Argentine police have evicted hundreds of homeless families that were living in an encampment in the town of Guernica in Buenos Aires province. The land occupation that began in July had peaked at more than 1,000 families but many had left before the police raid. It is unclear how many women and children remained at the time of the eviction. Four thousand police officers ended the occupation, setting fire to the makeshift homes constructed at the site and dispersing people with tear gas.
The Argentine Bishops’ Conference published a statement on the same day, saying the Church does not approve of land invasions and that they cause social unrest.
The bishops wrote: “Today more than ever it is necessary that the state is present and responsible with proactive policies for housing access and dignified employment.” The statement added: “The opportunism of some people, who take advantage of the necessities of poor people to use them in service of their own gains and political clientelism, is unacceptable.”
However, the church response is complicated by the fact that a prominent supporter of the land occupation and a champion of land redistribution, Juan Grabois, is a consultant for the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and a friend of Pope Francis. The bishops’ statement may reflect a growing frustration that the Pope has not spoken about the occupations and has remained detached from political debates in his home country.
Grabois, a lawyer, was a close associate of Jorge Bergoglio while he has archbishop of Buenos Aires.In an interview in October, the campaigner said: “There will be one, five, 20 Guernicas as long as we don’t resolve the problem of land access.”
Land occupations have increased in Argentina as the economy has deteriorated this year during the coronavirus pandemic. Hyperinflation is once again impacting the country and left-wing president Alberto Fernández has deferred payments on IMF loans. In 2020, the poverty rate in Argentina has hit 40.9 per cent and in the capital Buenos Aires, the gap between rich and poor has widened during the pandemic, with widespread unemployment.