30 September 2006

Hebe de Bonafini's hate

As you may remember from a previous post, Jorge Julio López, a key witness in the trial of Dirty War criminal Miguel Etchecolatz, disappeared 13 days ago. Nobody knows whether he's dead or alive, and many fear that he's been kidnapped and killed by the same people who used to do that back during the dictatorship.

Hebe de Bonafini, co-founder and president of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, is an angry woman. Two of her sons were abducted by the military. Together, even during the dangerous years of the Proceso, the Mothers have demanded that their children be returned to them and that those responsible for their disappearance are brought to justice. They have found many and achieved a lot; for most Argentinians, the Mothers are heroes. Bonafini, on the other hand, has become increasingly radicalized. Ironically, she's conceded one of the points that the military made back then to justify their crimes: that the Dirty War was indeed a war. Bonafini believes that her sons (and the other mothers' children) are to be avenged and that they were not victims, but heroes, soldiers for a good cause.

Most of the "disappeared" were never violent. They were for human rights, or they were vocal and campaigned for things like free bus passes, or the right of forming labour unions. They spoke against the government. Some were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The dictators wanted the populace to feel that "order" would be upheld at any cost, and used terror to subdue those who were dared doubt that "order". They led the people to see their crimes, their gross violations of human rights, as the unavoidable excesses of war (a war between them and the leftist insurgency). Thus, the doctrine of the two demons.

Bonafini doesn't speak for the innocent victims of state terrorism anymore. She decided that the disappeared are worthy only if they fought against the dictatorship, if they were militants. A few days ago she said that Jorge Julio López is not "a typical desaparecido", because he was not a militant. She claimed that López "should be investigated", that "he lived in a neighbourhood of policemen and his brother was a policeman". She believes this was a fake disappearance. For some reason she's become an unconditional supporter of Néstor Kirchner (whose commitment on Dirty War issues is indeed remarkable), and thinks this farce was staged by people who want to discredit the government for its human rights policies.

If it were like that, of course, it has worked, since already La Nación is gloating over the ramblings of apocalyptical politician-nutcase Elisa Carrió, who effectively claims that K is guilty of López's disappearance because he didn't give him protection (La Nación quoting Carrió and leftist intellectuals to criticize Kirchner is roughly akin to The Wall Street Journal quoting Noam Chomsky against anti-competitive business practices).

Bonafini's sayings were met with astonishment by fellow human rights activists: "I find it regrettable that somebody like Hebe sets out to denigrate a witness. I can't believe she's saying those words", said Nilda Eloy, also a former illegal detainee and torture victim. López's lawyer also added that it was precisely because of López's familiarity with the policemen in his area that he could identify so many of them as participants of the crimes in the detention center where he was held.

All in all, it's sad that a person who did so much for a good cause like Bonafini ends up like this. It's not that surprising though, considering she was also the one who said she felt "happy" when she heard news of the 9/11 attacks, and that she was satisfied when John Paul II was about to die because he would soon "rot in hell". Argentina has suffered a lot, and we've been witness to a lot of cases of victims turned bitter. Anger and hate may sometimes be the only source of strength for otherwise desperate people, but they're the worst possible moral guides. Bonafini has, once again, proved it.

28 September 2006

Politics personals

"I want someone from Santa Fe -- and if it's a woman, that's better." Sounds like a bi-curious personal ad, but no: it's Hermes Binner, candidate of the Progressive Front for governor of Santa Fe Province in the upcoming 2007 elections. Binner, a national Deputy and former mayor of Rosario (twice), is the figurehead of the Socialist Party and knows that he calls the shots, being the only one with real chances to win now since the Peronists (in a long-awaited but still surprising self-foot-shooting act) allowed the Ley de Lemas to be repealed. However, the Socialist Party is not extremely strong outside Rosario, which with 1/3 of the voters in the province is not enough to win the election; therefore, they've had to ally with the Radicals. These guys, who by now only deserve their name because of the radically messed-up state in which they left Argentina in recent times when they were in power (twice), have a few characters among them who feel cocky enough to challenge Binner to accept that they, and only they, will choose Binner's companion candidate for the vice-governor's office.

When Binner first stated his choice, the Radicals ignored him. Radical Senator Carlos Fascendini said that, regardless what Binner "may have said", they'd choose. Then he also said "The candidate to vice-governor is me." Fascendini is a man, which is not that important given Binner's bi-ness, but he's from Esperanza, not from Santa Fe City, so maybe there'll be trouble. Or maybe not; it's still a year from the elections, and that's close to eternity for ever-changing Argentine politics...

27 September 2006


On yet more news about disgusting old men, the papers report that senator and former president Carlos Menem has been admitted in a hospital due to an episode of hypoglycemia. He was in La Calera, Córdoba, just starting to give a speech to a group of followers, and in the typical megalomaniac fashion we've all learned to love, he was saying: "There were two pharaohs of ancient Egypt. One lived 17 years, which is not my case; the other, Ramesses II, lived 104 years; I intend to top that."

True, that was more probably senility than megalomania, but no official statement has yet been made as to whether Menem is already senile or simply went incoherent after 7 years of believing he's still the coolest politician and most desirable man on Argentina ever.

For the record, there were a few more than two pharaohs in Egypt, and Ramesses II lived 90-92 years. For Menem to live that long would be an accomplishment indeed, though it'd be better if his dignity survived into his 80s. Oh, wait, that's too late!

