04 September 2006

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.

1 comment:

  1. Hey PDF,

    Just wanted to say I've been enjoying your blog and to keep up the good work. It's well written, better than many of the blogs written by native English speakers!

    Finally, an Argentine's point of view of things (in English).



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