Argentina's Outlook for 2012: A political, social, educational and environmental perspective

November 4, 2011 · The New School · New York

Report by Andrea Garcia

Michael Cohen and Margarita Gutman welcomed the Argentine Delegation and provided a history of the collaboration that The New School has maintained with Argentina since 2001. The OLA Fellow Alberto Minujín provided a brief presentation of the Observatory La Matanza-Riachuelo, explaining that as a case, the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin embodies not only the development challenges in the region, but also a unique intersection of human rights, environment, and globalization, being addressed with Supreme Court monitoring and intervention.

Lara Bersano, the Director of International Editions of Revista ADN, and inviting professor at various universities, presented the delegation's objective, which is to address the interest that academic institutions have in the development of Argentina, which is a model for the continent overall, particularly in regards to environmental and water issues. After visiting The New School, this delegation will visit Georgetown University and Miami-Dade Community College.

San Miguel de Tucumán challenges

Domingo Amaya, the current mayor of the city of San Miguel de Tucumán gave a presentation entitled 'Challenges in Local Public Management in San Miguel de Tucumán.' Since 2001, there have been significant changes in the central politics of Argentina. Although all politicians had lost all credibility after the economic collapse, President Néstor Kircher renewed popular trust in government by integrating human rights into the political agenda, and placed equality and the best quality of life for all citizens at the forefront.

Mayor Amaya explained, while at one time local governments were the weakest, with the shift in the Kirchner agenda, local governments soon became the centers for citizen outreach and provision of basic services. "Argentina has been a federal country", he explained, "but only recently has federalism begun to function". Facing a population of 600,000 residents, 25% unemployment, and a poverty rate of 52%, and 25% in extreme poverty, San Miguel de Tucumán approached these challenges with four main lines of action:

  1. Social inclusion
  2. Integrated urbanism
  3. Environmental sustainability
  4. Economic productivity

Tucumán boosted cultural activities and implemented neighborhood councils (Municipio del barrio), which focuses on providing health services, social services, family assistance, local infrastructure, and other basic services, with the goal of detecting needs and diagnosing with solutions. Additionally, they have implemented a drug addiction and prevention project, with assistance from the United Nations. With this program, the city has made a concerted effort to generate a safe space so to be able to visit the neighborhoods with higher numbers of drug addicts, and reduce numbers in this personalized way. Other similar social outreach programs include neighborhood mediation sessions for family issues, greening the city, lighting infrastructure, paving sidewalks and streets, transport to connect neighborhoods, and pet vaccination.

Integrated urbanism and institutional strenghtening

For San Miguel de Tucumán, integrated urbanism means planning to help the citizen to feel physically connected to the city, and motivating them to want to care for the city, and not destroy it. The slums, known as "villas miserias" or "miserable towns", Mayor Amaya clarified are, in fact, "not miserable"; instead they are simply neighborhoods that have not developed adequately. There is currently a national plan in place to develop these communities, and thus far, has integrated 320,000 people with it. 50% of the residents of Tucuman now have the necessary infrastructure to connect them with the rest of the city. Additionally, new public spaces have been created, and to address its goal of becoming an environmentally sustainable city, they have created 150% more green spaces – parks that were once abandoned are finally in use again.

With its efforts towards institutional strengthening, San Miguel de Tucumán has already seen results. So far, they have seen a rise in tourism, a 50% expansion of commercial areas, a decrease in the number of lawsuits against city hall, implementation of certification quality management, a taxpayer base expansion, a 400% increase in tax collection, and a reduction of its public debt by two thirds. These improvements are to fulfill their objectives for the bicentennial, primarily that the people of San Miguel de Tucuman develop in solidarity, equality, and inclusion, so that the distribution of wealth is equal for everyone. Other objectives include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, promoting gender equality and women's autonomy, reducing infant mortality, and addressing the contamination problem of the Salidulce Watershed, which they hope to rehabilitate by 2016.

When asked about social inclusion mechanisms, Mayor Amaya explained that SMT has opened Health Centers for women to address women's health needs, including free HPV vaccines for young girls. In response to a question about budgeting, he explained the government determines the budget, and the city has a yearly budget of about $250 million.

Water, a human right

Guillermo Scarcella the President of the water company, Aguas Bonaerenses, presented the company's work in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Access to water, he explained, should be the first human right, and the current essential commodity. Cities face the challenge of getting water to its residents, as well as food, health, and infrastructure. To meet these needs, he explained, they need public awareness of this, planning, and care of the existing resources.

Scarcella explained, in Argentina, 1% of the land in Argentina has water for consumption, held mainly in the Puelche and Guarani aquifers. The Province of Buenos Aires has over 15 million residents, and Aguas Bonaerenses serves a region with 4 million of these people. The management model for the company was created with the objective of creating a company that improves the quality of life for people, keeps the common interest at the forefront, and functions with efficiency, flexibility, and balance. Currently, they are providing drinkable water to 1.5 million of the residents in their jurisdiction.

