of regular close contact with the disease is necessary before one is at risk of contracting it directly from someone already suffering, and the antibiotic drugs used to combat the disease today can cure anyone who contracts it within a year. However, popular misconceptions and discrimination remain.
“There’s a lot of damaging stigma and prejudice surrounding the disease,” Tiscornia told the Herald. “People still believe falsely that it’s incredibly contagious and shun it. And those suffering from leprosy are affected badly by the stigma.”
The aim of the awareness week it has run for 16 years is to challenge the stigma and make sure people do not ignore the early symptoms.
(This article and its content were first published in the Buenos Aires Herald—print edition— September 21, 2015)
Cases of dementia expected to surge 150 percent in Latin America over two decades
Alzheimer’s disease, the debilitative mental health disorder that can leave those affected as shadows of their former selves, has emerged as a quiet epidemic in Argentina and across the region. Increasing numbers of people are suffering from the incurable illness—and the numbers are expected to keep growing.
The latest World Health Organization (WHO) data estimates there are at least 300,000 cases of Alzheimer’s in Argentina, and that across Latin America and the developing world the number of new diagnoses of the people suffering from the disease is picking up pace rapidly. Latin America is expected to see a 134 percent to 146 percent rise in dementia cases over the next two decades, according to the WHO.
With Alzheimers currently in the global spotlight thanks to today’s World Alzheimers Day, local experts have pointed to a lack of public awareness over the disease, suggesting recently that the WHO figures for Argentina do not fully illustrate the scale of the problem both in the country and beyond, however, considering that many of those affected are never diagnosed.
They estimate that in 2010 there were at least 500,000 people affected by Alzheimer’s and that this number has certainly risen in subsequent years.
“Nobody knows exactly how many people have Alzheimer’s in Argentina, not least because many people fail to get diagnosed, but we do know it’s on the rise,” Dr. Guillermo N. Jemar, a neuropsychologist at Córdoba National University (UNC) and contributor to the expert support group Alzheimer’s Argentina, told the Herald.
“The latest figures we have put the number of cases at over 500,000 but we know there are many cases that are never reported,” he added, saying that the data came from 2010 and that the figure of half a million Argentine’s suffering from the disease was likely to be significantly higher today.
Alzheimer’s accounts for between 60 and 70 percent of all cases of dementia globally. It is a degenerative disease that causes loss or debilitation of neurons and synapses—the information receptors in the brain.
It becomes increasingly severe over a number of years, causing memory loss, delusion and decline in language abilities, eventually resulting in a loss of basic mental and physical functions.
TREATMENT AND INTEGRATION
As the world’s medical community places dementia in the spotlight in commemorating World Alzheimer’s Day, the disease in Argentina has become an increasingly serious concern among the medical profession who pointed to the stigma and lack of public awareness about the symptoms and effects of the disease being a major obstacle to improving treatment.
Dr. Natividad Olivar of the Argentine Neuropsychiatric Association and Alzheimer’s Argentina told the Herald that stigma surrounding the disease meant that sufferers felt a reluctance to report potential symptoms of dementia.
However, she said that greater integration between different fields in the health profession have helped provide a balanced approach to identifying the disease and fighting its worst aspects, for example, in combining psychological therapy sessions with pharmaceutical drugs that in turn slow down the degeneration of patients neurons and synapses.
“Here in Argentina there is deep integration now between the neurology and psychology fields when it comes to Alzheimer’s, and this has helped with diagnosis and treatment,” Olivar said.
She added that those such as herself and Dr Jemar of Alzheimer’s Argentina who practice neuropsychology—an experimental field in medicine—are demonstrating the benefits of enhanced cooperation between the two fields by pooling research. It is hoped that combining resources and treatment in this way might produce results to better stave off the worst symptoms of the disease, for which there is still no known cure.
One thing the country and Latin America as a whole do have in their favour in terms of vulnerability to the disease is a relatively youthful population, since the chances of contracting Alzheimer’s or dementia increase drastically when one passes 65 years of age.
“Fortunately, the population here in Argentina and in this part of the world generally is relatively young, and so the risk is lower than say in France or Germany,” Olivar said.
However, she also added that this demographic safety net “will change in time,” pointing like the WHO to the anticipated ageing of the Latin American population that will make Alzheimer’s a more prevalent issue, since dementia in all forms affects older people disproportionately.
In fact, the WHO expects that dementia generally and Alzheimer’s in particular will become a “global epidemic” in the decades to come, should expected demographic changes in the developing world affect an increase in the average age of the global population.
The WHO underlined that the number cases globally (currently at 47.5 million) was expected to rise by at least 7.7 million cases year on year, to reach 75.6 million in 2030 and almost triple the current total by 2050 to 135.5 million.
“Much of this increase is attributable to the rising numbers of people with dementia living in low-and-middle-income countries … Global population ageing will inevitably result in huge increases in the number of cases of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form,” the WHO said.
