“It was something too violent for our daily window, which is the ravine or the river bank in Rosario: those walls of fire scared us the way animals are scared by fire. But every day there is another type of fire, a time bomb, which are these forms of production that spit everything on the river. Seeing that was really moving, and we understand that this journey crossed us all ”, said Julia Vélez, a member and one of the spokespersons of the Multisectorial Humedales Rosario. The activist rehearsed a summary of the most ambitious demonstration launched by the organization in its still new existence: the caravan of boats that joined rowing Rosario with Buenos Aires to demand for the Wetlands law, and which culminated with a massive march between Plaza de May and Congress, flagging the headquarters of two of the three Powers, after an effort that had repercussions throughout the country and abroad.
The activist placed at the top of the harvest of the journey the current of solidarity and support that awaited the passage of the kayakers in each place. “We wove a fabric that is difficult to break. This was the main achievement ”, highlighted Julia, who supported the team on the ground. But with equal intensity he denounced what the nautical march revealed when traveling the final 350 kilometers of the Paraná River: in addition to burning the ecosystem, it is being poisoned.
“During the trip we could see how the river is punished, hit by our way of producing. We saw that the full, healthy, emotional landscape of the Wetland coexists, with its streams that are lost between greens, mud and ravines, between life and diversity; and on the other side there are gray flats, full of very large machines, with even bigger ships, which should be in oceans and not rivers, giant mouths spitting who knows what, and sewers, and industrial waste ”, described the member of the Multisectoral. Not only was the evidence visual, but it was often accompanied by “horrible colors and smells” that spread not only towards the water, but also towards the air: “Chimneys that rise to the sky from the river bank until very high, releasing black smoke, darkening the sky ”.
“That is what is happening in our river, our wetland, our coastline, daily,” lamented Julia.
Faced with this, he valued the response from residents of all coastal populations along the waterway: the conclusion, from the beginning to the end of the journey, was clear: “Environmental concern mobilizes, a lot.”
Julia described the salient points of the journey from the beginning, when, on the morning of August 11, the kayakers gathered on Rambla Catalunya to start the protest that was also adventure. Many people, due to their own obligations, left with the idea of doing a section and returning, but a hard core had prepared to do the entire route. There were more than fifty who, by land and by water, completed the journey, but in various stages other rowing boats were added in show of support, especially in the last section, when the caravan left Paraná de Palmas, in Bajo Delta, to disembark in Tigre, already in Greater Buenos Aires.
The activist recalled that at each stop or crossing point the support samples stood out, and at each partial break or at the end of the day they were received and valued for their effort. That, marked the organization, was important to renew strength and courage to continue.
“The idea arose to make visible, raise awareness and pressure for a law that contains, defends and safeguards the territory of wetlands, which comprises 22% of the national surface. And that basically has the task of filtering the fresh water we drink and filtering the air we breathe, not only the riverside cities or towns, but also a large part of the southern region of this continent ”, refreshed Julia.
“On the 11th we left from La Florida around 30 kayakers, along with a staff of people who went by land to support all the food logistics, coordination with all the stopping points, with rest and food, plus everything that was going to be the management to support a group of around 60 people on average for seven days ”, he said.
“Everything happened in a fluid, harmonious way, with its vicissitudes, with its cold mornings – the first four mornings were very cold and the nights too – with its intense mists,” he recalled the way. And he added that at one of the beginning of the day they left when the mist was still present. It was “trial and error,” and they didn’t do it again. “Learning the road and collective care”, he summarized.
What emerges over and over again in the story are the greetings, in each place, even by neighbors scattered in towns where there is no organized socio-environmental activism. “Sometimes,” says Julia, “there were just a few, but they would come with posters to“ give words of support and gratitude ”.
And he highlighted: “The caravan was made up of members of the Multisectorial but also by a lot of kayakers who joined from the love of rowing and the connection with the river.”
Wide and alien river
Julia Vélez describes the great move devised in Rosario to “measure the importance of the request for the care of the territory.” The spokesperson highlighted the size of the kayakers who, after paddling arm in arm for six days, on the seventh they put their boat on their shoulders to march from Plaza de Mayo to Congress. Not only did it mark the temper in a postcard of struggle, but it also opened an opening moment: boats are not remembered sailing on shoulders in a demonstration on Avenida de Mayo.
The protest also tried to shake the opinion of a population that, for the most part, distanced itself from the river despite being on the banks of the widest in the world. Unlike Uruguay, on the opposite side, there are no longer any public spas with access to water in Buenos Aires: the last one closed in the 1940s. Nor is the culture of eating river fish widespread, since over the decades it was imposing the commercial structure of connection with Mar del Plata, and what is consumed is, in general, sea fish.
The great pollution from spills in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, with the Riachuelo at the top of the list, is also one of the cornerstones of a society that turned its back on the river, whose government is still trying to privatize the few public facilities that are close, like Costa Salguero. And that with great efforts of a minority portion it seeks to preserve a more recent viewpoint, the Ecological Reserve, desired by private interests and the target of destructive attacks, such as persistent intentional burning.
Even so, the mobilization for the Wetlands law was massive, despite being done in the middle of a working day. And for those who completed the journey it was to be “holding the kayak with pride, strength and conviction” and with the certainty that with the way of facing the claim they had become “new political actors” and “poetic”, since “this crossing had those two characteristics ”.
In fact, all the shapes and colors linked to a hope for a healthy environment filled the Plaza de Mayo. “The march was colorful, it was happy, it was popular. It was a perfect end to the entire journey, ”highlighted Julia. “There were more than 7,500 people in the street and with a headboard with kayaks, flags, paddles, life jackets, caps. It was emotion and gratitude, ”he recalled. And he rescued that three deputies have received them in Congress, two of them from the Environment commission – one from its president, Leonardo Grosso, and another the second vice president of the body, Daniela Vilar, both from the Frente de Todos, together with the socialist Enrique Estevez– although it sounds like little for a Chamber that has 257 seats and a commission that has 31 members. But another piece of information is that Natural Resources and Conservation of the Human Environment is precisely the commission that already gave a favorable dispatch to the unified draft of the Wetlands Law: there are three more missing and that is where the initiative came to a standstill. The claim of the Multisectorial is that it be dealt with in a plenary session of the three commissions to avoid further delays and – above all – to bring the project out of lethargy before it loses parliamentary status. There are only a few months left for this situation to occur, following the same path as previous attempts at a protective law.
The current outlook is no more encouraging than before: “None of the missing committees was present through their deputies,” lamented the MH spokeswoman. “It was sad, it was vague, compared to the enormity with which we had been bringing the journey. That meeting was small, there were commitments –which we are going to see if they are fulfilled– but it was not significant: significant was what happened in the street, ”said Julia.
“The organizations from below, with the people from below, sharing the messages of unity against this extractivist model, and holding the people who are occupying seats accountable for the popular vote,” Julia closed, thanking all the organizations that participated. and to “every neighbor and every neighbor who did this huge thing.” “We are going to continue this this way, and we invite you all from the Multisectorial Humedales Rosario”, he concluded.