stories

Behind closed gates

In Argentina, living in a ‘country’ (gated community) gives you the power to control almost all of your environment : the size of each room, 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. 

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”. 

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 room 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 entrepreneurs, 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.

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San Jorge Village gated community and its outer wall seen from the outside. Founded in 1988, it was built on land belonging to one of Argentina's most important aristocratic families : the Alzaga family. This gated community is 30 kilometers north of the capital.

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The family house in San Jorge Village gated community.

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Horacio and Silvina in their bedroom on a Sunday afternoon. They have been married for 24 years and have three children.

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Mercedes (17), the youngest in the family plays with her cousin who has come to visit.

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Fatima and Liliana, two of the full-time employees working for the family. They work while sharing a maté tea with a colleague from a neighboring house. They all come from Paraguay.

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Mercedes (nicknamed 'Nuna' by her parents) gets out of her car to go to the Saint Georges North bilingual college located within the gated community.

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Silvina (nicknamed 'Titi' by her parents - she has the same name as her mother), 19 and one of the employees in their garden.

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Horacito, 21 (he has the same name as his father and grandfather), the family son goes for a boat ride on the Rio de la Plata delta with his friends.

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Horacito water skiing, his favourite sport, on the Rio de la Plata delta.

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Horacio, the father, relaxes in his garden.

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Graciela, one of the home's four employees removes the coffee cups after lunch.

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A pedicure technician works in the family house with the foot of the father.

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Pupils in the Saint Georges North college look down at the end of year ceremony on the floor below.

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Titi and Horacito in the living room of the home in the San Jorge gated community.

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Fatima cleans the couple's bathroom.

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Silvina makes her mother up on her 80th birthday, before the guests arrive.

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Titi gets ready to help at her grandmother's birthday party.

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A maid who has been employed purely for Silvina's mother's 80th birthday party.

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Titi and Mercedes get ready to help at their grandmother's birthday party in their home in San Jorge Village gated community.

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The family maids bring everything needed for Silvina's mother's birthday party to the family apartment in Recoleta (an area in the centre of Buenos Aires). There will be around 100 guests.

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Silvina prepares dinner with her employees for her mother's birthday.

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Guests at Silvina's mother's birthday party.

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From left to right, Silvina, her mother, her sister, her father and her daughter Mercedes.

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A maid who works in a neighboring home walks the dogs within the gated community.

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Titi, near barbed wire inside the gated community where she and her brothers used to play when they were young.

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The end of year ceremony in Saint Georges North college in the gated community.

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Horacio, the head of the family goes home in his youngest daughter's car. The private area is protected by a private security guard.

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View of the San Jorge gated community.

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