29 June 2008

We have smog

Smog isn't a common word in Spanish. We're familiar with it but nobody really uses it. Our large cities naturally have some, always, but it tends not to be that visible. Buenos Aires and Rosario are on a plain beside large bodies of water and with no natural obstacles to keep airborne pollution in its place. I don't know how Córdoba manages that, but I've never heard of it having smog despite being inside a big hole.

When the owners of vast tracts of land in the Paraná Delta's islands started burning the scrubland to prepare those lands for cultivation or pasture, we got to know smog. This is etymologically correct smog I'm talking about — it's smoke plus fog, the latter being caused by cool weather and high humidity.

Smoggy love

Now some early morning fog makes for great pictures, but smoke and ashes aren't that healthy, especially at the beginning of winter, when people's respiratory systems are already oversensitive. I didn't feel anything funny myself while taking the photo above, but then most of the blurry stuff was true fog. The lamppost you see near the center of the picture (above the guy's head) was only one block away. When you turned round, the view was much clearer, but a faint greenish-gray screen was readily apparent.

Besides that, I swear I'd never heard of so many plane delays due to smog. These are bad times for road trips too — the road blockages set up by farmers and truck drivers have stopped for the moment, but in this region (say from Rosario to Buenos Aires and around) there's so much fog and smoke that roads are totally or partially closed to traffic every day, until the sun dissolves some of the stuff. And traffic accidents are so common that the radio broadcasts the body count next to the weather forecast.

(I object to calling these "accidents", since in most cases they're caused simply by disrespect for the law, overconfidence and disregard of basic safety measures, for which Argentinians are infamously known. If you find yourself inside an airborne gray soup, the right thing to do is flash your lights appropriately and stop beside the road, no matter if you're late for work or the start of your vacations. And if you see someone stopping beside the road ahead of you, you should consider doing the same. The Argentinian's typical reaction, however, is to trust his good stars, disregard a few near misses, curse the weather, and finally crash into someone and blame the state for not forcing him to stop.)

The fires on the islands are obviously not being monitored by anyone. On any given day it's easy to spot two or more columns of smoke rising from different places along the floodplain of the Paraná, opposite the coast of Rosario.

Humo que te quiero humo

A nuestra derecha, el incendio

The fires are intentional or derived from intentional ones. Though the weather might be humid, it hasn't rained a respectable amount for months (in fact the north of Santa Fe has been declared an emergency area because of the drought), so all that withered grass and plants and trees are prone to ignite at the very lightest touch of flame. The wind usually carries the smoke away toward the south (to Buenos Aires), but part of it always remains here and affects the coastal areas of the city. If I can see where it comes from, then the authorities (governors, mayors, police, judges, prosecutors, ecological management offices) can see it as well. Why does nothing happen?

27 June 2008

The export tax: debate and circus

There are a lot of things to report about the the government vs. the farmers and the legislative handling of that infamous Resolución 125 (Bill No. 125 of the Executive Branch) that imposed mobile export taxes on soybeans. So many things, in fact, that I've been unable to summarize it these days. You simply can't stay on top of it all.

In short — No. 125 is being debated at the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house), although so far it's been more like a disordered assembly than a true discussion among lawmakers. Clearly as a dilatory measure, Kirchnerism staged an open meeting, where everyone who wished to do so could get in and listen. Insignificant organizations representing minuscule groups of interest demanded to be heard one after another, and the audience applauded or booed. In the meantime, different groups of politicians were lobbied or pressured in different directions, Néstor Kirchner tried to re-inforce his hateful black-and-white view of the issue, the president spoke here and there, the vice-president was rebuked and praised for his meeting with several opposition governors, and finally came... the tents.

First the farmer leader Alfredo De Angeli announced they were setting up a "green tent" on the square before Congress to mark their position. The Kirchnerists reacted quickly and set up several tents of their own. The government of Buenos Aires City ordered them to be taken down, but the Kirchnerist mob insulted the official in charge and refused to acknowledge the authority of the city government or its laws. The Federal Police was asked to intervene, but since it responds to orders of the national government, nothing happened. Yes, you got that right — the City of Buenos Aires has no police force of its own, and the police it's got simply won't enforce the law if the perpetrators are Kirchnerist militants. The government of Buenos Aires filed an accusation (the tents have no security measures and are invading public space without a permit) but a judge, prompted by a Kirchnerist deputy, granted them immunity, the reasoning being that once the tents are installed, the police would have to force the people out and that would be worse than letting them stay. Glory be to fait accompli!

