BUENOS AIRES, (Reuters) – Argentine President Cristina Fernandez accused political rivals yesterday of encouraging land grabs and fomenting squatter violence in which at least three people were killed last week.
The clashes between squatters at a Buenos Aires park and neighborhood residents has dominated the news, presenting Fernandez with her biggest challenge since the death of her husband and closest adviser, Nestor Kirchner, in late October.
Scenes of stick-wielding youths throwing stones at the squatters’ makeshift tents in a poor suburb of the capital are particularly uncomfortable for center-left Fernandez, who has her support base among poor and working-class Argentines. “This din’t just get out of hand, someone was behind it,” Fernandez told supporters in a televised speech. The violence in the Villa Soldati district was followed by several other illegal land occupations in Buenos Aires this week. “From the very first day that I started to govern the Argentine Repub-lic, they started placing obstacles in my path,” said Fernandez, who is expected to run for re-election next year.
Squatters demanding public housing started moving into the capital city’s second-biggest park last week and almost 6,000 people are now camping out at the site, according to official figures.
Some of the squatters said they had been forced out of their homes in nearby shantytowns because they could no longer afford rents of about $100, reflecting brisk inflation that is privately estimated at between 25 percent and 30 percent.
Fernandez frequently highlights her government’s efforts to redistribute wealth in Latin America’s third-biggest economy but critics say the unrest is evidence of gaping income inequalities and the state’s neglect of poor areas.
Political analysts say it is too early to say whether the unrest could affect Fernandez’s approval ratings, which soared to above 50 percent following Kirchner’s death.