Photo via Crónica

Around 300 families — an estimated 500 people — have begun to unlawfully occupy space in a rural area near Route 25 in the partido (or district in Buenos Aires Province) of Moreno since last Friday. The terrain of some 230 hectares is currently rented out by the University of Morón as experimental fields for its agriculture students and is close to various gated communities. The “taking” or seizure of land (tomas de terrenos) is a recurring issue in the province and there are concerns over evicting people from the area as a result of a precedent for violence seen in similar scenarios.

The issue of tomas de terrenos, sometimes referred to as tomas, is very much a part of sociopolitical dynamics in Buenos Aires Province. Tomas generally stem from masses of marginalized people, often un- or underemployed, without access to credit or shelter, who turn to occupying space public or private land. Many ‘villas miserias’ (informal settlements) are the products of tomas. These particular land settlements are more than delicate matters to address because they involve the well-being of the “occupiers” as well as the rights of landowners whose property is being unlawfully used.

It should be clarified that many occupiers are not there for political reasons, but find themselves there due to a genuine need for housing, a chronic social issue that always surfaces with these conflicts.

The Buenos Aires Province police are present but for now, have not intervened. According to one of the participants of the toma, “They told us that rather than leaving it empty, they would prefer people to come and live here. We are [just] looking for a place to live.”

Meanwhile, prosecutor Emiliano Buscalia is in charge of the case and has said that he will request an eviction warrant but no official decision has been made yet.

Last year, there was a massive toma in the district of Merlo, which was considered indicative of a corrupt regime under former Mayor Raúl Othacehé grasping at straws and trying to undermine the new administration. After an eight-year-old boy was killed this year after getting caught in a shootout between two gangs there, locals protested and demanded for a full eviction of the area. Some 2,000 people were evicted a week later to the tune of bulldozers and police despite a courthouse asking the authorities to postpone any attempted evictions for 180 days.

With that precedent in mind, there are many concerns over this latest toma which has been going on for a week and tensions are rising on the ground due to a potential eviction warrant. However, as in the case of the Merlo, there remains a housing necessity that needs to be addressed, independent of the internal conflicts. It remains to be seen whether a concerted effort to negotiate an adequate housing program and security plans for the people involved will take place before bringing out the bulldozers.