"Nunca mas" Never Again--the title of Argentina's human rights' report on the victims of the Dirty War. Part of the memorial dedicated to the victims of the Cromagnon Fire.
It has become clear to me that the Luis Viale fire was, at its moment, very important in bringing the existence of slave labor and undocumented immigration into the spotlight, albeit for a limited time.
One of the issues that was publicly revealed through the fire was the existing extensive network that smuggled immigrants, mostly Bolivian though not exclusively, to Buenos Aires to live and work in these clandestine textile shops. From what I can see, at the time of the fire, oddly enough, Argentine newspapers were giving lots of coverage to George Bush’s 2006 proposed Guest Worker Plan, and the criminalization of the undocumented in the United States, without a mention of the country’s own increasingly problematic status with respect to its undocumented residents. However, within a month of the fire, national legislation was launched called Plan Patria Grande, intended to facilitate the legalization of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the surrounding countries that include but are not limited to Bolivia, Uruguay and Chile. I was told by an attorney that works for the Ombudsman to the City of Buenos Aires that one of the problems with the execution/implementation of this legislation among the Bolivian sweatshop workers (among them the 50 some survivors of the fire) was that it required participants to provide government documentation from their home country. This was a nearly impossible condition for many of these workers to fulfill given that they had had this documentation taken away from them when they were trafficked into the country. There were also multiple allegations from the Bolivian community that the Bolivian Consulate had committed to facilitate and assist the victims in obtaining this paperwork but was in fact overcharged and drew out the process. President Morales replaced the head consul shortly thereafter. Continue reading
The starting point for my research was the work of Argentine writer Washington Cucurto. I intended to interview him during my stay in Buenos Aires but very soon I learned that he is notoriously hard to get in touch with. While very well-known for his novels—most of which are about the lives of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Paraguay and the northern regions of Argentina in Buenos Aires—Cucurto’s most famous project is Eloisa Cartonera. Founded in 2003, Eloisa Cartonera is an independent non-profit publishing cooperative working out of la Boca. They buy cardboard from urban collectors or “cartoneros” to make hand-made and hand painted books. These texts are given to Eloisa Cartonera by a great number of Latin American Writers and the beautiful, one of a kind editions are sold for as little as 8 Argentinean pesos or 2 US dollars. Wanting to know more about the project and hoping maybe to run into Cucurto at the workshop, I visited their space in la Boca and got to see first hand how the cooperative works.
Across the street from one of the entrances to the mythical La Bombonera stadium, home of the Club Atlético Boca Juniors, colorful windows invite you into the workshop space where the coop members cut and paint the cardboard and put together the books. Washington Cucurto’s novels showcase a multicultural Buenos Aires, something that seems to be at the heart of the Eloisa Cartonera project, not only in terms of the books they’re publishing but also in how the space works. Aside from being primarily interested in distributing the work of authors from all over Latin America, the Eloisa Cartonera workshop space also serves as a sort of community center in la Boca. During my short visit, kids, mostly of Paraguayan and Bolivian descent, would drop in, say hi, chatted about football and offered to help paint. At one point, a neighbor joined in the conversation with his bilingual parrot, who spoke both spanish and guaraní, like many of the members of the community. While I did not get a chance to speak to Washington Cucurto, visiting Eloisa Cartonera gave me great insight into his work, helping me to better understand the Buenos Aires that he creates in his pages, one where the geographical and cultural frontiers between the Caribbean, Bolivia, Paraguay and the north of Argentina (to start with) are blurred.
Posted by Cristel Jusino Díaz — PhD Candidate in Spanish at NYU