There are now six Kirchnerist tents before Congress, with wooden floors, electric power and heating, plus pamphlets and plasma TV sets. The farmers finally set up their own, and the MAS (a socialist group) brought another one, favouring neither the government nor the farmers. The farmers also hired a giant inflatable bull, which was promptly named "Alfredito", while the Kirchnerists erected an inflatable penguin called "Néstor" (symbol of their leader) and supplied several of their pamphlet-handling militants with egg-shaped costumes. They're considering to bring in a mechanical bull as well. This sounds like a circus, and in a sense it is. Once the entertainment is over, however, no-one knows what might happen.

The government party would have enough legislators on both Houses to turn the presidential bill into law, but only if they were to align with the partisan line dictated by Néstor Kirchner. That won't happen. Most Deputies have had to accept that the bill won't pass unchanged, that they're going to have to concede some things. At least 30 and possibly even 40 Peronist Deputies are going to vote partially or totally against the bill, either because they know it's wrong as it is, or because their constituencies won't forgive them if they submit to Néstor K's wishes. (In fact, unless a miracle erases people's memories or typical Argentine political short-sightedness prevails, it's likely that Kirchnerism will suffer a terrible blow in the legislative elections next year. Some formerly popular politicians are already unable to walk the streets of their home towns without bodyguards.)

Many non-Peronist allies of K are unsure what to do or have already turned their backs on Kirchner, disturbed by his violent discourse and his wild accusations of widespread conspiracy against his wife the nominal president. The opposition is, as always, scattered, but they're converging on a couple of projects regarding the export taxes.

The farmers say that if Congress turns the bill into law without fundamental changes, they'll go back to the strike and take the roads again. Kirchner has told his fellow party members to raise their hands and pass the law exactly as it is. The need to find some middle ground and some compromise settlement is obvious and should be (for savvy politicians) a simple matter of time. But this is Argentina after all...

20 June 2008

Flag Day 2008 (no pictures this year)

Alta en el Cielo, desfilandoFlag Day 2007
It's Flag Day in Rosario! Exactly 188 years ago today, June 20, a lawyer called Manuel Belgrano (forced by circumstances and convictions to act as politician and as a military man) died at the age of 50, poor and forgotten, only eight and a half years after creating and flying the Argentine flag on two artillery batteries on opposite banks of the Paraná River, one in Rosario (then just a village) and the other on the islands of the Paraná's floodplain facing it.

For reasons unknown to me, Argentina commemorates great men and their deeds at the date of their deaths rather than their births or the actual events that made those men great. So this death anniversary is Flag Day. I wrote about it last year (Flag Day 2007), which was a big deal because it was also the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Monumento a la Bandera (Flag Memorial).

This time, however, I refrained from attending the ceremony and the parade. Besides the awful weather (cold, windy, cloudy, and threatening to rain) plus my own concern for my health (I'm still recovering from the cold I caught last weekend), there was too much going on for it to be just a festive meeting of the citizenry.

Until a few days ago, nobody knew whether Cristina Kirchner would preside over the official celebrations in Rosario, as protocol dictates. The "man in the street" view was that she would either (a) employ any excuse to avoid coming to Rosario, where she'd meet harsh popular opposition, or (b) come here bringing along a couple tens of thousands of "supporters". The latter hypothesis was likely, given that the shock troop leader in the service of the Kirchners, Luis D'Elía, had vowed to come to Rosario today to cheer for the President, "defend democracy" and "vindicate the flag", defiled by the May 25 meeting. However, D'Elía went overboard with his call to "take up arms" against those who wanted to "destabilize the government", and the Kirchners backed away from him.