26 September 2006


Every once in a while somebody catches the ridicule wave and rides it seemingly forever. You know, those people you see on TV every day, who always find something even more stupid to do or say. This is, regrettably, the case of math teacher Ana María Degano, who is suing one of her students for 5,000 pesos because he, Juan Carlos Calandria, accused her of unfairly failing him in his last exam. (For reference, AR$5,000 = 3 PCs, 1/8 of a car, 500 kg of beef.)

Argentinians generally don't sue people. We do know that, up there in the Bizarre Omphalos of Global Culture, people sue other people, and then get Boston Legal et al made out of court cases. But in Argentina you gather your family to tell the other person to fuck off, get your friends to demonstrate, throw stones and eggs at the person's house, leave scratches on their car's painting with your keys -- the leeches are summoned only as a last resort. That's what makes Prof. Degano's case even more ridiculous.

Our boy JC may not be extremely bright at math, but Degano (who teaches at the Normal School No. 1, a venerable institution in Rosario) allegedly failed him a lot of times in a row, and JC lost the chance to enter university. JC sent a private letter to the head of the school, asking for another teacher to examine him, as is every student's right when there's the chance of a personal conflict with the teacher. The head of the school forwarded the letter to Degano, who took offense, as it accused her of harming not only JC's career but other students' too, by arbitrarily giving them bad scores. She was so upset that she took the matter to the tribunals and asked for reparations. A meeting was arranged but the matter was not solved.

Other students organized a sentada (a sitting down) in front of the Tribunals to protest and show solidarity for JC. Later, on TV, Degano defended herself, and thanked a group of students identified as the V of Van Gogh, "that we get along fine with", whom she had waved on her way out earlier. The students released a comuniqué emphatically denying that they were in favour of Degano.

When inquired as to whether she thought it right to go on with the suit, the prof melodramatically said: "Public opinion already sentenced me; now I'm looking for justice." Furthermore, she'll go on "because now the damage has become worse." For the grand finale, she charged: "You the press are skinning me."

I'd tell you not to miss the next installment, but that'd be too pathetic.

My new watch according to Cortázar

Since I was given a watch for my birthday, I thought I might share with you what Julio Cortázar nightmarishly said in Preamble to the instructions on winding a clock. If you haven't read Cortázar, go now and get Historias de Cronopios y de Famas.

Think of this: when you are given a watch you are given a small flowery hell, a chain of roses, an airy prison cell. They don't just give you the watch, happy birthday and we hope it'll last since it's a good brand, Swiss with a ruby anchor; they don't just give you that tiny rockpecker that you will tie to your wrist and parade around with you. They give you -- they don't know this, it is terrible they don't know this -- they give you a fragile precarious new piece of yourself, something that is yours but isn't your body, that must be tied to your body with a strap like a tiny arm hanging from your wrist. They give you the obligation of winding it every day, the obligation of winding it so it remains a watch; they give you the need to attend to the exact hour in jewelry shop windows, in radio announcements, in telephone services. They give you the fear of losing it, that it might be stolen, that it might fall to the ground and break. They give you its brand, and the security that it's a better brand than others, they give you the tendency to compare your watch with other watches. They don't give you a watch, you are the given one, you are given for the watch's birthday.
It does sound a bit like Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden admonishing Ed Norton, "Things you own end up owning you", but Cortázar can never be reduced to an anti-consumerism slogan. I suspect there's something other than sheer anti-materialism in the above. If you're not worried about your watch, think of this, because you should.

More on filth

In other filth-related news, Augusto Pinochet is reportedly selling medals, decorations and other minor personal properties in order to cover his expenses. Pinochet, who was not only a ruthless dictator and a cold-blooded murderer but also (in the tradition of Latin American leaders of all time) an embezzler, amassed a fortune of at least $16 million, but he cannot use it because it's subject to embargo. Pinochet needs constant medical attention and a huge security operation around him.

Good grief, old man!

25 September 2006

One more desaparecido?

I would've liked to resume my posting, after a nice spring weekend and my birthday, in a lighter tone, but this is important. For background, it suffices to know that Argentina, between 1976 and 1983, was ruled by military juntas, and both the military and the police worked to persecute anyone who might be a dissident, and others who had nothing to do, to create fear and obedience in the population.

More than a week ago, Julio López, a 77-year-old retired mason who was kept in prison and tortured back then, vanished without a trace. López had testified in the trial of Miguel Etchecolatz, a police officer that kidnapped, tortured and murdered at least six prisoners. This despicable being was sentenced to a life term, but he's not alone. López's family, the government of Buenos Aires and many human rights organizations believe that López might've been kidnapped by people sympathetic to, or allied with, Etchecolatz, who have kept a lower profile. Many senior police officers in today's Argentina were in charge during the dictatorship. Some were forced to retire, many during the "purges" prompted by President Kirchner since he took charge. Many are angry that, after 30 years of impunity, they're being prosecuted again. They've got contacts and they've joined ranks, or so it's believed. They have voices in the right-wing press, among the conservatives of the Catholic Church, in some military circles, even in Congress. They might have "disappeared" Julio López.

Today Felipe Solá, governor of the province of Buenos Aires, told the press that López was "the first desaparecido of democracy", the first person to "vanish" in the context of a trial against the criminals against humanity that used to run Argentina.

