10 May 2007

The teachers in Santa Cruz

I let two days pass without posting, in part because I was busy, but mainly because I didn't want to report news that everybody can read about and that I'm tired of watching on TV. I'm particularly referring to the situation in Santa Cruz... but sadly, it's time to say something.

For those not aware of it, Santa Cruz, a large but underpopulated province in Patagonia, is the birthplace of president Néstor Kirchner, who ruled it as governor since 1991 (he'd previously been mayor of Río Gallegos, the capital, since 1986) . Quite logically in feudal Argentina, and given the small-town environment of Santa Cruz, Kirchner exercised a lot of power there, and still does — so much that a political opponent of governor Carlos Sancho recently claimed the province is ruled "by remote control from Buenos Aires". Most officials of the K administration are from Santa Cruz, allies and buddies and political minions he acquired during his years at the top.

Well, regardless the fact that Santa Cruz is floating on a sea of oil and earning billions in royalties, plus the national government is being especially generous with its funding for the province (a coincidence, I assure you), public teachers in Santa Cruz have ridiculously low basic salaries. That's the part of the salary that serves to calculate bonuses and influences your future retirement wage. A very common tactic of provincial administrations is giving their employees these low basic wages and augment them with "extras". The extras are usually much larger than the basic, and they may take the total amount to an acceptable level, but they don't really count — they're almost handouts, and they can be taken away; a rise in the basic salary is something much more permanent.

So the teachers of Santa Cruz began a strike, and supported it with increasingly potent demonstrations and protests. And the government of Santa Cruz used the police and (later) the Gendarmerie to suffocate and disperse the protests. This is against the policies of most provincial states, which, following K at the national level, refrain from using violent repression even against proven dangerous agitators (such as Quebracho) and let protestors of all stripes block streets and roads, throw paint against public buildings, and generally do anything short of mobbing passers-by or burning down houses. This policy, which is highly controversial, is intended to avoid clashes between largely unarmed citizens and notoriously brutal, ill-disciplined, trigger-happy police forces; it's a bother most of the time, but at least it doesn't lead to casualties.

So governors who align with Kirchner, mostly not due to a commitment with human rights but out of political opportunism, don't send the police in to charge against teachers. When governor Sobisch of Neuquén did it, his police force murdered Carlos Fuentealba and the backlash was terrible. Nobody understands why, now, a governor that is practically Kirchner's maid used the police against the teachers and, lately, against Río Gallegos's municipal employees. The last episode ended with 15 wounded, 2 gravely so. Last Tuesday, the police and the Gendarmerie violently dispersed teachers who'd gather to protest before the home of Marija Ostoic, the mother of president Kirchner. The provincial government says the opposition municipal government of Río Gallegos is propelling the protests, and everyone in the national government denies that there's such a thing as violent repression.

The most ridiculous part of it is that Kirchner, always paranoid about himself, sees everything as a plot to discredit him by proxy. When recently a man drove a truck and ended up almost inside Kirchner's house in Río Gallegos, he said it was an atentado (roughly, an attempt on his life, or in this case, his possessions). The man was detained and examined by doctors, who declared him insane, a madman behind the wheel that only by chance got near K's home, but the government ignored that — "this is not some crazy guy, this is an attack against the president", said Ministry of Interior Aníbal Fernández. Regarding the teachers, Fernández (Kirchner's bulldog, notorious for his rude language and his contempt for anything opposed to his master's will) went so low as to claim that they were injuring themselves to make us pity them. Kirchner called them "cowards".

The protests increased: cacerolazos, marches, demonstrations before the president's house. There were strange attacks with Molotov cocktails against party offices of the Radical Civic Union and the seat of the teacher's union; a lighter with an inscription Compromiso K was found nearby. The shit is flying everywhere; after a priest of Río Gallegos denounced the violent tactics of the local government, Santa Cruz's Minister of Government accused said priest of hiding weapons in his parish and inciting the protests. Anything goes, and nothing is too low, it seems. Old-style mobs and shock groups that answer to local political (or para-political) leaders are not rare in Argentina, but one would think they'd be less obvious and more of an embarrassment. The reaction of the national and provincial governments has been denial and farfetched accusations.

Well, governor Carlos Sancho eventually resigned, and now a guy in K's circle, Daniel Peralta, will be in charge until the elections in October... And the teachers are still on strike.


  1. Anonymous21:14

    You always give us the best and most succinct lowdown Pablo - and now that Gran Hermano is over, I must look to the news for more entertainment - so tell us - what's the scandal with the Skanska Company I keep hearing about from time to time too? Roberto

  2. Pablo –

    I missed not reading your blog entry for the past couple of days. I thought maybe you’d done a bunk to Miami, and were living off PayPal donations.

    There’s certainly no shortage of goings on reported in the local media. Has there been any new developments concerning Carlos Fuentealba’s murder?

    One thing I find very annoying about mass media these days is the lack of follow up on many reports.


  3. Anonymous09:44

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Actually I trust Pablo´s judgment and noticing some of the Troll activity that has been going around I am sure he had very good reason for deleting that comment.

    I for one will not let anything through that is laced with foul language because if you are using foul language it most likely means that you have given up thinking and you are just lashing out emotionally and not using your head to say anything semi-intelligent.

    I have seen comments go through on this site in the past that have been critical of Pablo. Everyone pretty much knows that you can be critical without being an ass i.e. you can be critical and constructive. It is a terrible waste of time to just be an ass.

    So don´t worry Peter. I am sure Pablo just saved us from an ass.

  5. Thanks Frank, but you've paid more attention to this troll than he deserves. And so have I. Off-topic comments, rants against other bloggers and similar stuff will be silently blocked/deleted from now on.

  6. John, I haven't seen much of Fuentealba's issue in the media lately. AFAIK the investigation of the murder goes on, but these things take a lot of time here, often so much time that it makes "justice" a meaningless word in the end.

    Yes, the media live for the moment. Information shouldn't be only news!

  7. Pablo –

    I’m still saddened that there has been no justice for the 194 people that were killed in the Cromagnon nightclub fire in BsAs at the end of 2004.



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