Then the President went and presided over a partisan rally, two days ago. It was organized and paid for by the Presidency, i.e. our taxes, but it was undoubtedly a Peronist rally. The CGT union even decreed a national strike (it was effective only in Buenos Aires) to allow workers to go see Cristina. This rally was seen as both a provocation and a confirmation that Cristina would only address her selected supporters from now on. The idea that she might have thousands mobilized again, to Rosario, 300 km away from her only real center of political power, and along a national road that is blocked in a hundred places by people hostile to her policies, was beginning to sound ridiculous.

Acto del campo en Rosario por un país federalMay 25 meeting
Moreover, when Rosario was designated as the center of the agricultural protest, about 200,000 people gathered here on May 25. The call to attend the last pro-Kirchner meeting was refused by the local unions, who said it was divisive and inappropriate, so Cristina could expect no help from them on Flag Day. And the common public doesn't like patriotic dates turned into political meetings, and doesn't like Cristina's speech style.

The middle class, in fact, hates Cristina with a passion. Even the local leftist movements are against her in her fight with the agricultural sector. The governor of Santa Fe, Hermes Binner, is a Socialist who supports the legislative debate of the export taxes that Cristina would've chosen to impose. The mayor of Rosario, Miguel Lifschitz, is also a Socialist. Cristina, like her husband, is used to have local authorities on her side wherever she goes — authorities that can be counted on to fill the spaces at rallies with cheering people.

Cristina Fernández de KirchnerSo she chose not to come. The excuse was "bad weather" — plausible, but nevertheless just an excuse. Two days ago, when "bad weather" couldn't be assured, the national officials in charge of protocol and presidential security were already conspicuously absent, when usually they should be planning and coordinating with local police and municipal officials here in Rosario. Then it was announced that Cristina would be instead in Quilmes, near Buenos Aires, in the afternoon. And finally, she moved once again and decided she would do some other minor stuff in Hurlingham, because it's going to rain and there's a roofed stadium in Hurlingham. (La Nación says the Flag Day celebration was moved to Hurlingham. That, as someone pointed out, is incorrect. What moved was Cristina and the presidential political machine, not the official seat of this patriotic celebration, which is duly held in Rosario, as has always been the case.)

It's a pity that the President misses the true celebration. I for one would've considered going if she came, though mainly to boo her. Some of my fellow citizens would, I think, as well. Others were understandably afraid that the Kirchnerist mob would hijack the celebration and disallow the expression of dissent. And yet others were planning to boycott the President's coming to Rosario by hanging black flags on the balconies, instead of sky-blue-and-white Argentine flags, or by simply leaving when she began her speech. She's spared us from choosing among those sad alternatives.

Yesterday I was thinking that Rosario has traditionally been a progressive city, with critical citizens, who never receives attention except on Flag Day, when protocol compels the chief of state to be here for a couple of hours. In ten years Carlos Menem came three times, and the last one he was basically ignored (the weather was awful, like today). Fernando de la Rúa never came, since he couldn't have gotten out alive. Néstor Kirchner came twice, and only the first time he was greeted with enthusiasm; the second time he had to bring his occupation troops with him. Cristina backed away already.

I was writing to someone who lives abroad about this, and I said I felt this feeling of refreshing insolence against the government. Not the bitter anger of people who don't know what the government will do to them, but a healthy mixture of disrespect and rebelliousness. Indeed, if one isn't free to insult one's own authorities for fear of being accused of subversion, what's left? Cristina is afraid of coming here to Rosario, where she'd receive the public punishment she deserves. And I'm proud of that.

18 June 2008

One step forward, two steps back

After almost 100 days of doing nothing but fueling the rage of the farmers and a good part of the general public (including many of her voters), President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took note of the cacerolazo and reluctantly sent her mobile tax exports bill to Congress.

Never one to aspire to perfection, though, she let her husband go on with today's rally at Plaza de Mayo, which was transmitted on Cadena Nacional (i.e. forcefully overriding the regular schedule of all air TV channels to broadcast her speech). The rally was formally an occasion for all Argentinians to hear the President speak live on the current issues of prime importance for the country, but as expected, and as usual, it was merely a distasteful partisan meeting — thousands of public employees and unionized workers forced to attend, plus thousands of "social movements" who herded their militants to applaud Cristina.