López suffers from Parkinson syndrome, and might have emotional problems, which could've caused some form of post-traumatic shock, especially after he was forced to revive his days in detention. Given the fact that he didn't have a lot of money on him, and that his face has been broadcast all over, as days go by it's increasingly likely that he isn't simply lost. Nobel Peace Prize and activist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel has stated that López might've been kidnapped by a group of police officers relieved by provincial Security Minister León Arslanián, some of which have been seen scorting Juan Carlos Blumberg during his marches demanding tougher criminal laws (which I told you about a while ago).

22 September 2006

In the dark

"Argentina is growing at Chinese rates" is a favorite of many a politician and journalist, meaning Argentina's GDP is increasing at a fast pace (around 9% per year since 2004). This is good news in principle, but you do know what happens when you get a puppy -- it eventually grows into a hungry beast (more or less the same as when you get a baby, only the baby is much more problematic). Puppies need food and countries need energy.

Argentina, by an ancestral tradition, never does anything preemptively. "We need to focus on urgent matters, such as refurbishing the presidential plane", says president after president. Argentina wholeheartedly embraces the "live the moment" philosophy. We're always either in an emergency or recovering from it. Asking an Argentine ruler to do futurology is akin to suggesting tarot cards.

Argentina needs energy. You can't grow without it; even if you're not doing anything but having babies (which raise your expenses, and therefore the national GDP), you need energy to extract the oil needed to produce plastic used in toys, and feed the machines that fell down trees for nice cradles, and transport those things around. You need power to keep an increasing population warm in winter and cool in summer. Argentina, with its socio-politico-economical collapse and all, neglected energy investment and now it is suffering.

Of course that also has to do with the fact that the government has forced (through laws or price controls) oil producers and gas sellers to keep prices lower than they'd want, and burdened them with export taxes. They're still making gobs of money and they're all basically insensitive corporate crybabies ("We only made 50% profit this year!", "It's because of you that we can't we give ourselves billions in stock options!", "Of course some people won't be able to pay triple for gas, but you can't distort the market like this!") but they're still have a right not to invest, and they aren't. No oil prospection, no new refineries, no new powerlines, no new power plants, nothing.

The other day the governor of Santa Fe announced the construction of two power plants in a place north of Rosario, but those won't be ready soon. Argentina also arranged that Paraguay will pay its 11-gigadollar debt to the Yaciretá Dam project with energy (8,000 GW per year for 40 years), but that's not much, it seems.

In the meantime, while we were still suffering brief blackouts, Minister of Federal Planning Julio De Vido assured last week that "no way" there will be blackout during the summer. Maybe he didn't check the air conditioning sales stats -- everybody's getting their big cooling machine, since last summer was torrid, global warming or not. President Kirchner has been repeating, mantra-like, "There is no energy crisis", and you know you can't contradict the president, lest you want to be struck by lightning or beaten to death by penguins.

Yesterday, however, Luis El Halli Obeid, president of EPE (our horrid partly state-owned provincial electric power company), admitted that "it would be a mistake to say that [blackouts] will not occur." Talk about candor... The fact that that amounted to say "I'm not doing my job and should be fired immediately" seems not to have intimidated Obeid.

So are we to trust Obeid or De Vido? Well none of course. What I would actually do to them cannot be published in this forum, but the pillory seems like a good idea.

21 September 2006

Osama, lesbians and Kirchner

Remember the guy who allegedly looked like Osama bin Laden? Well, Rosario3 reported it first, but La Nación did best. According to them, the guy was not banned from Wal-Mart, and was not refused entry because of Osama-like beard, but because of sanitary standards. It's really difficult to tell fact from exaggeration and fiction. Especially with that huge beard in front of you.

Meta-mediatically speaking, Rosario3 is a young online newspaper which seems to get a lot of news (and pictures) directly from the people; La Nación is an old conservative newspaper who would never ever place a couple of people desperately making out in its cover. In case you were wondering, that was a followup to the lesbian discrimination episode I mentioned a few days ago.

In other news, President Kirchner went to New York for the UN General Assembly, and besides speaking there and being present while Hugo Chávez referred to G. W. Bush as "the devil" and commented about a lingering "smell of sulfur" in the room even one day after Dubya's speech, he rang the opening bell at the NY Stock Exchange. Apparently he was well-received, but The Wall Street Journal felt bound to call him "anti-market" (pronounce it in the same tone as a Catholic cardinal would say "anti-Christ", or as Senator McCarthy would say "Communist") in part because Kirchner has had the gall of applying price controls, thus distorting the Natural Order of the Universe.

20 September 2006

Osama lookalike banned from Wal-Mart

The reporter can't believe it, and neither can I, but in truth, what's there to be surprised these days? Oscar Brufani, a 52-year-old man resident of La Plata, was refused entrance to the local Wal-Mart store because he allegedly looks like Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Brufani, who wears a long and dense beard since he was young (certainly long before Osama hit the world scene), delivers goods to Wal-Mart in La Plata. He says that two American supervisors who happened to be visiting the store noticed his looks and alerted the manager, who told Brufani that he wouldn't be allowed in. "My family tells me I don't look like Osama bin Laden", says Brufani, who has also stated that he doesn't intend to shave, and has filed an accusation against Wal-Mart in court.

My opinion is that, based on his picture, Brufani really doesn't resemble Osama anymore than Osama resembles The Lord of the Rings' Treebeard, and though his beard is certainly disturbing (it looks as if something might crawl out of it), he's entitled to keep it that way. If the story is true, the two American supervisors deserve being deported, though a better punishment would be an hour of hysterical laughing and some sort of anti-paranoid de-programming, with or without supplemental medication.

