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17-year struggle ends at the BAUEN hotel in Buenos Aires

Opened in 1978, the landmark worker-owned co-op and leftist hub has sadly been forced to close its doors, writes BERT SCHOUWENBURG

MESSAGES of solidarity and support have been pouring in for workers at Hotel BAUEN in Buenos Aires after they called time on a near two-decade campaign to have their co-operative recognised as the legitimate owners of the business. 

In an emotional farewell, they released a statement saying that, “over 17 years we took on many challenges. We overcame them all. We have fought with joy, grateful to experience the collective passion. In our beloved BAUEN, we have worked, embraced, laughed, cried, were unhappy and happy. None of us would choose any other way to spend the last 17 years.”

The letters BAUEN stand for Buenos Aires Una Empresa Nacional (Buenos Aires, a national company) and the hotel stands on Avenida Callao 360, a few blocks down from the Argentinian Congress and metres away from the city’s emblematic Corrientes Street. 

It was inaugurated by the civic-military dictatorship in time for the 1978 World Cup that was held in Argentina and handed over to one Marcelo Iurovich who received a $37 million loan from the National Development Bank, not a peso of which has ever been repaid. 

In December 2001, at the height of the civil unrest that engulfed Argentina following the IMF-inspired economic meltdown, the hotel was closed, all the employees dismissed without notice and the owners disappeared. 

In March 2003, assisted by the Movimiento Nacional de Empresas Recuperadas (National movement for recovered businesses), the former employees occupied the building and, during a steep learning curve, proceeded to administer it themselves as one of over 300 worker-run enterprises across the country. 

At its height, the co-operative had 130 people at the hotel which became a centre for cultural and political activity. 

In a series of legal battles, the co-op fought to have the BAUEN expropriated by the state.

It had been sold to a Chilean firm in 1997 and in 2006 a court ruled that it belonged to a firm called Mercoteles whose president happened to be Iurovich’s son. 

Despite being threatened with eviction on more than one occasion, the co-op held firm and, finally, in 2016, the Senate promulgated the expropriation law in their favour. 

However, by this time right-wing extremist and ex-Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri had become president of the republic and he promptly vetoed the legislation. 

Nevertheless, the BAUEN workers fought on until March 30 this year when they were forced to close the doors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Since then, they have been accumulating debts and have now been forced to liquidate their assets and wind up the enterprise.

Other hotel beds in Buenos Aires were used to treat Covid-19 patients but, unfortunately, the BAUEN was not one of them. 

Now that the end has come, questions are being asked as to why Peronist governments that were in power before Macri did not act earlier to expropriate the hotel.

Whatever the answers to those questions are, what is not in doubt is that the BAUEN workers were an inspiration for those in struggle everywhere and their exploits will not readily be forgotten.   

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