Once before the crowd, la Presidenta took again on her Evita voice (which failed her a couple of times) and proceeded to insult the leaders of the agricultural organizations and to accuse those who protested against her government of being undemocratic and disrespectful of the popular majority. Her thesis (we've heard several times recently) is that democracy consists of voting every four years and then either quietly tolerating the decision of the majority, or form a new political party and compete when time is due. That is, all channels of feedback and criticism between the people and their government (except the ballot box) are to be suppressed: public opinion shouldn't be allowed to express itself through the media or through demonstrations and protests. Criticism on TV or the papers means big media corporations trying to destabilize the government. Banging pots and pans in the streets means inciting a coup. The spectacle of thousands of people who despair at the lack of action of their supposed representatives, taking to the streets on a freezing night with their kids to make some noise, to try to reach the consciousness of the ruler, doesn't mean anything but a threat to democracy.

That's the Kirchners' message, the subtext of most of their speeches. Every time Néstor and Cristina have taken one discursive step forward to speak of free speech or freedom of the press, they've proceeded to immediately take two steps back, treating their critics as enemies. So far it's been the media groups and some specific individuals and organizations. Today, it was the people as a whole.

Yesterday, when I heard Cristina's vow to let Congress discuss the tax bill that caused this whole mess in the first place, I was briefly glad about it. But again she'd taken those two steps back. The bill, they explained, deals with a matter of export tariffs and is under the jurisdiction of the Executive, i.e. it's not really a tax. As such, what Cristina sent to Congress was a closed package that can't be opened. It can only be approved or rejected as a whole. If approved, the conflict will be renewed. If rejected, we must assume, Cristina can ignore it, and given her record, it's quite possible that she would. The political costs might be extremely high for her and for everyone in her party. But the Kirchners have already shown us that they care for nothing. They're like blind bulls racing through a china store.

17 June 2008

Cacerolazo, and then?

I had a tiring, satisfactory long weekend. Friday night, Marisa and I went to see a series of five episodes filmed by a local producer. On Saturday, I attended the unveiling of Che Guevara's statue (Marisa stayed home because she wasn't feeling well). Sunday was Father's Day, so we went to my place to have lunch with my parents, then we left for a recital that served as the closing for Guevara's 80th birthday celebrations, and after that, we marched on to Marisa's folks' home to have dinner with her parents and the families of her brother and one of her cousins. Monday morning, we woke up early to do an architectonic photo tour downtown; right after noon I left for a friend's house to have an asado.

I was still there when, at 5:30 PM, I received a mass SMS calling people to turn off the lights for 15 minutes at 8 PM and then start a cacerolazo against the government. I didn't pay attention to it. I was too tired to think of protesting anything, I was stuffed full and it was cold. Besides, I didn't think anybody would attend. I got back home at around 7 PM, and one hour later I was proven terribly wrong.

I was exhilarated. On edge. Finally! I only wished I could've been there. People were banging pots and pans or honking their horns or simply out on the streets singing or waving flags, disorganized but not incoherent. Thousands (some say 10,000, some say 40,000 or more) in Rosario around the Flag Memorial, many thousands also in several parts of Córdoba City, thousands in Buenos Aires near the Obelisk and also in Olivos, in front of the presidential residence, where the previous night a small group of demonstrators had been forced to leave by a group of government-paid thugs. And in La Plata, Posadas, Catamarca, Santa Cruz, San Rafael and Mendoza City, Chaco, in the larger cities and the towns of the deep countryside and even the places dominated by Kirchnerist administrations. Some were asking for the President to leave; most demanded that she act — do what must be done to put the country back on track, and send the First Gentleman back to where he belongs.

The hardcore Kirchnerists are in the latest stages of paranoia and denial, seeing coups and destabilization and conspiracies everywhere. Luis D'Elía even called people to take up arms in defence of the government. But the rest of the K people are cautiously stepping back from the mad leader.

Yesterday, vice-president Julio Cobos asked for Congress to intervene and discuss, exactly what should've been done to begin with, and just the kind of consensus-based, non-coercive process Néstor K abhors. Several loyal governors suddenly announced they wouldn't attend the government rally planned for Wednesday at Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. Many long-time Peronists showed their disgust for D'Elía's manners. The K Radicals supported their leader, the vice-president. Here in Santa Fe, governor Hermes Binner put it succintly: "This way of governing is coming to an end."

