16 October 2006

The news circus

I usually report things myself, but this morning I saw this delicious, insightful piece of op-ed in Página/12 and thought I should share, in English. Página/12 has some very good editorialists, but their language tends to be full of political slang and shorthand, Argentine subculture in-jokes and other untranslatable concepts; this one is not, though you do have to be familiar with Argentine news to get all his points. The pseudo-informative mess that calls itself "news" in the media will surely ring a bell, though, no matter where you live in. You'll forgive the awkward translation at times. The article is La ensalada, that is "The salad", and it's by Eduardo Aliverti, found in the online edition of Página/12 of 16 October 2006.

The salad
by Eduardo Aliverti

Here we are, again, among pulp mills and bridge blockades. Barely a few days ago, we were saying we were (almost only) in the crossfire between Kirchner and the Church. A few more days before then, we were saying we were (almost only) with the commotion caused by the disappearance of Jorge López. Going back just a bit more, we were saying we were (almost only) urged by the threats or perspectives of an energy crisis. And not much before that, we were saying we were (almost only) concentrating on the consequences of the Blumberg instrument's demonstration in Plaza de Mayo.

The question is already an old one. What is it with this country, where no issue, no matter how showy it is or looks, manages to stay in the public agenda with some sort of continuity? The first answer calls to something as basic as separating the chaff from the wheat. For example (but this is the strongest example), institutionally comparing the verbal skirmishes between the Government and the Curia with López's case, which carries the chance that we are facing a grave threat from the worst remains of the dictatorship, is a disgusting offense. We are speaking (for our purposes disregarding how it turns out) of the hypothesis that they have gotten rid of a witness against one of the most significant torturers and murderers of the genocide, versus the fireworks between the head of State and some depreciated princes of the cloth. Or we are speaking of a "time of hate" because some fashionable journalists of the corporate right portray themselves as persecuted, vs. the likeliness of an energetic collapse.

And now it reappears, the luminary of the assembly members from Gualeguaychú and around. Let us tour this, in the same alternately sudden manner it happened. Uruguay intervenes in the river for the construction of the plants, being now unimportant whether it notified Argentina as it should have. Argentina does not concede any importance to the matter. The residents of this side of the shores take note of terrible warnings about pollution and start their activism. The government continues not paying attention until the bridge blockade begins. Kirchner looks at it with an eye to one side and the other a bit more to the center, and says it is barely an "environmental" problem. The Gualeguaychú neighbors feed back their anger, the blockade continues, the President focuses his look, smells popular enthusiasm, and in a magical gesture he turns the ecologic issue into a "national cause". He goes to Gualeguaychú with the whole cabinet and a parade of characters from all sectors of society, he leads a demonstration against the pulp mills, he breaks up with Tabaré, he appoints an assembly member Environment Secretary, he bets on the strategy that there will not be international funding for the pulp mills, and sends the file to The Hague. At this point, barely yesterday, what started as the demands of a little town has mutated into another presidential shock effect trick. He loses at The Hague and bears it, he loses at the Mercosur Tribunal and bears it. But he loses with the report of the Canadian consultant to the World Bank, which says that the pulp mills will not pollute at all, and he bears it no more. He retreats by several squares and asks the neighbors not to block the bridge, because it does not work, it is a tactic that will definitely turn against them. Impossible. How do you stop those people, who were told and officially encouraged to believe that, in effect, they have a terrible smell and a cancer on the other side of the river? On what kind of authority and with what conviction does one tell them to stay at home? With pluses and minuses, Uruguay's has turned into a state policy, the pulp mills will be built whatever the case (Botnia, at least), and no-one in the world agrees with Argentina whatsoever. And, as it should have been since the beginning, because it always was like that, the only way out is to speak clearly to the residents of the shore and sit down to negotiate with the Uruguayans the control of the plants. Today it is not possible because all the participants have become prisoners of their own dynamics. But it will end up being like that, at some point, sooner or later.

What should not be forgotten is the fact that this kind of episodes are lessons on how costly those hurried, demagogical attitudes can be. The need to occupy the center of the stage, on the part of Kirchner, is based on reasons of personal psychology and on the non-existance of an opposition. But it is one thing to play hit-and-run games with the priests or the establishment press media, and another thing to do so with the sensitivity of a population with regards to the sanitary consequences of industrial projects. The government is not the single responsible agent for the this weather where all political news bits seem to be of the same value. There is that opposition which does not exist, and it does not exist because it has nothing interesting to say about anything (the conflict with Uruguay, precisely, showed it). There is also a society that does not speak much, thanks to the renewed consumption expectations of the sector that sets the agenda of the media: the middle class. In amid this indifference there is the need for impact of the dominant press, from which nobody in their right mind may demand that it ceases mixing up López, the energy crisis, sex education, Blumberg, Gualeguaychú, the hydrocarbons, the rent loans and their costs, Bergoglio, the anger of media corporations, Justice overwhelmed, traffic accidents, Dirty War trials.

The concrete thing is that, if all of this can be mishandled in such an ecclectic manner, to the point that what today is presented as trascendental vanishes tomorrow, it is because the whole country lacks a central political debate. Because in no debate of those characteristics could there be, as there are here, tens of issues that come and go once in a while, with none reaching any depth. The author of this column makes no pretense of proposing which that vertebral discussion should be. Not, at least, in these lines. And on the other hand, his position is known as to which are the structural aspects which should lead to that grand debate that it not even in the horizon. He is, however, sure that this absence is guilty for this information circus.

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