LATIN AMERICA

Argentina to get rid of helipad that helped past presidents flee

Casa Rosada rooftop will now house organic garden supplying vegetables to the in-house cafeteria

On December 20, 2001, Fernando de la Rúa, then the president of Argentina, walked up to the helipad on the rooftop of the Casa Rosada, climbed into the presidential helicopter and fled to his official residence in Olivos, 20 kilometers to the north of Buenos Aires. Just minutes earlier, he had officially resigned the presidency.

The helicopter that took away Isabelita Perón on March 24, 1976 following a military coup.
The helicopter that took away Isabelita Perón on March 24, 1976 following a military coup.AP

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He was not the first leader of Argentina to escape by air. In the early hours of March 24, 1976, another helicopter had landed in the same spot to carry away María Estela Martínez de Perón (Isabelita), the general’s widow, who had just been deposed by the military.

But Argentineans will no longer be seeing images such as these. President Mauricio Macri has decided to eliminate the helipad and turn the rooftop of the seat of government into an organic garden for the in-house cafeteria, which feeds 700 people a day.

The project for a green rooftop is the brainchild of Fernando de Andreis, secretary general of the President’s Office.

Argentinean presidents now use a heliport located 100 meters from the seat of government

“We decided to run a test and […] we’re going to turn the rooftop of the Casa Rosada into a vegetable garden with a hydroponics system that will deliver organic vegetables to our cafeteria,” he said.

The building’s rooftop has a surface area of 5,000 square meters that will now be used to grow eggplants, tomatoes, chili peppers and leafy greens.

In 2012, when he was a member of the Buenos Aires city council, De Andreis penned a law reducing taxes on buildings willing to cover their rooftops with vegetation. And now that he sits in the central government, he has adapted the idea to the Casa Rosada.

President Macri has also embraced the movement toward more environmentally friendly buildings. Since August of this year, the hot water at the presidential residence in Olivos comes from a solar tank. And last week, First Lady Juliana Awada inaugurated a vegetable garden in the property’s vast gardens, mirroring a similar move by Michelle Obama at the White House in 2009.

First Lady Juliana Awada at the vegetable garden inside the presidential residence in Olivos.
First Lady Juliana Awada at the vegetable garden inside the presidential residence in Olivos.Presidencia

The Casa Rosada’s green project is part of the government’s drive toward a more sustainable use of resources in these times of global warming. But the decision to eliminate the helipad will also erase part of Argentina’s history, as it has been witness to dramatic moments, such as the coup against Martínez de Perón and the fall of De la Rúa.

But the truth is that, during De la Rúa’s 2001 getaway, the helicopter did not quite land on the Casa Rosada because of fears of structural damage to the latter. Instead, it hovered a few centimeters off the ground to avoid putting excessive weight on the building.

And that is also the reason why, in these times of social peace, Argentinean presidents use a heliport located 100 meters from the seat of government.

English version by Susana Urra.

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