Today the President broadcast one more of her venom-filled speeches, comparing the downfall of Perón in 1955 to what is supposedly being done to her..., and then, she said that, just to please the ungrateful and the ever-discontent and show her respect for the law, she would submit the export taxes to the approval of Congress. It took her 45 minutes of badly doctored speech to acknowledge that she'd been forced to take a step back.

Now Kirchnerism has an automatic majority in Congress. But it's not the monolithic front it used to be. Even if the retenciones pass the legislative filter, it will cost (we hope) several politicians their post in the near future. You'll have to think for yourself and decide, ladies and gentlemen — and then face the consequences when you go back home to your constituencies asking for their vote.

16 June 2008

80 years of Che Guevara

Too tired to write it all down now, but here are the pictures I took during the celebrations for the 80th anniversary of the birth of Ernesto Che Guevara, quite possibly the most famous citizen of Rosario. It's an embedded Flickr slideshow. If that doesn't work, try 80che: 80 years of Che Guevara. New pictures may be added tomorrow.

12 June 2008

Claudio Lozano on Cristina's "political naiveté"

This is a translation of an op-ed by Claudio Lozano on Crítica Digital about Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's speech. Lozano is a left-wing economist associated with the CTA labour union, former Kirchner supporter, and now a national deputy for Proyecto Sur. He speaks of Cristina's acknowledgment that the government's only mistake when implementing the mobile tax exports was the "political naiveté" of thinking that people who earn a lot of money would tolerate the state's demanding of some of that money to give to the poor. The emphasis is mine.

I wish it were the first speech. I wish the argument of political naiveté were believable. I wish we were discussing a serious income redistribution programme while taking responsibility for the fact that in Argentina, since 2007, the economy and hunger are growing in parallel. I wish the debate of a more egalitarian relation between the Nation and the provinces were seriously undertaken. I wish we were in the presence of a government whose goal were capturing extraordinary profits to realize the proclaimed goal of "paying off the Argentinians' deficitary social account". It's a pity that it's not the case. Can it be true that they want to solve the social situation, when INDEC is under intervention and millions of poor people are deliberately hidden from view? What's the reason why the Government speaks of transferring income, and yet its social programme includes no concrete mechanism of transference of resources to families? Does the Government not know that, by just implementing a universal assignment of 100 pesos for every child, extreme poverty (hunger) would be practically eliminated among underage citizens? Does the Government know that simply by setting aside 1% of the annual GDP the issue of hunger would be solved, and with 5% of the GDP poverty would be eliminated altogether? Isn't the Fund created today a bit scarce, when we know that foreign trade taxes will bring in, this year, more than 50 billion pesos? Considering that in the last five years there's been no advance on tax reform, no advance on seizing the profits of oil, mining and fishing, and that in the case of agricultural profits this was done in a small proportion, and granting benefits that favoured the concentration of this economic sector, is today's presidential speech believable? I wish it were true. I wish it weren't just one more speech. But why do we explain what we're going to do with the tax collection above 35%? Weren't export taxes intended to redistribute income?
During five years we've heard the Kirchners and their supporters incessantly congratulate themselves on their progressivism. But nothing has been done to make this country more egalitarian. Kirchnerism has an automatic majority on both Chambers of Congress, a Congress that never refuses a command, and yet all they seem capable of doing is extracting money from one sector of the economy using the bluntest tools at their disposal. Even one of Página/12's commentators, one month after the beginning of the farmers' strike, had to acknowledge that the Kirchners' government is not reformist or progressive at all. Poverty and social inequality are much worse than they were 25 years ago, right after 6 years of a corrupt military dictatorship and a disastrous war. A huge gap still lies between the poor and rich in Argentina: the wealthiest 10% earns 30 times more than the poorest 10%, worse than during the neoliberal rule of the Menem administration. The tax system is horribly regressive: 47% of the total tax revenue corresponds to the IVA (our VAT), a tax on consumption, while you pay no taxes of any kind if you win a million through speculation or when you sell your company's stocks.

