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These extravagant amenities nestle among row upon row of singlestorey houses. From a distance the terraces resemble a piece of working-class Liverpool, except here, in northwest Argentina, what appear to be chimneys are rainwater tanks branded with the face of Che Guevara. Alto Comedero is the largest of the communities built by a social movement called Tupac Amaru. Based in the city of San Salvador de Jujuy, where Argentina approaches the border of Bolivia, Tupac Amaru claims to represent the neediest in society, providing housing, education, medical care or whatever else they require—it might be a meal or a pair of shoes.
As well as its own housing system, it has its own factories, schools and hospitals—a degree of self-sufficiency that has led some to conclude that Tupac Amaru is effectively a state within a state. It has more than 70, members—or followers, depending on how one defines them—made up mostly of indigenous Kolla Indians.
A revolutionary movement with quasi-socialist ideals, Tupac Amaru is known for its radical politics and for the efficacy of its direct action—when the movement decides to demonstrate, it can paralyse the streets of Jujuy, a fact that has turned many of the local middle class against them. Such are the rumours that circulate around this movement. It is difficult to understand the particular urbanism that Tupac Amaru has created—that combination of exurbia, Disneyesque theme park and radical socialism—without understanding something of Milagro Sala.
The Milagro legend holds that as a baby she was abandoned in a box outside a hospital. She ran away from her adoptive home at 14 to become a street hawker, but fell into petty crime and eventually wound up in prison. There, she emerged as a natural leader, organising a hunger strike over the quality of the food and helping to teach inmates to read. Having risen up through the Peronist Youth Movement and the unions, her subsequent political image is part revolutionary leader and part Mother Theresa.
The rightwing media has portrayed her as presiding over a mob, while some—like that taxi driver no doubt—see it more as a cult. Despite her unpromising beginnings, Milagro is one of the most powerful women in Argentina.