THE EARTH TIMES
OCTBER 24, 1995
BUENOS AIRES NOTEBOOK
Urban woes in a charming city
BY ASHALI VARMA
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina–Buenos Aires is city caught between two worlds, Europe and Latin America. The architecture is of 19th Century Europe with buildings in French, Italian and British styles but its 13 million inhabitants come from all over the world—-many from the neighboring countries of Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia—-all in the search of jobs and a better life. And like most large cities, Buenos Aires is surrounded by slums or villas miserias where the poor live in shacks without electricity or running water.
Viviana Brenner is a social psychologist, married to a teacher and has two children, a 19-year-old son and a l2-year-old daughter. She has grown up in the city. With two incomes the family earns over 4,000 pesos a month and pays 15 percent in taxes and has a good medical insurance plan. But she worries about the growing poverty around her and the high cost of living for people who earn much less,
“The slums are growing and unemployment is up from 8 percent to 18 percent and this gives rise to crime and violence,” she said, adding, “The government is trying to solve the problem by giving tax incentives to private companies to create more jobs. The government also has
plans to build low cost housing which would give employment to construction workers as
well as homes for people who are renting or sharing housing.”
But as a sociologist she is concerned about the way the economic situation affects family life. “Divorce rates are up and violence in homes has grown. We have a lot of cases where children drop out of schools to work when the father stops providing for them,” she said. “Before there were hardly any gangs but now there are even teenagers from the lower middle class who have formed gangs and terrorize neighbourhoods.”
Although the phenomena is worldwide, Brenner said, and countries are opening up their markets to encourage a free market system and boost employment, the problem of leaving the poor and unqualified in a worse predicament is growing.
The government is trying to deal with the problem of violence through education and counselling. Police stations have a special department which take care of battered
women and children. By dialling 102 a person can get help if they see someone being abused.
Mario Abel Saldes is 30 years old and works in a hotel. He is from Chile and came to Argentina four years ago to study because the universities were virtually free but he found it difficult to earn a living and study.
Saldes earns about 700 pesos a month but has to pay 200 pesos as rent. “Argentina is
more expensive than Chile but in Chile the wages are low and things are cheaper,” he
said. He thinks all Latin American countries are going through a phase of recession and
unemployment is growing. Though people know how to read and write they are not able to finish their education due to financial reasons and are not qualified for employment.
“There is a lot of frustration and this leads to crime,” said Saldes.
Saldes is saving 100 pesos a month and plans to finish his studies. He considers himself an “economic migrant” and hopes that things will improve in Latin America and in his country so that he can go back and get a well paid job,
“I hope that Latin America can work together like the European Community and offer a better future to the young people,” said Saldes.