19 September 2006

Get garbage not to smell

The first biogas conversion plant in Argentina was just opened in Rosario. Regrettably, I have no pictures of this lovely place, but suffice to say that the plant is installed on top of a landfill in the southern limit of the city, and it transforms methane, produced by the decay of organic matter, into carbon dioxide. Since methane is toxic, flammable and a major greenhouse gas, that's triple good news.

In case you were wondering, yes, CO2 is a greenhouse gas too, but methane is 23 times worse. Now, thanks to this pioneering plant, all that trash (the rotting 2.5 million tonnes of it) will be a bit more environmentally friendly!

18 September 2006

Hitting the fan

Last month the Argentine Congress decided that it is illegal to have secret laws (secret presidential decrees are permitted, though). Not surprisingly, this came about because someone noticed and said "What? How come we had those?" (people in charge never notice a hole in the ground until they fall into it). When Ms. María Julia Alsogaray, a former minister of our former Balding Emperor of the Pampas, attempted to justify her inflated bank accounts without producing bona fide receipts, she mentioned that she had received some extra money under the guise of a salary supplement, stipulated by a secret law that dated back to the dictatorship of Juan Carlos Onganía (1966-1970). Debate ensued, and Congress eventually decided to make all secret laws passed between 1891 and 1983 public, and forbid their passing from now on.

Some of these secret laws were (we now learn) employed for interesting purposes, for example:

  • Tax exemption for crystalwork and china bought for the presidential residence.
  • Extra funding for a judicial chamber to investigate subversion.
  • Authorization to send helmets and tear gas to Uruguay.
  • Raising the Defense budget.
  • Ordering the gift of a purebred horse to Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner.
It's actually an interesting phenomenon, which I'm not qualified to comment on, the manners in which completely illegal and bloody repressive governments pass "secret laws" (even while Congress is shut off or neutralized), as if to justify their own dark deeds for posterity. If your existence renders the very Constitution a joke, how incoherent and self-deceptive is it to pass "laws"?

I'm also thinking of modern governments, legal ones, which pass secret laws and decrees and would have their peoples believe that they're somehow protecting them by keeping them in the dark. Might it be that their intentions are not as good as advertised?

16 September 2006

Wave of anti-Semitism

The newspapers are speaking of a wave of anti-Semitism in Argentina. Página/12 says that's fueled by the U.S.; La Nación says Kirchner denies there's such a thing (implying there is, of course).

The facts are clear enough, though. A few weeks ago, Jewish community groups organized a march to protest Hezbollah's attacks before the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires. A group of nominally left-wing thugs called Quebracho blocked the protest, and burned U.S. flags (there's been a surge in U.S. flag sales in Argentina for this purpose, I'm guessing). Similar protests by the Lebanese community against Israel were not blocked by anyone. Quebracho is known for breaking and burning things wherever they go, and complaining when the police arrest any of them (which is not often) that they are held as "political prisoners".

In addition to that, a number of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli graffiti have sprung up in the outer walls of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters in BA. Argentinians have a tradition of supporting the underdog (in this case, Lebanon), and many Argies understand that as attacking the "big power" (in this case, Israel).

There's a thread of anti-Semitism running across Argie culture, but it was found mainly in other spots (the conservative old-time high class, fundamentalist Catholics, the military, etc.). It appeared in the extreme left only when they made the connection Israel = U.S. = Bush = bombing innocent civillians for no actual reason. That's why you get anti-Israeli graffiti from the same people who stenciled the name of Dubya as "BUSSH" (or with the S turned into a swastika) onto walls when the Master of Dyslexia came to the November 2005 Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata.

Kirchner is having a bit of a hard time now, since the Jewish community is complaining that the government didn't stop Quebracho, didn't fight anti-Semitism enough, and didn't send soldiers to the peace force in Lebanon. He's going to the U.S. in days, and he's going to be pressured to break up with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who decided to include Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his friends' list just to piss off Bush, which he calls "Mr. Danger". Chávez can get away with this because he's sitting on a pool of oil and the U.S. can't run the risk of destabilizing their main supplier.

Back to Argentina, it is simply not true that there's a "wave" or "grave" anti-Semitic incidents. Minor incidents are to be expected in Argentina, which has large communities of both Jewish and Syrian-Lebanese immigrants and their descendants. There are no neighborhoods where a Jew cannot walk around for fear of being attacked, as there are (I'm told) in some parts of otherwise tolerant European cities. Israel needs, however, to stop labelling criticism of their policy as anti-Semitism. Most people I know are not anti-Semitic, yet most of them equate Israel and the U.S. as criminal states. Conflating individuals with the state is not a good idea -- it's the road that leads to fanatical ideologies. Israel is not only the Jews, and the Jews are not only Israel, and today's Israel is not, I hope, what Israel will continue to be.

15 September 2006

Crónica TV

This is one of those things that everybody knows about in a particular place, and nobody elsewhere... like a national in-joke. This is Crónica TV, the openly morbo-sensationalist channel that proudly presents every piece of news with big, white or yellow block letters on a rabid red background, with the loudest part of The Stars and Stripes Forever playing for extra effect; and this is Crónica TV at its best -- Placas Rojas.