And on top of this, the president explains that the leftovers from an exceptionally high tax, imposed by the Executive branch without congressional approval, will be used to redistribute income. I mean, wasn't redistribution the main reason why they needed so much money? And if so, where's the rest of it? Because we sure can't see it anywhere.

11 June 2008

I want to believe but...

Just an example of why it's so difficult to believe in Cristina Kirchner's "redistribution programme": the chairman of the Rosario branch of the Argentine Construction Chamber notes that, of 4,000 popular homes the national government had vowed to pay for in Rosario during 2007, not a single one has been built so far. First they were cut down to 1,400, then the funds never arrived, and as of now "we haven't yet obtained a clear answer from the national government regarding the reasons for the delay… all we have is a promise, without details, that the construction of those homes will begin in the second half of this year." And of course, the budgeted prices of supplies and labour are completely outdated; updating them is a bureaucratically slow process and uses INDEC's fudged (and therefore useless) inflation figures. Considering the expediency shown by the Kirchners to deal with other matters bypassing Congress, the Constitution, and basic attempts at dialogue or consensus, it's hard to see why Cristina can't speed this up.

This report comes after Cristina granted an audience to Santa Fe governor Hermes Binner, who had criticized the handling of the farmers' crisis and asked for a better redistribution of federal funds. Yesterday, after the audience, Cristina gave a speech next to Binner noting that Santa Fe has received a lot of funds for public works, and how that shows in Rosario's growth and prosperity. Well, while it's true that we've received funds, we're still waiting for the national government to pay for the repair of a section of our coastal park that Néstor Kirchner promised to deal with in 2005 (!) and that will be finished no sooner than 2009 (hopefully). And most of Rosario's recent prosperity, as everyone over here above kindergarten age knows, is due to the money coming in from the nearby countryside, the construction boom being just one example. Put simply, when people have money to spend, they come to the big city and splash.

Yesterday, the President rubbed her figures on Binner's face noting that federal money transfers to Santa Fe had increased 30% in a year — which is true of all provinces, because that's how much tax collection increased in nominal terms, mostly due to inflation. She also claimed Santa Fe had received over AR$42 billion since 2003. However, according to our Finance Minister Ángel Sciara, the books only show AR$15 billion on all accounts. And the federal government is behind schedule by about AR$1 billion.

The national government has legal obligations — by law Santa Fe must receive 8.84% of the federal taxes, and that's not a grant, a gift, or in any sense something we must thank for to our most gracious Cristina Kirchner.

10 June 2008

I want to believe

Cristina, you are a genius! You just sent those coup-inciting filthy rich farmers packing, and you unveiled a master plan that will show Argentinians the extent of your generosity, vowing to put those billions of dollars of tax exports to use on the things the poor and the struggling working class need — roads, public hospitals, unexpensive housing. If only I could believe you!

As I write this, I've just finished hearing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's speech on the national broadcasting signal (Cadena Nacional) which she had used only once before. I'm posting it now, on the day after the speech, because I just posted something else, something personal about my weekend, something of no importance.

I must say this — Cristina showed that she's not beyond reflection and change, and everybody took note of that. That that simple fact is a huge relief shows clearly how low our political culture has gone. The President, in the most contorted fashion, acknowledged that the government made a mistake, and asked for forgiveness to anyone she might have offended. I bet several million of my compatriots had never dreamed they'd hear such words coming from a Kirchner.

Now for the real content of the speech, things aren't so bright. Before Cristina began, the official spokesman read aloud a decree that will be published tomorrow, creating a "Social Redistribution Programme", which will be funded by the mobile tax exports on soybean whenever they climb above the 35% mark, and will be in charge of building public healthcare centers, roads and "popular homes". The Programme will be "decentralized", said the Prez; the national government will leave it to the provinces and municipalities to implement what they need. So far, so good.

Now, the Kirchners have been doing this kind of "federal decentralization" for years — it works by giving money to politically obedient governors and denying it to provinces ruled by the opposition (opposition doesn't mean just a different party — anyone who disobeys is opposition). There's no sign that this time it will be different. The Programme's funds will be administered mainly by Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido, who has the power to do whatever he wants with great chunks of the budget.

