18 June 2008

One step forward, two steps back

After almost 100 days of doing nothing but fueling the rage of the farmers and a good part of the general public (including many of her voters), President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took note of the cacerolazo and reluctantly sent her mobile tax exports bill to Congress.

Never one to aspire to perfection, though, she let her husband go on with today's rally at Plaza de Mayo, which was transmitted on Cadena Nacional (i.e. forcefully overriding the regular schedule of all air TV channels to broadcast her speech). The rally was formally an occasion for all Argentinians to hear the President speak live on the current issues of prime importance for the country, but as expected, and as usual, it was merely a distasteful partisan meeting — thousands of public employees and unionized workers forced to attend, plus thousands of "social movements" who herded their militants to applaud Cristina.

Once before the crowd, la Presidenta took again on her Evita voice (which failed her a couple of times) and proceeded to insult the leaders of the agricultural organizations and to accuse those who protested against her government of being undemocratic and disrespectful of the popular majority. Her thesis (we've heard several times recently) is that democracy consists of voting every four years and then either quietly tolerating the decision of the majority, or form a new political party and compete when time is due. That is, all channels of feedback and criticism between the people and their government (except the ballot box) are to be suppressed: public opinion shouldn't be allowed to express itself through the media or through demonstrations and protests. Criticism on TV or the papers means big media corporations trying to destabilize the government. Banging pots and pans in the streets means inciting a coup. The spectacle of thousands of people who despair at the lack of action of their supposed representatives, taking to the streets on a freezing night with their kids to make some noise, to try to reach the consciousness of the ruler, doesn't mean anything but a threat to democracy.

That's the Kirchners' message, the subtext of most of their speeches. Every time Néstor and Cristina have taken one discursive step forward to speak of free speech or freedom of the press, they've proceeded to immediately take two steps back, treating their critics as enemies. So far it's been the media groups and some specific individuals and organizations. Today, it was the people as a whole.

Yesterday, when I heard Cristina's vow to let Congress discuss the tax bill that caused this whole mess in the first place, I was briefly glad about it. But again she'd taken those two steps back. The bill, they explained, deals with a matter of export tariffs and is under the jurisdiction of the Executive, i.e. it's not really a tax. As such, what Cristina sent to Congress was a closed package that can't be opened. It can only be approved or rejected as a whole. If approved, the conflict will be renewed. If rejected, we must assume, Cristina can ignore it, and given her record, it's quite possible that she would. The political costs might be extremely high for her and for everyone in her party. But the Kirchners have already shown us that they care for nothing. They're like blind bulls racing through a china store.

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