22 May 2008

Transport strike!

Rough day today, and it's only 2 PM... Last night a taxi driver was murdered by two men in the north of Rosario. They boarded the taxi as passengers and, a few blocks later, they apparently tried to rob Sergio Oberto, the driver. He was stabbed several times, once in the throat. The attackers fled, leaving him there to die. The news spread quickly, and the taxi drivers' union took to the streets, blocking some and burning tires, to protest against insecurity. By early morning, the two streets that border the downtown area (Oroño Blvd. and Pellegrini Ave.) were almost completely blocked by taxis, forcing buses and private cars to take long detours. I got to work 15 minutes late. I thought that was going to be the biggest inconvenience.

At mid-morning I took one hour off work to go to a doctor's appointment. He was remarkably punctual, so I got back to my office quickly, but as soon as I'd returned, my father called me to warn me that a general transport strike had been declared — starting at noon. It was just past 11 AM. The people at the office were preparing to leave. I took care of my stuff and went to the bus stop. Five minutes later, a group of people coming from the south (where the nearest street blockade was) told me buses weren't entering downtown anymore. I started walking, since I'd seen some buses. I couldn't possibly walk home (well, I could — but it was going to be tough) and I couldn't ask anybody I knew for a car ride. After 10 minutes I decided I'd better try Marisa's house, 20-something blocks from where I was. My bus finally came, packed with people. I and twenty others somehow squeezed into it, and we began our slow progress back home.

When I left the office, the downtown streets were weirdly silent, only a few cars circulating, people with concerned faces speaking on their mobile phones. The cellphone grid collapsed almost immediately, leading me to think what would happen if this were a true catastrophe — everybody's only means of communication would fail at the most critical time! Soon afterward, however, the pupils from all the schools downtown were released by the teachers, everybody was alert, and the streets became chaotic, full of screaming kids wandering and running after buses, disoriented old ladies asking around for news, and cars trying to avoid collisions with the above.

Oberto's wife said the strike made no sense and would solve nothing, that it was disrespectful, and that nobody from the unions or the government had come to comfort her in this time of sorrow. The strike was launched by CGT (Confederación General del Trabajo), the "union of unions" of Peronist roots, allied with the national government. I think it has a clear political intention; the Justicialist Party has been trying to undermine the Socialist government of Rosario for ages, and even more after Peronism lost the provincial elections, and fake "grassroots" demonstrations against the local government on the issue of security have been orchestrated.

The obvious truth is that insecurity is solved by increasing the general standard of living and giving the poor more access to education, not by burning tires and paralyzing a city. I got home safely today. I imagine thousands didn't. Thousands of children missed a school lesson, thousands of people lost a day of work, thousands missed a doctor's appointment or a job interview. Countless innocent people, including mothers with small children, disabled people, old people who can't walk tens of block to get back to their homes, were left to their own devices by leaders who used the understandable rage of their followers to their advantage.

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