Over the past few weeks there has been a brewing controversy between the new president Kristina Kirschner and the agriculture sector. I will attempt to summarize what I understand about the situation.
Kirschner is imposing taxes on the Argentine farmers raising crops and cattle, thusly reducing their profits. The farmers are outraged because now in the worldwide market soy grain is a very lucrative crop, and they feel as though this tax is unfair if Argentina continues a free market economic policy. They started striking two weeks ago by blocking the main arteries into the main cities of Argentina--Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Cordoba, Rosario, etc--and are not permitting trucks to get through to deliver meat or milk. They are blocking the roads with farm equipment like combines, tractors, grain drills, et al. At this point it seems they're allowing chicken through, but beef is nonexistent within the city and the milk is being rationed.
What has been really interesting has been the response by porteños. As an American citizen--raise on a farm--I would never expect Americans in general to support farmers. I actually don't even think American farmers would support themselves in the way that they're doing here in Argentina. At any rate for the past 3 nights the porteños have been taking part in a protest of solidarity for the farmers. Between 8PM and 10PM they have been going on the balconies of their apartments and partaking in cacerolazos, literally translating to "big casserole". The people take pots and pans out to the balconies and bang them and are joined by a chorus of honking horns from the buses and cars throughout the whole city.
It's contagious. It starts in one barrio and progressively fills the city with this eerie form of protest. It is really neat. María and I went out on the balcony and were banging some pans both nights.
Last night I was on the way to our program director's house for dinner and I was walking on the streets during the cacerolazo. It was really interesting to take it all in. In a very haphazardly organized fashion, porteños were all coming together for farmers; it was amazing.
Here's a video from Reuters showing some of the protests that have also been going on:
Last night María and I watched Presidenta Kristina Kirchner's address to the nation, we thought was about the strike. The address took place at place filled with Peronist Supporters (her political party). The address included the Argentine national anthem and the Peronist party song. The funny thing was that she started her speech out with a long lament about not treating her fairly because of her gender as a female. I was disappointed by this, as well as many other Argentines, because the topic at hand had nothing to do with her gender.
When she finally talked about the protests, she said that the farmers would have to halt the protest in order for her to talk to with them. The point of the protests in the first place was for the president to come up with a different way to approach the problem. After her speech the farmers initial reaction was to continue with the protest.
Today it seems that the reaction has been to have a 48 hour halt for negotiations. There still with be a large protest on Plaza de Mayo tonight.
At the dinner last night several students from the program and I were grappling with how to describe our American perspective on the nonviolent form of protest to our host families. I tried repeatedly to explain to María that this type of thing just wouldn't happen in the US. She kept saying that we're a democracy and we have a 2nd amendment. I agreed, but explained that it would be halted. María just didn't understand why.
I used this example: I said that if I spoke against the government, I would be able to say whatever I wanted, but it could potentially impede my ability to get a job with the government in the future and/or depending on the remark I could be investigated. With the Patriot Act--that's still enacted--anyone who is suspicious--and suspicious is a term that is used vaguely--can be investigated. For example, while I don't condone the actions of the governor from New York, I would rather not have the government snooping in my bank records--or whatever else for that matter--like they did in his case.
This has been an awesome experience. I am experiencing a process of Argentine culture that is far different from my cultural perspective in the US. I didn't plan on coming to Buenos Aires to see cacerolazos, but it is impacting my experience.
I have picked out a couple articles/blog posts in English that describe the current situation if you'd like to hear more:
- Tax Hike Fight (Reuters)--Slideshow showing protesters in BA.
- Argentine Farmers Call off Strike (Reuters)--Article from today talking about the response to Kristina's speech.
- Line of Sight Blog Post--Interesting blog post about the return of the cacerolazos.
- Adventure in Argentina Blog Post--Another study abroad student recounts her current experience in Mendoza.