Placas Rojas is a forum where people post the most ridiculous/funny/morbid examples of Crónica's news plaques and footage. Things like HUMAN FINGER FOUND ON THE STREET, or (covering a union protest in a soap factory) ANGER AT FEDERAL SOAP - THEY'RE FOAMING AT THE MOUTH. Or this, on a judge demanding a large bail from ex-President Menem: OYARBIDE SCREWED MENEM. Or this one, which became famous as a symbol of casual racist discrimination: DEADLY ACCIDENT IN FLORES, TWO PEOPLE AND ONE BOLIVIAN KILLED.

Don't miss this, even if you don't understand the language. One sometimes wonders if the folks at Crónica are smoking something funny, or their air conditioning is connected to a nitrous oxide supply...

Girls making out

What's the problem with that? Some people don't tolerate passion. The other day two lesbian girls were banned from expressing their love in public, apparently because they were a bit too passionate... The guy who runs the Allison pool&pub in Rosario decided that Jessica and Natalia were putting up too much of a show and told them "It's OK with me, but none of that in here." The girls left and a few days later they filed an accusation of sexual discrimination against Allison's manager Ariel González, besides repeating their story to the media. Jessica, 23, says she barely "touched [Natalia's] lips"; González says they were a los chupones mal (you can't translate that, but you can imagine -- you probably are imagining, aren't you?). Since there were other (heterosexual) couples making out in public in the pub, the girls rhetorically asked, "why them and not us"? (Jessica spoke to the local news programme De 12 a 14 -- check the video) .

Now J & N are fighters. They don't want money. They don't want the pub to be fined. They want the authorities to force the pub to post a sign at the entrance, "This pub does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender", they want a public apology, and they want people to gather for a besuqueada -- a "kiss demonstration" -- in a busy place, for example in front of Allison during peak attendance hours. Just let us guys know in advance!

13 September 2006

Bad Riachuelo, bad!

The Riachuelo is a small river that passes by the northern limit of Buenos Aires City, and the Argentine icon of pollution and disdain for ecology (just as Diego Maradona is the icon of football and disdain for health -- or self-control). 3 million people wake up every day in its basin. It's so polluted that you could dump the Exxon Valdez in it without making it worse. In fact, maybe it's in there already; who would notice?

The Supreme Court summoned 44 industrial companies to explain what they were doing to (into) the Riachuelo. Only 6 actually sent representatives (you could choose to go in writing only). They all said that they were clean, super-clean, squeaky clean with sparkles and all. The Court now has to decide what to do with those testimonies and the studies that show the sorrow state of the river.

The companies were so obviously lying that Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti jokingly remarked, right after Petrobras and before Shell, that "it seems that the Riachuelo polluted itself".

No Benetton's Land

You may know that Argentina is up for sale. Not new really; our politicians have been selling it for a good profit since ever, but this time there's also the cheap peso. If you ask an Argentinian, he or she will reply, in a typical display of exaggeration, that Patagonia is already completely owned by foreigners (and probably add that they're buying out the northeast too, "because they want the water").

The indescribable piquetero-turned-politician Luis D'Elía has decided that he doesn't like the "foreignization" of our land. The other day he invaded the property of an American who had bought lands and allegedly shut off public roads. Now he's pointing at the Benetton's estate. Luciano and Carlo Benetton have a local company which owns 900,000 hectares of land in Chubut, Santa Cruz, Río Negro and Buenos Aires Province, mostly Patagonia. You have to remember that Patagonia is home to more sheep than people, but those people include indigenous tribes that have rights, and of course there's always the possibility that those wind-swept semi-arid lands can be irrigated and/or that there's oil underneath.

In any case, D'Elía chose not to go there with his band of thugs and the neighbors to cut the wire fences (as he did before) but is assembling a team of lawyers to take on Benetton. Many Argentinians don't like foreigners buying vast tracts of land, some for ideological (paranoid) reasons; others hold that private property and the offer/demand law are sacred, and that if the land is unused it makes sense to give it away for a few cents per hectare.

Yours truly, as usual, disagrees with both.

12 September 2006

Bad research alert!

I mean, if you want to pass as a decent tourist destination guide and you're going to review a whole country in a few pages, at least try to get basic facts right. Ask us. We'll answer, even for free.

Geographia starts off with well-known facts about Argentina and then starts losing track. In its introduction, after the oft-heard comments about geographic diversity, it speaks of "the land ranging from wild, remote areas in southern Patagonia to the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires in the north." In the north? Didn't they notice that half of the country is north of the latitude of Buenos Aires, including three of the most populated cities and most of the large provincial capitals?

On the Cuyo region, it says "
only a few miners and herders occupy this unforgiving region of volcanic peaks and salt lakes." Never mind the hundreds of thousands of hectares of vineyards producing the world's finest Malbec, and 800,000 people in Greater Mendoza.

Reviewing the south of Argentina, it illustrates the vastness of Patagonia, its lush conifer woods, its lakes, and the End-of-the-World mystical quality of Tierra del Fuego with a horrific, spiky ten-legged seabug (never mind its deliciousness). For God's sake, why didn't you get a picture of Bambi or a sheep?

The folks at Geographia then review Buenos Aires as follows: "Italian and German names outnumber Spanish". Italian, sure. But German? Then this, which looks terribly like a joke but regrettably doesn't seem to be a joke: "The city has no dominating monument, no natural monolith that serves as its focal point." Ooooh-key!

Get famous through anorexia!