Argentina, distant and guiltless in the current crisis engulfing Europe and the Middle East, has offered a coherent and consistent refugee policy.
If the refugee crisis currently unfolding in Europe has exposed a drastic lack of unity among European states, it has also shown a clear divergence in policy between Europe — which, along with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan is currently bearing the heaviest burden of the influx — and other parts of the world.
In the Gulf States close to Iraq, Syria and the Mediterranean, the response has been a consistent refusal to provide for refugees. Saudi Arabia, one of the largest, richest and most powerful countries in the region, has taken in some refugees (reports differ wildly as to how many) but not offered a single concrete resettlement program. It’s the same case for UAE and Qatar, as wealthy as they are.
Today, as a destination for people seeking a life better than that which is possible in their homeland, Argentina as a state is unambiguously welcoming. It’s constitutionally bound, in fact, to be this way. After all, it’s what the country was essentially built on. “To govern is to populate,” said Juan Bautista Alberdi in 1852 (he’s a key historical figure as well as a stop on the Linea A Subte).
For the last decade or so, Argentina has specifically enshrined migration — the umbrella term that includes people fleeing war, famine, poverty and so on — as a human and therefore inviolable right (more on this later).
Fast forward to the current situation and the international refugee crisis in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East in particular. The President’s latest foray into the issue came last week, when she emotionally pleaded with Latinos across the region not to follow the example some nations were setting in “the North.”
THE EUROPEAN CONNECTION
So has the North, and Europe in particular, really been so bad? The answer, of course, is a bit more complicated than that. Something Cristina’s outburst last week forgot to mention was the overwhelming humanity of thousands and thousands of ordinary Europeans that have gone out of their way to help those arriving at that door: the mountains of donated food and clothing, the coordinated refugee-welcome campaigns across major European cities… this is the other, grassroots and altogether more positive side of the coin.
But examining government policy in Europe on its own, one thing that stands out is the sheer lack of a coherent strategy. Let’s take this article’s author’s own homeland as an example.
In October 2014, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced the UK was formally withdrawing support from the search and rescue operations currently saving lives every day in the Mediterranean. Hundreds, possibly thousands of men, women and children died on the dangerous crossing before he quietly reversed the decision months later.
His xenophobic opening salvos during the height of British summer (the word “swarm” was used by Cameron, not to describe ants ruining a picnic but homeless refugees forced into a Hooverville in the French port Calais) were forced to beat a hasty retreat as more human and humane public opinion united behind the refugees and pushed him and his knee-jerk Daily Mail appeasing flirtations (“send in the army”) back to the stinking pit they came from.
The Prime Minister then made an overtly heartfelt speech a few weeks ago telling the world he had been “moved” by the image of a drowned six-year-old boy lying face down in the Turkish surf, that Britain was now completely changing her Conservative summer position on the issue and could we please stop putting pressure on him thank you very much.
Now, 20,000 is the latest number of refugees the UK will take in, over five years. Sounds impressive enough, but when we scrape just a hair’s breadth beneath the surface, we discover that in fact this only equates to around 12 refugees per day, while Germany has taken in reported tens of thousands in the last weeks alone and tiny, impoverished and war-torn Lebanon currently shelters 1.1 million Syrians. Cameron’s latest commitment is “Barely even a response,” as Green Party MP Caroline Lucas remarked after the announcement.
Still, at least he has changed his stance and bowed to the great swing of public opinion on the issue while other EU states continue to stonewall, scapegoat and even abuse the needy arriving at their front door.
Hungary was a case in point, as underlined late last week when Hungarian police were filmed forcing starving refugees to compete for food as they threw sandwiches into outstretched hands of a desperate crowd, or when Hungarian riot police refused to give water to refugees waiting on the wrong side of newly erected barbed wire fences.
Other low-lights from the right-wing central European government included the forcing of thousands of refugees to walk the hundreds of miles from central Budapest station to the Austrian border, and the crypto-fascist prime minister telling his population that they are under attack from a “rebellion of Muslims,” etc.
Add to this the complete U-turn of German policy which now closes the borders once more, and this tiny glimpse offered by such stories help expose many European government policies on Eurasian migration and refugees for what they are: an utter shambles.
MEANWHILE IN ARGENTINA
This is not something that can be said in candor of Cristina and the Argentine government on the issue, who, physically more distant from the crisis than their European counterparts and so with a far more comfortable degree of flexibility, have issued a robust, clear-cut and extremely timely policy response featuring the single most important thing lacking in Europe: regional integration of policies.
As the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) analyzed following the Cartagena+30 process which gathered South American nations to discuss and form policy reponses to global migration and refugees:
“PARTICULAR ATTENTION AND CONSIDERATION HAS BEEN GIVEN TO THE REGIONAL MIGRATION FRAMEWORKS UNDER MERCOSUR FOR THE BENEFIT OF REFUGEES, PARTICULARLY REGARDING TRANSNATIONAL LABOR MOBILITY. COUNTRIES IN SOUTH AMERICA, MAINLY BRAZIL AND ARGENTINA, HAVE WITNESSED A NOTABLE INCREASE IN ASYLUM-SEEKERS IN THE REGION, PARTICULARLY SYRIANS.”
