Behind Closed Gates

Text and photographs by SUB. Cooperativa de fótografos

In Argentina, living in a ‘country’ (gated community) gives you the power to control almost all of your environment : the size of each, the green space around your home, the social make-up of your neighborhood. Children can wander freely. Every danger imaginable for a privileged social class is left outside this almost perfect microcosm. ‘Countries’ appeared in Argentina following a government decree during the last military dictatorship. They spread during the 1990s, characterized by the neoliberal politics of President Menem. According to the Argentinian sociologist Maristella Svampa, the dismantling of the State and national health system caused segregation on varying levels. The working class became poorer and slums more widespread. At the same time the middle and upper classes chose an American life-style : private medical insurance, private education, maximum security for their families.

Vue depuis l'interieur du quartier ferme San Jorge Village et de son mur d'enceinte. Fonde en 1988, il a ete construit sur les terres d'une des familles de l'aristocratie les plus importantes d'Argentine: la famille Alzaga. Ce quartier ferme se trouve a 30 kilometres au nord de la capitale.
View from inside the closed neighborhood of San Jorge Village and its surrounding wall. Founded in 1988, it was built on the grounds of one of the aristocratic families most important of Argentina: Alzaga family. The farm area is 30 kilometers north of the capital Buenos Aires.
Horacio, pere de famille, se repose dans le jardin de sa maison.
Horacio, family man, sits in the garden of his house.

The story of this family resembles that of the 290,000 other people who have also chosen to live in these gated communities (there are 700 alone around Buenos Aires). Horacio, the owner of an estate agents in Miami and a vineyard in western Argentina, his wife Silvina and their children Mercredes, Horacito and Titi, have lived in the San Jorge ‘country’ for 18 years. Before that they lived in the city centre, but decided to moved following a burglary. “The burglers helped us to find the best solution for our lives”, says Silvina ironically. “The ‘country’ is a quiet place where I have not only found security but also friends, the outdoor life and a school for our children”.

Graciela, one of four employed house removing cafes cups after lunch.
Graciela, one of four employed house removing cafes cups after lunch.

The family employs several maids. Eva has worked for the family for 17 years and her sister joined them 13 years ago. They are both Paraguyan. They have seen the family children grow up. The youngest, Mercedes, is almost like a daughter to them. They both live outside the ‘country’, a 30-minute bus ride away, where other maids who work in the ‘country’ live. Fatima arrived two years ago, she lives in a small next to the kitchen and she goes out every Saturday. The three women cook, clean and handle the family’s daily needs.

There are currently 300 families living in San Jorge. Silvina remembers her first years in the ‘country’ with a certain nostalgia, when there were less neighbors and she could share sociable times with them. The ‘country’ has filled up with the families of foreign, large land owners and artists who are attracted to the quietness of the place.

The family story is also that of all inhabitants of the ‘country’, of a whole section of Argentinian society. Walter Benjamin, when evoking the capitalist system explained that liberal capitalism is the will to exclude the outside world, to retire to an absolute interior one which is comfortable, well-equipped and large enough to not feel locked in. In the microcosm of the ‘country’, a new sphere has emerged, a closed one that is nevertheless permeable : links with the outside world endure : those of the thousands of workers who make life in the ‘country’ possible.

Fatima nettoie la salle de bain du couple.
Fatima cleans the bathroom of the couple.
Vue de la maison de la famille B. au San Jorge Village.
View of the house of the B. family in San Jorge Village.