The road to The Hidden City starts out as an eight lane highway with four lanes going in each direction. Drive a few miles and the 8 lane becomes a two lane. A little further down the road and it’s room for just one car on cobblestone streets.
If you keep going, the cobblestone runs out and you find yourself on a gravel road that ran out of gravel years ago; now just a dusty dirt road, there’s not enough room for one car to turn around. Shortly the narrow dirt road turns in to a tree branch of cutoffs that are more like old goat paths and it’s here you find it so narrow that a six foot tall man like myself can’t even stretch out his arms without hitting a house on either side.
You have now entered the Hidden City. That’s where I was today.
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Ten kilometers from Casa Rosada and a million miles from nowhere, this barrio of twenty to thirty thousand people has been cut off and ignored from mainstream Argentines for decades.
Originally a residential area for people that worked in the meat processing industry as well as other, low-paid service type positions, their population swelled in 2001.
That was the year that the Argentine government instituted strict banking controls and froze the accounts of hundreds of thousands of middle income workers. Many lost their homes and without a place to go, they found themselves in The Hidden City.
The barrio that was cast off like old rags by the typical middle income Argentine was the only place that people found where they were welcome. While Argentines who had not been shafted as bad by the economic misdeeds of the government sat in their pews at Mass, their friends and neighbors were getting help from the very people that had been shunned.
In mid-decade, about 2005, the Hidden City started changing again. As the United States started clamping down hard on drug cartels in Columbia, the traffickers had to find somewhere else to make and store their poisons prior to shipping.
Put a corrupt Kirchner administration in charge and add two healthy helpings of open and porous borders and you create a power vacuum that gangs such as the Los Zetas are expert at filling.
The land in Argentina that borders Uruguay and Paraguay is a no-mans land and it was this area into which the cartels started moving their raw ingredients for processing into cocaine.
With a pinkish-white sticky residue left over from the processing of cocaine, these warped capitalists discovered they had another money maker — Paco.
Paco is the residue that had been discarded in the manufacturing of cocaine. Now, mixed with solvent and other chemicals, it could be sold cheaply to the poor like those that lived in The Hidden City.
At the equivalent of 30 cents American, a Paco addict could get 10 seconds of high. Destroying brain cells at a molecular level, the user was left without inhibitions that stop most people from commiting violent and insane acts.
It is this danger that has fueled The Hidden City. Once families and friends would get together at night to share a meal and enjoy the cool night air. Now, afraid of what some Paco user might do, people retreat behind the bars of their home.
Danger, drugs, crime and violence. It’s all there in The HIdden City. And I will be too, Thursday night.
Jerry Nelson is a freelance photojournalist from America. The creator of the photographic book, No Indians in Tennessee, he now lives in Argentina while he continues to turn his lens on social justice issues around the globe. Connect with Jerry on MosaicHub, Facebook or LinkedIn today. Follow this link to read more of his work on Huffington Post and Examiner. Jerry uses WeOnTech to distribute his images and articles, get your FREE TRIAL today. Have a story that needs to reach national media? Email him today.