21 December 2006

End-of-year potpourri

Lots of news today... The end-of-the-year balance is coming for the whole country. Things look better, certainly unimaginably better than they looked five years ago... Exports are up, GDP increase looks like it will be around 9% again, and Argentina is officially out of hell according to K. This exhuberant growth has its downside, like more energy consumption (let's not go there again) and too many fish being fished. With regards to the latter, the government has just banned exports of fish of the Paraná River starting on the first day of 2007 and for eight months. Maybe we can still save those sábalos after all.

Not so far from here, and notwithstanding the outrageous statements of the power company president, the folks at the commune of Armstrong have come up with the idea of generating hydroelectricity on the Carcarañá River. Armstrong is a small city (est. pop. 12,000) with a lot of industries, and the projected hydroplant would supply 40% of its power needs.

On the local front, the Municipality of Rosario got its 2007 budget approved, with a AR$17 million deficit... In the meantime, the legislators voted to study the issue of the urban bus fee, which is AR$0.95 now and could increase to AR$1.20 before March. That's really not good news, but with bus drivers that earn more than lawyers and doctors, there's no simple alternative. The national government subsidizes the fuel for urban buses, but due to a clever manipulation of the formula used to calculate the proportions, most of those subsidies go to Buenos Aires, where bus fees are already ridiculously low. Some nice folks with their faces covered and toting sticks came to the Deliberative Council, defaced it, broke windows and created their usual mess, while the police watched.

This is becoming serious; yesterday a group of protestors hijacked a bus, claiming they had an "agreement" not to pay their tickets, and then blocked the road for hours. Another group planted a picket on the railways and stopped a train (coming from Tucumán and Córdoba, headed for Buenos Aires) for 40 minutes, demanding to be given "Christmas packages".

The people commemorating the 5-year anniversary of the Argentinazo (see my previous post) in Rosario painted all over the local seat of the provincial government, mixing their demands for justice with accusations against former governor Carlos Reutemann (calling him "murderer" for his responsibility in the murder of social worker Pocho Lepratti by the police, and "flooder" for doing nothing to prevent the 2003 flood of Santa Fe). Reutemann was the political child, protégé and faithful disciple of Carlos Menem; a former F1 racecar driver, he was inexplicably popular with the masses but had the charisma and the innovative spirit of an Egyptian mummy; he deserves every epithet -- only there's no need to deface a building to note that.

Back to the protestors -- many of these are piqueteros in general, but that term has become rather vague. The original piqueteros were unemployed people desperately protesting their predicament; these "modern" ones are 95% chronically unemployed bums, welfare mothers with their children, people from the slums who have nothing better to do and are tempted by the possibility of getting free food, and a lot of violent resentful young men with nothing to lose encouraged by the government policy of letting them do whatever they want (short of physically attacking other people, and sometimes even that). They're led by a few talking heads armed with basic Marxist or anarchist rhetoric, and what I'd call low-level politicians -- they can't organize a party, but they can gather a gang under a banner.

The personal front
I'm trying to put this chaotic end of the year into perspective. Somehow news have been piling up on me lately. I'd vowed not to let interesting/important things pass without mentioning them here, so that's why I wrote this post. Maybe I'm forgetting other important things, only because I'm not sure how personal stuff would sit with my readers. What can I say? Apart from the bad taxi service, the blackouts, the politicians, the piqueteros, the heat, and the hail, this has been a good year overall, if anything because I'm learning to cope with the frustration produced by things like the aforementioned, and others which I prefer to stay silent about. That, and I had a superb icecream cone today, at the very hottest time of day. What more can I ask?

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