BA City mayor faces backlash for ‘clean-up’ campaign featuring homeless people

Jorge Macri ended up removing social media posts showing that homeless people had been removed from certain city corners

Buenos Aires City Mayor Jorge Macri published a string of “before and after” photos on his Instagram stories on Wednesday, announcing an “Order and Cleaning Raid” in different parts of the city.

The “before” photos showed homeless people. The “after” images did not. The social media posts sparked widespread criticism and were later taken down. 

“The simple fact that the head of the Buenos Aires City government shows people disappearing displays a worrying outlook for this population,” said Leandro Vera Belli, head of the Land, Housing, and Economic Justice team for the CELS. 

Gabriel Solano, a city deputy for the left-wing Frente de Trabajadores, announced on X that the party will call for investigations and institutional condemnation of Macri’s “reactionary measure.” “He treats people like trash that has to be thrown out of the city,” he wrote.

One of the main issues pointed out by critics was the lack of information on what happened to the people in the pictures. “What did they do to those people? Where did they go? Did they take them away or give them a chance for a better life?,” said Horacio Avila, general coordinator for Proyecto 7, an organization working with the city’s homeless population run by people who have also experienced homelessness. 

“It’s a tough message for us, especially those who lived through the dictatorship,” Avila stated, adding that he viewed the campaign as a way of getting a certain type of idea across.

“They achieve two things by making homeless people an imaginary enemy: the consent of a certain part of society that shares the same vision and the impunity to do these things in plain sight, in front of everyone — even post them on social media,” Avila said. 

“They want to clean the streets of poor people when we’re seeing the numbers rise every day.”

Vera Belli, from CELS, also highlighted the lack of clarity as to where the photographed people went and the effect this has on the homeless population. 

“The housing subsidies [for this population] are way below the price of rent or hotel rooms. Temporary shelters, and policies are also incredibly insufficient, and we add this disdainful and persecutory outlook. Who knows what a person in that situation could feel seeing these images?”

The number of homeless people in Buenos Aires differs according to the source. The 2022 national census stated that 2,403 people were unhoused, living either in a shelter or on the streets. The BA City government’s yearly report on the topic said that in 2023, there were 3,511 homeless people living in the city. 

The National Survey of Homeless People (ReNaCALLE, for its Spanish initials), however, provided the highest figure. According to their 2023 report, conducted between May and December of last year by a coalition of social organizations, NGOs, and universities, there are 8,028 homeless people in BA City.  

A spokesperson for the mayor said that how the Instagram stories were presented was a mistake, hence why they were removed. They did not confirm whether a video of the campaign featuring the same “before and after” pictures (although framed less explicitly) will remain on Macri’s Instagram feed.

As for the raids, the mayor’s spokesperson told the Herald that the idea behind the campaign was to say that the street is no place to live, something Macri has said on several occasions, and the cleaning aspect refers to things left behind on the street. Critics of the BA administration agree, but argue that their motivations differ.  

“I have ‘The street is no place to live’ tattooed on my arm. It’s a motto we’ve had for 20 years as a message that, as a society, we can’t accept that people are living on the streets,” Avila told the Herald, highlighting that he was speaking from lived experience. “Jorge Macri says it from a punitive standpoint — a place of ‘Hey you can’t be on the streets because you make the city dirty and ugly,’ not because he’s worried. It’s not the same message.” 


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