24 May, 2010Issue 12.3Photo EssaysSouth America

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The Hidden City

Manu Brabo

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Buenos Aires, Argentina—Tucked away in the southwest corner of the Argentine capital is a slum where some 13,000 people live in poverty. Here, the beverage of choice is birra (beer), and paco—an accessible and lethal drug made from the very last scourings of cocaine—is widely consumed. It is a place defined by its very name: Ciudad Oculta, the “hidden city”.

Its real name is Barrio General Belgrano, but it earned its colloquial title when the military dictatorship that governed Argentina between 1976 and 1983 fenced it in, so that the foreigners who visited the country for the 1978 World Cup were “protected” from its sight.

People have been living in poverty in Ciudad Oculta since its foundation in 1937. Back then, its inhabitants worked for the property market, the railway system, and the meat processing plant Lisandro de la Torre. Today, after waves of inmigration from neighbouring countries, the majority are unemployed, very few have temporary jobs, and the most common occupation is the cartoneo.

The cartoneo goes out into the dead of night, rummaging through the rubbish of the streets in search of cartons, paper, metal, and anything that can be recycled. Each night, this is the occupation of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people from the Ciudad Oculta. Their efforts are rewarded by a wholesaler at 7 or 8 pesos (less than 4 euros) per delivery.

Like other slums—Fuerte Apache, Villa Retiro, and La Cava—Ciudad Oculta is a glaring expression of a system of exclusion which has become part of the social structure of Buenos Aires and which typifies Argentina’s growing politcal and economic instability.

Manu Brabo is a documentary photographer living in Madrid, Spain. Through his independent work and collaboration with agencies in the United States, Britain, France, and Spain, he has travelled to the Bolivian altiplano, Kosovo, Magred, and Haiti. Manu’s work can be followed here.

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