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Daniel Sallaberry

The Mendoza Case and the Rights of the Poor

Date:January 2014
Location:Argentina

Daniel Sallaberry, lawyer for residents of an impoverished riverside community in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who sued three levels of government and 44 industries for infringements of environmental rights, winning a multi-billion dollar clean-up of the Riachuelo River. In Spanish, with translation.

In this exclusive Green Interview, Argentinian lawyer Daniel Sallaberry discusses the Mendoza Case: an inspiring public interest litigation process in which the Supreme Court ordered the authorities to clean up the Matanza-Riachuelo river basin, one of the most contaminated places on earth. Frustrated that Argentina’s admirable environmental rights statutes had never had a solid, real-world test, Sallaberry took on the case and after four years of hearings the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision not just for Argentina but for the world.

Matanza-Riachuelo River

The Matanza-Riachuelo River flows for 64 km from the District of La Matanza to the shores of La Boca, a barrio and well-known tourist destination in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires. The Riachuelo was once identified as the eighth most polluted spot on the planet — nothing short of an environmental and social catastrophe — as a result of more than 200 years of run-off from tanneries, oil refineries, chemical industries, shanty-towns and farmlands. In this exclusive Green Interview, Argentinian lawyer Daniel Sallaberry discusses how the inhabitants of the river basin came together to launch a landmark legal suit, how they won, and how real justice is yet to be served.

The Mendoza Case

In 2004 a group of residents living in “Villa Inflamble,” one of the worst-polluted shanty towns in the Matanza-Riachuelo river basin in the province of Buenos Aires, filed a lawsuit called the Mendoza Case, named after Beatriz Mendoza, one of the 17 plaintiffs and residents of Villa Inflamable. The case was filed against the Argentinian government, the city of Buenos Aires, and 44 businesses for damages to their health and infringing their right to a healthy environment. On July 8, 2008, after four years of hearings the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision in which it ruled that government and industry had indeed infringed the residents’ right to a healthy environment, and it ordered the national and provincial governments, and the municipality of Buenos Aires, to clean up the Riachuelo river and its basin, benefiting the more than five million people that live there. The verdict is still pending in the case against 44 businesses accused of polluting the river and harming the health of area residents. Furthermore, the work would be supervised by a citizens’ group and by a judge. Argentinian lawyer Daniel Sallaberry discusses this remarkable case and the challenges that remain.