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