Matthijs de Bruijne, May 2003
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In August 2002 I returned to Buenos Aires. I knew the situation had worsened but the difference between how I had left it in January and how I found it was a shock for me. The devaluation of the peso, the dramatic economic situation; it has been a smack in their face. In fact, the country was bankrupt, unemployment had unprecedengly risen and poverty was visible everywhere, but I mean everywhere.
The subway was populated with unemployed artists, deaf and blind, lamed war veterans and a nearly complete burned little girl. Again and again they tried to sell something or begged you for money. ‘No me margines’, was printed on the articles they offered.
I lived in a decent area, let’s say rich, a lovely place for a wealthy artist from Amsterdam. But it was also an area where everyday, at the beginning of the evening another bizarre scene took place. Special trains drove into my neighbourhood, filled with people from the impoverished suburbs. They came, accompanied with carts and trolleys, to root in my trash. To look for some valuable material, usually paper and carton. They were called ‘cartoneros’.
Helped by the Estación Cultural Villa Urquiza I got in touch with them. I spent a lot of time together with the Urquiza cartoneros in the last months; we worked together and became friends. More and more I came deeper into their world and again and again I had to restrain my anger by seeing their everyday struggle. They are the ones who are paying the price for a failing government and the neo-liberal dogma.
At this moment, the economy of the country is improving a bit. There is more money circulating, mainly money from foreign bank accounts of the rich. However, there are not that many changes for the cartoneros. At most there are more cartoneros, and because of that less paper for each person. The worst part of the crisis is not finished for them yet.

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