30 October 2006

Misiones imposibles

Misiones has taught us a lesson. And by "us" I mean us enlightened middle-class metropolitan urban settlers, who thought money could buy out the dignity of people just because they're poor. Not exactly by a landslide, but the United Front for Dignity (FUD) led by Bishop Emeritus Joaquín Piña won the elections held in Misiones last Sunday, which were called by the provincial government to appoint members to an assembly to modify the constitution, for the sole purpose of changing the article that forbids indefinite reelection of the governor, so that governor/feudal lord Carlos Rovira could glue himself forever and ever to his seat.

In the best tradition of not-so-old times in Argentina, Rovira employed all the means to his disposal to get votes: he got pictures of himself with President Kirchner and other national officials; he inaugurated a lot of public works; he handed out a myriad of questionable "subsidies" and "loans". His government delivered boxes of food with vote ballots attached to them to the poor. In a festival last week, he even gave away bicycles. Forged DNIs (national ID cards) without photos were distributed to his followers, so they could set up a fraud. Paraguayan citizens were paid to cross the border and vote for Rovira. Long-dead people appeared in the voters' list. The whole thing looked as if it were the 1890s, and most didn't doubt that the outcome would be the same as in those times.

But the FUD got people to think. True, behind bishop Piña not everybody who lined up to oppose Rovira was there to defend democracy. Some were opportunistic politicians. But Piña succeeded in bringing together lay Catholics, evangelicals (laypeople and pastors), the small urban middle class of Misiones, and, evidently, many of the rural poor, who we thought would rather take Rovira's bribes, submit to his political machine and vote for reelection.

The FUD won with more than 56% of the vote. Blank votes were insignificant. People went to vote despite the difficulties, and even as violence was expected during or immediately after the election. There were only minor incidents, most notably when Rovira went to vote and his bodyguards started a fight. Reporters from several national media covering the event were beaten, their equipment destroyed or damaged; one even got robbed by the people surrounding Rovira.

Carlos Rovira is now a political walking corpse. President Kirchner, who supported him (he owed him political favours), has remained silent, and he'd better stay like that, because this was a display of his true colours that could do him no well. The mean, short-sighted group of politicos that pass as the opposition these days have emitted a few words of lip service to democracy, and proceeded eagerly to gloat about K's association with Misiones' ruling cadaver, though they remained insecure as to whether they could get someone like bishop Piña to fight K in the 2007 elections (they won't -- Piña is an honest man).

If anything, this should make several provincial governors think twice about their own hopes of perpetual reelection. In Misiones, 70% of the people are poor (that also means a significant portion of the population is actually starving), yet they could not be bought with food, home appliances or cash. Even if they accepted those things out of necessity, alone in the voting room they chose "with the heart and with the head, not with the stomach", as bishop Piña said, and they're an example to us all.

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