Scarcella introduced the project, Planeta Agua, which, in partnership with the United Nations, aims to educate the youth on the care and conservation of water, and ultimately promote solidarity in water consumption to lessen it. Scarcella asserted, "having access to water and sanitation infrastructure is a blessing", which is the message they hope to transfer over to the next generation. This program targets 50,000 children in 40 schools.

Following Scarcella, Esteban Isasmendi, President of Aguas del Norte, discussed how the Salta Province addresses water management. Unlike the Buenos Aires region, 76% of Salta is very arid and much is mountainous. These geographical characteristics make access to water very difficult, and care of the resources very important. Aguas del Norte is a public company, however the government holds 90% of the company shares, leaving 10% to the employees. Their main indicators include 95% of drinking water coverage, of which 88% of users utilize regulated pressure service. They apply two types of collecting systems – 70% using deep well systems, and 30% using superficial and ground water collection. These methods present water quality problems. Isasmendi explained that Salta has high water consumption, meaning citizens need to be more educated to lessen this consumption. They have also addressed this issue with a micro-measurement plan, and hope it will reach 100% of users in the medium term.

To conclude, Isasmendi asserted that it is important to bring water management to the public sector because the private sector inevitably sets lucrative goals. With water, he explained, "we should have the objective of serving everyone in the province and for this we have generated subsidies, for those who have not been able to access this service". He continued to say, "It was fundamental to transform into a public company so to not seek to make a profit". Aguas del Norte has to remain sustainable, and still requires funding and investment, which it has received on both the national and international levels. Although they are on their way to their goal of reaching 100% of residents, they still require further investment and resources.

Universidad Nacional de San Martín

Hugo Jorge Nielsen, the current Secretary of International Relations for the Universidad Nacional de San Martin, gave a presentation on higher education in Argentina. Argentina spends 6.4% of its GDP to fund the 47 existing national universities, offering free education for all. These universities are autonomous and manage their own budget. They remain secular and multicultural, decentralized, and internationalized. The public university system aims to collaborate with both the private and public sectors, and currently is very strongly integrated into other state organizations, which contributes to its development.

The University of San Martín, specifically, boasts an Institute for Research and Environmental Engineering, which conducts research to respond to the environmental issues in society, and participates in CUSAM (Centro de Estudios Universitarios Unidad Penitenciaria), the Center for University Education in the Prison System, which offers university level education and human rights workshops to both inmates and staff. UNSAM's biotechnology department recently created the world's first transgenic cow, which can produce milk containing the same protein as human breast milk.

Matanza-Riachuelo River Bason

Luis Armella, the Federal Judge of Quilmes, gave a presentation on the Matanza-Riachuelo River Bason, which is one of the most contaminated river basins in the world. A landmark case, which brought charges against all levels of government for the damages caused by contamination of the river basin, concluded with leaving no individual with the sole responsibility of cleaning the river basin; instead the national, provincial, and city governments were charged with this responsibility. The court established 3 objectives to be achieved by these governments. These were improvement of the quality of life for the residents of the river basin, to revitalize and clean the land, water and air in the region, and finally to prevent any future damages. If these objectives are not achieved, the court imposes daily fines upon the responsible authorities.

The progress so far, has included relocation of 17,771 families, which should be completed by January of 2013. Villa Luján is one public housing complex built to house these families, as well as Bosch Bridge, which converted a massive informal settlement into a recreational riverside park. He states the big challenge for them is mainly that they cannot control corruption or any long-term commitment by the responsible actors. Thus, the court must act with prudence, as their decisions cannot have a political impact – the court needs to determine the balance in its decision-making, so to not be unjust.

The delegation included:

  • Luis Armella, Federal Judge, Quilmes
  • Domingo Amaya, Mayor, City of Tucumán
  • Lara Bersano, Political Scientists and Editor of A d N Magazine
  • Franco Bindi, Leader of the Political Movement Néstor Vive
  • Jorge Brunet, Entrepreneur, Tucumán
  • Nahuel Caputto, Editor, Campaigns and Elections Argentina Magazine
  • Jorge Rodriguez Erneta, Mayor, City of Villa Gesell, Buenos Aires
  • Esteban Isasmendi, President, Water Company of the North
  • Patricio Maraniello, Director, International Constitutional Program, Universidad de Buenos Aires
  • Francisco Marotta, Lawyer
  • Hugo Nielson, Secretary, Institutional Relations, Universidad de San Martín
  • Santiago Opando, Entrepreneur
  • Guillermo Scarcella, President, Buenos Aires Water Company
  • Vicente Scarcella, Entrepreneur
  • Alejandro De Velba, President, Oklix

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