Subte Stories explores Buenos Aires’ lesser-known subte stops and the neighbourhoods they are found in, scoping out local stories and the best on offer within four blocks or less. This week we ride down to Estación Caseros and the barrio of Parque Patricios on the H Line, one of only two lines connecting the north and south of the city.
23rd April, 1979. After nearly twenty years of construction and in front of an international human rights commission, representatives of
Argentina’s last military dictatorship inaugurate the Caseros Prison, on the tree-lined avenue of the same name. The imposing panopticon juts 22 storeys into the sky. Political prisoners are crammed five to a cell, which are designed in such a way that they never receive direct sunlight. Minister of Justice Alberto Rodríguez Varela likens the building to a five-star hotel.
“Look at how well we treat our prisoners,” the functionaries seem to say, behind false smiles and rows of oversized medals. The commission isn’t convinced, yet the prison remains open.
Over the next four years it houses 1,500 political “subversives”. With the collapse of the dictatorship in 1983 comes a brief instance of poetic justice, as former army commander and face of the junta, Jorge Rafael Videla, is himself temporarily incarcerated behind the prison’s walls.
The prison continues functioning despite the return to democracy, and inmates begin taking matters into their own hands. They destroy the glass partitions in the visitor’s booths. They break holes in the outer walls, and for the first time the cells are flooded with sunlight. From these makeshift windows they throw palomas, or doves – little bundles tied to string – to girlfriends, mothers, gathered on the street below, who send up cigarettes and photographs.
In 2001, Caseros Prison was officially closed, and over the course of five years was systematically demolished floor by floor, starting from the top. Political prisoners were memorialised throughout the process in the Caseros Prison Demolition Project by North American artist Seth Wulsin, their faces reflecting ghost-like from the windows. All that remains is the original 19th century portion of the prison, covered now in colourful political graffiti, its windows bricked up; the property is being considered as a new location for the National Archives.
Tales of rebirth such as this abound in Parque Patricios, in the city’s poorer south. A cemetery for victims of the 1871 yellow fever outbreak is now the tranquil Parque Ameghino, directly across the street from the Caseros Prison. All of Buenos Aires used to send its rubbish, by train, to be burned in the neighbourhood’s massive incinerators, or quemas; the incinerators are now gone, but residents still defiantly refer to themselves as quemeros.
This resurgence in barrios like Parque Patricios is not without its challenges. Villa Zavaleta, one of the city’s largest shantytowns, lies just beyond the Huracán football stadium to the south, a distressing epicentre of drugs, crime, and poverty. The quemeros seem poised to tackle these issues just as they’ve overcome difficulties in the past – with persistence and hope. A community centre one block from the ruins of the Caseros Prison reminds us, in playful filete script, “Nada grande se puede hacer sin alegría” – nothing big can be done without happiness.
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Caseros Station is located in the H Line, in Parque Patricios. As the line extends north, the barrio and neighbouring Nueva Pompeya will be connected with Recoleta and Retiro – two of the city’s wealthiest areas. It is named for the Avenida Caseros, which in turn is named after the Battle of Caseros, 1852, in which strongman Juan Manuel de Rosas (the face of the $20 bill) was defeated and removed from power.
What to Do
Parque Ameghino – Playgrounds and park benches have replaced the thousands of headstones that once dotted this former yellow fever cemetery, though it’s believed that a handful of tombs remain undisturbed below ground. Come on a Sunday to cheer on the local amateur football clubs that compete every weekend, and pay your respects to the yellow fever victims at the park’s central Monument to the Fallen.
Football match at Estadio Tomás Adolfo Ducó – Huracán is to Parque Patricios what Boca Juniors is to La Boca. Quemeros identify fiercely with their club, and their stadium, also known as “The Palace”, is visible upon exiting Caseros Station, in the distance down Av Jujuy. It’s also used frequently as a music venue. It is highly recommended to go in a group – although Parque Patricios is a relatively safe area in general, keep in mind that a large villa is located just beyond the stadium. To inquire about tickets, visit their website or call (54-11) 4911-9313.
Museo Naval Tomás Espora – This museum administered by the Argentine Navy is the former home of revolutionary hero and first Argentine to sail all the way around the world, Tomás Espora. One of the oldest buildings in the south of Buenos Aires, it contains items and letters belonging to Espora, as well as replicas of his and other naval officer’s uniforms. Open Mondays-Friday from 9am-3pm, Av Caseros 2526. Free entry.
Where to Eat
Pizzeria El Huracán, Av. Caseros 2807, 8am-close. Classic, old-style pizzeria bedecked with football memorabilia and paintings of Huracán’s
former greats. Waiters are only too happy to regale you with anecdotes of the club and the neighbourhood. Order a large pizza (between $40 and $69 at time of writing, more than enough for two people), grab a seat by the window, and watch Parque Patricios buzz with activity. Great view of the San Antonio de Padua Church, built in 1907.
Content originally appeared at The Argentina Independent.