Police torch shelters in Argentina to clear homeless

Police torch shelters in Argentina to clear homeless

A shack home burns during an eviction in a squatters camp in Guernica, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina October 29, 2020. Credit: Reuters Photo

Hundreds of families were displaced after police in Argentina torched their makeshift homes Thursday to remove them from land they occupied during a coronavirus lockdown.

Some 4,000 officers entered the 100-hectare (250-acre) camp in Guernica, in the southern suburbs of the capital Buenos Aires, at dawn -- creating panic and anger among residents.

The residents threw rocks and other projectiles while police fired rubber bullets and tear gas during a confrontation that lasted several hours.

"It was terrible. People were crying -- children, old people -- and they didn't care. The police burnt down houses, they torched everything," said Ayda Mabel, 35, surrounded by her family.

They looked on stunned at the police while trying to recover some meager possessions.

Most of the rickety homes, made out of chunks of wood, metal and plastic, were torched while police bulldozed the rest.

"They burnt everything, I want my things returned to me, I'm very angry. The police beat me and my husband," said Axi Villafuente, 24.

Homeless families started constructing their shelters in Guernica in late July.

It was home to 2,500 families including those with young children, although many had agreed to leave before the police operation.

"We left with only the clothes we were wearing... They offered us a shelter but we don't want to go, we want to stay here. We'll be in the street and we'll come back," unemployed domestic worker Marisa, who declined to give her surname, told AFP.

Land occupations have multiplied in Argentina during the pandemic as millions of people have been hit hard by the loss of their jobs.

Argentina has been in recession since 2018 and 40 percent of its 44 million population live in poverty.

The country has registered more than one million coronavirus cases and 30,000 deaths.

Buenos Aires province is the most populous in the country with 15 million people. It also has the largest disparity between rich and poor.

At the beginning of October there were 80 court cases in the province related to land occupation.

"This is unfair, all we want is a home and a plot of land. They don't give us enough money to pay a rent and that's why we're here," said Agustin, 21.

Police didn't specify how many people were injured but the public prosecutor said at least 35 had been arrested.