Isn't there a way to punish these people? Several model agencies in Paris allegedly rejected an Argentine model because she was "a bit chubby", standing at 1.8 m with 55 kg (that's 6 ft and 120 lbs for old-fashioned non-metric fans). Consider that Argentina holds the dubious honour of being #2 in the anorexia world ranking (after Japan), and this girl (19-year-old Chloé Bello) must have been already undernourished for some time; the agencies' refusal (apparently coupled with the suggestion of a diet) was practically a request for pathological behaviour. With a body mass index of about 17, Chloé should be trying to gain weight. Out of common sense, self-preservation instinct or spite (I don't know which), she refused to subject to this ridiculous discrimination and, losing a lot of money in the process, got back to Argentina.

The other day I heard for the first time about online forums where anorexic and bulimic girls put together recipes, diets, tips, and means to escape detection from their concerned parents. They'd be ridiculous and pathetic if they weren't mentally disturbed and in grave danger. In this case, at the risk of sounding like the proverbial grumpy old man, it is the modern media's fault. Men don't like thin women that much. Nobody wants a palo vestido (literally "a pole in a dress") except some sick individuals (Pancho Dotto, anyone?) who are into that. For all the talk of girls about weight (and they do talk too much, and out loud, about their own and their friends' weight, as uncomfortably noted by at least one female expat blogger in Buenos Aires), most willingly indulge in the comfortable, sensible self-deception tactics of drinking light soda and substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar in their coffee, only to proceed joyfully attacking fatty medialunas, generous pounds of asado, and huge icecream cones.

The good news is that, at least in Spain (and therefore probably soon in other places), the authorities are reacting. Two days ago they announced that models with a BMI under 18 will not be allowed to perform. The measure is simple, scientific, and difficult to fight in court. I'd like to propose a similar measure regarding actors' and TV presenters' IQs under 90, but that would bring the whole industry down, I guess.

11 September 2006


That everybody else is writing about it is surely not a good reason for me to do the same. I'll make it short, though. Rudyard Kipling said "The first victim of war is truth", and who am I to decide what's true or not, to try digging up the truth from amid the countless other corpses? I only say one thing: once you've chosen to kill (no matter the justification) there's no stopping it until you choose to stop.

09 September 2006

Did you know...

  • ... that Mauricio Macri is a huge tilingo (from the DRAE: unsubstantial person, who says stupid things and behaves affectedly)?
  • ... that the Parque de la Independencia might be declared a National Historic Monument?
  • ... that Carlos Menem just came out of a serious medical checkup and said "for the thousandth time" that he will be a candidate for president again in 2007?
  • ... that the cover of the online edition of Clarín is always devoted to ephemeral sports-related non-news, even as retirement pensions have just been raised, NATO kills 40 people in Afghanistan, and Carlos Menem announces he'll be a candidate for president???
Well, if you didn't know, you've just learned. This is just to get you to wonder about the vastity of your ignorance. There.

08 September 2006

Country risk

The other day it was announced that the Argentine EMBI+ country risk index hit a record low of 306 points. Of course, this is like Greek unless you're an economist. Or an Argentinian. All Argentinians are amateur economists (and amateur football coaches).

The country risk is a measure of how risky it is to invest here. It is measured based on the interest rate paid by the public debt bonds issued by the country, compared to that of the U.S. Federal Reserve bonds. Having a country risk of 306, for example, means Argentine bonds yield 3.06% + the Fed's rate. Of course, the higher the yield, the riskier the investment is. Ask the Italians, Germans and Japanese who bought tons of fabulous Argentine bonds without being told that more money = more risk. The country risk is also a quick measure of how good an idea it is to invest in (or lend money to) the country.

A few years ago the country risk index was part of everyday life. News shows gave you the temperature, the relative humidity, the price of one dollar in pesos, and the country risk index (I'm not making this up). At a time I remember it being above 7,000 or so. Of course, above 1,500 or 2,000 the figure becomes meaningless for practical purposes. When the risk went below 1,000 there was a minor celebration in some economist cabals (it meant that Argentina had progressed from "not until Hell freezes over" to "when pigs fly"). The latest record low surely went unnoticed by 99.99% of the population.

07 September 2006

Northwest District Center

The new Northwest Municipal District Center of Rosario is almost ready. Rosario3 colourfully notes that "there's already a set date to uncork the champagne". That would be 18 September. But yours truly just happened to pass by the place, where the workers are figuratively taking the last shreds of wrapping paper off the facilities, and boldly invaded the property to snap this picture:

Not very impressive, especially when you compare it to Villa Hortensia, but the neighbourhood is somehow not suited to mansions (the nicer part is like London at the height of the Industrial Revolution, though without the smog). A district center is like a small town hall. Since the city is rather big, many people find it easier to go on foot or by bike to a place where they can pay their bills or get free primary-level medical attention a few blocks away from home, instead of having to take a bus and spend 30 or 40 minutes in it to get to an overcrowded Town Hall.

Half-empty vs. half-full

The Mercosur tribunal decided not to punish Argentina for the citizens' blockades that kept two international bridges (linking Argentina and Uruguay) closed for months. The blockades were in protest for the installation of two large cellulose plants in Fray Bentos, by the Uruguay River, shared between the two countries.

The Argentine government said the decission was OK (no sanctions for the country). The Uruguayan government said it was OK too (the blockades as a form of protest were much criticized). Is the glass half-full or half-empty for Argentina? I don't know. The plants are going to be built anyway, I'm afraid, and I don't know if they'll pollute the Uruguay River to the point of ruining it, but there must be a reason why the foreign companies who are building them (one Spanish, one Finnish) don't build them in their own countries...