While the numbers taken in have been modest, Cristina and Co’s decision to further widen the non-discriminatory door to refugees only emphasized how enlightened their immigration policy had been in the first place.
Argentina has one of the most progressive set of rules and legislation regarding the free movement of peoples anywhere in the world. In 2004, Law 25.871 enshrined human movement — migration, call it what you like — as the fundamental human right it probably ought to be everywhere. It did away with the lingering fascism of “Videla’s Law,” from the dark years of the dictatorship (1976-1983), which saw authorities screen all migrants depending on their “cultural characteristics and possibility of successful integration,” as the law specified with a heavy dose of racism.
Law 25.871 explicitly states that migrants of all kinds, especially refugees, will be accepted regardless of the current status and availability of the necessary paperwork.
“THESE PROVISIONS [FROM LAW 25.871] ARE EXCEPTIONAL IN A GLOBAL CLIMATE IN WHICH NATIONAL SECURITY CONCERNS AND EXCLUSIONARY AND RESTRICTIVE POLICIES DOMINATE THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE.”
Also, the Argentine policy casts a necessarily wider net than some European countries regarding who is eligible to seek asylum from the war-torn regions of the Middle East. Alongside Syrians, Palestinians are also directly welcome under the new emergency legislation, unlike in numerous European states’ rapidly hashed policy responses and vague, confused soundbites.
In the UK, the media zeitgeist and often-corresponding political rhetoric surrounding the refugees is shamefully short on mentioning the current humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories of Palestine, most especially Gaza which will be literally “unlivable” by 2020, according to the UN, if Israel’s illegal and inhumane siege — not to mention sporadic massacres of civilians — in the region does not stop.
GEO-POLITICS AND ITS DISCONTENTS
Cristina made another point in her calculated, emotional outburst last week that also bears consideration.
“AND WHO CREATES THOSE WARS? WHO SELLS THEM THEIR WEAPONS? WHO PROFITS FROM THEM? WE HAVE TO ASK THOSE QUESTIONS SO THEY KNOW WE’RE NOT STUPID.”
Somewhat clumsily, she hits the causal nail on the head. A further fact to set apart Europe and Latin America generally on this issue is the geo-political, economic and industrial connections to war in the Middle East.
Just look at Libya, for example, a source of many thousands of refugees since it was plunged into chaos in 2011 by intervening powers intent on removing an undoubtedly nasty despot who they had nonetheless happily supported for years beforehand when it suited them. All to the benefit of the corporate sponsors of some of those NATO powers involved: Total (France), Marathon Oil (US) and so on swiftly carved out stakes in the nation’s oil supplies.
Latin American governments have not been paragons of perfect behavior since 9/11 themselves, but one thing they are not guilty of (in fact, for the most part blissfully incapable of anyway) is imposing unilateral regime change via armed conflict on an immensely complex political arena (the Middle East) with little credible plan for making whatever comes next work.
It’s a similar story with the arms trade. Afghan refugees flee from Russian Kalashnikovs and US cluster bombs that were either given directly to the Taliban (in the case of arms from the US) or else acquired by them after the Cold War proxy between the West and the Soviet Union in the country wound down.
Syrians meanwhile run from the Russian guns and bombs pumped into the Civil War by Moscow, while Gazans unprepared to stay and risk death for themselves and their families whenever the next invasion by the IDF falls are fleeing bullets, white phosphorus, shells and more essentially paid for and supplied by the United States government.
In each case, the assorted lethality currently making the mass killing in the Middle East possible was overwhelmingly made in the North, be it Russia, the UK, the US or elsewhere.
Add to this the shameless flip-flopping NATO policies about which bad guy to bomb in hellish Gordian knot of the Syrian Civil War, which seems to change with the seasons and be lifted directly out of the Ministry of Peace handbook from Orwell’s dystopian classic.
Of course, the xenophobia that exists towards many Andean migrants from Bolivia, Peru or Colombia in some corners of Argentine society; the coercion of many of these impoverished economic migrants into situations of quasi-slave labor in countless underground sweatshops here in the Greater Buenos Aires Area in particular; not to mention the abhorrent existence of widespread hunger and malnutrition in Argentina — these are all shameful realities that need to be addressed by the government and lawmakers urgently.
But they don’t exist as a result of state policy. A severe lack of it, more likely, but this bares no direct or especially helpful comparison to the immediate and pressing issue of the refugee crisis revolving around the Mediterranean.
On this, Argentina’s state policy and existing progressive laws show coherence, nuance and above all consistency that, along with a region-wide concensus, is lacking across the Atlantic. So we can maybe forgive Cristina a small bout of point scoring this time, as ugly as it was. Just this once.