06 September 2006

Government without energy

Sometimes one doesn't know whether one should laugh or cry. Or go outside with a machine gun and nail the folks at the energy company.

The top guy at EPE has kindly let us know that, unfortunately, this year we'll have problems with the supply of electric energy during the summer. (I can only guess that this guy is either high or living in a cave, since we've had supply shortages and blackouts for as long as I can remember, mostly in the summer but by no means only in the summer, so this is not news.) But not to worry! We have it solved! The master plan devised by the state energy company of the province of Santa Fe rests on these solid pillars:

  1. If you're a large energy user, we advise you to get a generator of your own. Otherwise you'll fall first when the grid stops working.
  2. Do try to set your air conditioning at 25 degrees C, not at 18. (If you're part of the 90% of people who don't have air conditioning, well, you'll melt -- but at least be glad you're not contributing to the energy crisis.)
  3. In any case, we have a cool system of colored alerts. Green means it's all OK (expect the usually lousy service you've been having for the last 20 years). Yellow means you're being naughty; sit in the dark for a while. You'll never see orange because the power will have gone off by then; get some batteries. Red means the whole thing has collapsed; join the looters in the streets. Look for candles, matches, wooden furniture, rice and noodles.
In addition to that, EPE has a plan to invest on machines to increase supply. This plan is not, I repeat, not the same investment-and-works plan that EPE has been announcing every year for two decades without visible results. This is a serious plan, not some pre-electoral year made-up plan. Believe EPE. EPE is your friend.

Better save and post this before I'm cut off.

05 September 2006

Criminals and victims

A workmate received a chain joke email. For those who read Spanish, Ingrid has a copy (apparently this thing's been circulating for some time now). The exact contents are not important. The email is superficially a funny piece of satire about the workings of the Argentine judicial system. It's a legalese-written revision of the case of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, where LRRH ends up getting the blame and the Wolf is absolved; it's signed by Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni.

Didn't that ring a bell?

Think again.

OK. Justice Zaffaroni, who specializes in criminal law, was criticized by the right upon his appointment because he's a garantista ("guaranteeist"?). When dealing with crime, he believes that constitutional checks and legal guarantees for the person accused of the crime are above the need to punish crime, or said more easily, you can't deprive a person of rights because you're sure s/he's a criminal.

Think again. Is Little Red Riding Hood's revisited tale just light satire?

There are people in Argentina (cough cough Blumberg! cough) who employ the word garantista as an insult. They feel the victims should be somewhat avenged. In truth, a judge cannot be but a keeper of legal guarantees for everybody. A judge who doesn't guarantee everybody a fair trial is not a good judge, and surely not a good Supreme Justice. Am I making myself understood?

The "Argie Justice version" of LRRH and the Wolf is a piece of right-wing propaganda that says: screw the criminals. They shouldn't have more rights than I do. They're animals. Yeah, maybe they're just poor ignorant hungry bastards, but that's no excuse. Better kill them preemptively and be done with it. Or let me kill them. I'm an honest taxpayer, not some dopehead who'd kill me for my wallet. I should be allowed to kill those dopeheads for my wallet.

I told my workmates what I thought of this email. They accepted it, and I think they agreed. The only thing that worried me was: how many sensible, honest people in Argentina, faced with this revolting "satire", thoughtlessly find it funny and true?

Dinosaur hunt!

Originally uploaded by NZ Russ.

Creepy murderer, anti-Communist Reagan administration buddy, and former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla has just been unpardoned by the same judge who revoked President Menem's 1990 pardon to two of Videla's ministers. News flash, dinosaur: crimes against humanity cannot be pardoned!

04 September 2006

Los dinosaurios

There's a 1983 song by Charly García about the times of the last dictatorship that I've always enjoyed hearing, even in its vocal and instrumental simplicity. It's called Los Dinosaurios, "The Dinosaurs" (the Ministry of Education has the lyrics). The song is calm, neither too upbeat nor too gloomy, but the lyrics do convey the impotence of those horrible days: "The friends of the neighbourhood may disappear / The radio singers may disappear / The ones in the newspapers may disappear / The person you love may disappear... / I'm not calm, my love - / Today is Saturday night / [and] a friend is in jail." But the song, in the same melody, ends with a line that is not optimistic, but of sheer peaceful intuition: "The ones in the air may disappear, in the air / The ones on the street may disappear on the street / The friends of the neighbourhood may disappear / But the dinosaurs will disappear."

The dinosaurs are pretty much still alive. Today, however, three of them came closer to the place they deserve. Albano Harguindeguy and José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, suspect of a multitude of crimes and most surely guilty of them, got their pardons revoked and the cases against them re-opened. The pardons, which they got as an attention from our former Emperor of Filth, the Presidential Cockroach, Carlos Menem, were deemed unconstitutional by judge Norberto Oyarbide. They'll remain free for now, but they'll be investigated, as they should've been more than a decade ago. The third dinosaur, Eduardo Cabanillas, was arrested today, charged with five murders, having gotten away with them before thanks to the laws passed in 1986 and 1987 that exempted most military from prosecution (Ley de Obediencia Debida and Ley de Punto Final).

Other dinosaurs have been arrested, some convicted, most of all at least exposed. There are still many left. The new generations of Argentinians know little about them, but many are interested. The dinosaurs are disappearing, not through kidnapping and murder as they did to their victims, but slowly sinking in the quicksand of public condemnation, which views them as the murders that they are, rather than as the firm guardians of order that they pretended to be. Congratulations, Charly -- you're not only a mad genius, but a prophet.

March and countermarch

In 2004 they kidnapped and killed his son. For a while he was just an old man lost in the sadness of loss, mixed with rage at the inevitable. He reacted to that, gathering hundreds of thousands who asked the authorities why they had allowed it to happen. Then came the politics.

I'm speaking about Juan Carlos Blumberg, of course. I mentioned him the other day, though briefly (I said he gives me the creeps). If you're an Argentinian, the man needs no introduction. Blumberg's white-bearded face crowned by equally white sparse messy hair is already an icon. What you'd need, at most, would be to make sure that you're reading the newspapers (all of them, not just that one or that one). If you're not an Argentinian, or living in Argentina for some time, the thing becomes more complicated.

Juan Carlos Blumberg is a middle-class businessman in Buenos Aires. That makes it a privileged person, a minority. Most people in Argentina are low-class or former middle-class or at most striving, on-the-brink middle-class. Most don't own a business (I mean one with offices or workshops, with more than one or two employees). Most, importantly, don't have access to the media, to a large following, to the national Congress, to the President, or to the time needed to launch and maintain a crusade for the country's internal security.

Blumberg is also another thing. He's the voice of many Argentinians who believe that criminals have it easy, that they should have no excuses, that the repression of crime should be empowered, not reined in, by laws, and that some laws definitely get in the way. Some of these people are only a bit partial, good people that want to live in peace and don't know what else to do or where else to turn.

A significant portion, however, are people who divide society into two parts: one is "the people"; the other is "the criminals". The implication is that "the people" are respectful law-abiding citizens who deserve to be protected by laws and forgotten for the occasional transgression if it was in defense of their lives and their hard-earned property, while "the criminals" are barely human scum who should be given a different treatment. In between, there's a despised minority of people who should side with "the people" but instead choose to defend the criminals by wielding constitutional guarantees such as the principle of "innocent until proven guilty".

Blumberg stays in the middle of a storm that he initiated. Sometimes it looks as if he's directing he whole thing while pretending not to; sometimes he seems to be somberly enjoying his leadership. Sometimes I seem to have a glimpse of his inner disorientation, his absolutely understandable lack of coherence; and then I come back to my suspicion (you have to be suspicious, if you're an Argentinian 18 and above, slated to vote next year) and mentally nod at Blumberg with a half-smile, acknowledging his mastery at fooling all of us. Then the cycle repeats, I become a bit ashamed of myself at thinking that a devastated old man could use his son's death for personal-political advantage. Finally, one of the few useful bits of Christian doctrine that have survived in my brain comes to help. As rabbi JC said, "by their fruits you shall know them." In these Spanish-speaking lands we also say Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres... "Tell me who you're hanging with and I'll tell you who are." I'll tell you about Blumberg's company soon.

02 September 2006

Ecodisaster on the way

The Paraná River is not without problems, and according to La Capital, another one is on the way.

The Paraná River north of Rosario forms a huge floodplain with many islands, streams, wetlands and lagoons. In front of Rosario the main course goes from 600 m to 2 km wide, but the floodplain goes on for 50 km to Victoria, province of Entre Ríos. The interprovincial line goes along the main course, so the thriving wetland ecosystem located 1 km off Rosario's coast belongs to Victoria, a small town 50 km away (!?). Now Entre Ríos has decided to let farmers and tourism companies use 130,000 hectares of it. The province of Santa Fe had no say.

Victoria's farmers have been using the slash-and-burn technique for some time now. A couple of weeks ago everybody in Rosario woke up to find streets, trees, squares and their own homes covered in ashes blown across the river. The Santa Fe provincial government asked Entre Ríos to end this, in terms that reminded me of when Ned Flanders asks Homer Simpson to return his lawnmower or TV table. The government of Entre Ríos replied something to the effect of "OK, please wait over there and we'll fix it -- sometime".

60 days from now the farmers will come in and start transforming one of the last large wetlands in the planet in a mosaic of pasture fields and transgenic monoculture soybean crops.

Boston Review

Now this truly is globalization. People from Boston Review, a political and literary magazine of the United States, inquired a few months ago if it was OK for them to use one of my pictures (that I'd put up on Flickr) which showed the (now abandoned) inside rooms of an illegal detention center used during the Dirty War. I said yes of course, I'm honored. They promised to send me copies of the magazine issue. I forgot and thought they'd forgotten too, but it came in the mail today: three copies in a big brown envelope, and inside, on page 20, there was my picture, and my name in little block letters on the right (you can see it, barely, if you take a look at the original picture at maximum zoom).The article is mostly about the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) in Buenos Aires, not about this detention center in Rosario. I'm sure the folks at BR could've gotten a picture of the ESMA, with Buenos Aires by far more thoroughly covered than Rosario, so I can only surmise that my picture was simply way cooler. Now this of course means it was truly creepy. People were tortured right there, or next door at most, less than 30 years ago. Many of their torturers are still free and often enjoying juicy military pensions. Many of the tortured were later killed and their bodies were never found. The United States knew about this, encouraged the 1976 coup, and even before that it trained the Argentine military in "counter-insurgency", so it's very important when a U.S. magazine devotes some of its pages to that horror.

Both the ESMA and this place in Rosario are "museums of memory" now. The one where I took the picture is called Centro Popular de la Memoria (People's Memorial Center).