At no time during her 30-minute speech did the President explain why this plan is presented to the public now and not before, or why the extra couple of billions that might be collected from farmers couldn't be replaced by the US$4 billion they're spending on a bullet train for the rich. It's obvious the Programme was made up in the last few days, and we Argentinians know perfectly well that such great plans never come to fruition, mainly because middlemen divert (steal) the funds.

Cristina said we're not in a crisis anymore, which is right, I believe. If so, however, our useless, yes-people-filled Congress should reclaim its duty to manage the national budget, which they gave away (in violation of the Constitution) years ago because we were in an emergency. The emergency is over, right?

Moreover, the need for a paternalist, strong-handed government is over as well. We don't need an Evita lookalike implementing her version of a Great Leap Forward. We need a federal state that lets the provinces have their own money and manage it, not granting them leftovers from an unconstitutional tax. Only allied governors and government-addicted mayors were invited to Cristina's speech, to nod and smile and applaud. No room was allowed for dissent. The Kirchners firmly believe they're the only ones who know how to run the country, and they refuse to hear, let alone follow, other people's opinions.

Cristina did one thing right: she noted that it all began because a certain specific group of people, who on average are doing quite well compared to the average, refused to accept that the state took away part of their profits (again). Of course, we all knew that, and it's a testimony of the profound ignorance of the Kirchners that they turned a focalized reaction against tax collection into a divisive countrywide revolt that brought down their image and caused huge losses of money and time for everyone.

Here are links to the coverage of the speech, in Spanish:

09 June 2008

Weekend of tango and photos

Milongueros viejos IIThe IV Encuentro Metropolitano de Tango ("Fourth Metropolitan Tango Meeting") finished last Saturday. I don't have much to say about tango, but my girlfriend Marisa was in the organizers' group assembled by the Municipality of Rosario, so she had to be there and I took advantage of that to be there with her and take pictures. The closing event was twofold: the first part was an outdoors milonga in a closed-off section of a street downtown, and the second part was a tango show at La Comedia Theater, on the corner of that same street.

A milonga is the name of a tango subgenre and also of the place where people go to dance, and the event itself. In the olden days a milonga was like a disco or bar, i.e. the place where men went to pick up women. Today they're venues for tango bars, known and popular only among fans of tango. Marisa, incidentally, is one of them. I understand she hasn't been to a milonga for quite a while, but that didn't stop her from trying a few pieces.

The afternoon was delightful, sunny and only mildly cold. There was an introduction with a group of very bad actors representing a typical old-style milonga scene, an older man having fun with a younger tango companion and chased by his outraged wife. Although the acting was flaky, the script and the feathered hat were funny.

Feliz entre la espada y la pared

After that came the dancing. A lot of couples old and new went out on the street and showed their abilities (or lack thereof — it wasn't really important) while the music played. There was an interlude with a "tango" exhibition — not real tango but tango-inspired choreography, and then the milonga resumed. My photo buddies and I took a lot of pictures and then left. Marisa had to stay there and then hurry to work on the theater, until the grand finale at around midnight, so it didn't make much sense for me to stay.

On Sunday I met another photographer friend of mine and her friends, and after some chat we went out to get some more pictures... nothing fancy, since we didn't want to walk that much, and it was getting dark (it's only 12 days till winter after all). Luckily I'd brought the tripod I recently bought. I took some unremarkable pictures, then we went to a café, and then I returned home.

All in all the weekend was satisfactory — I was hungry for pictures, and I took a lot of them. Photography, I've noticed, calms me down. I don't know exactly why that is. Taking a walk along a nice street also helps, of course, but since I have a camera, 90% of the times I feel as if I'm missing something when I don't carry it along for the walk. That can't be good, for sure. But as long as I can get away with it...

05 June 2008

Crazy Argentina, take 4: Crumbling country

The campo-vs.-government conflict keeps getting nastier and nastier. The farmers went back to the roads, only to block grain trucks on their way to the ports; but the truck drivers, who haven't had any work for almost three months, decided to go after them and block the roads, in some cases letting only private cars and buses pass, or not even those. As in the first days of the farmers' protest, there are regions and cities almost isolated from each other — as of today it was very difficult to go from Rosario to the towns on the northern Greater Rosario, and impossible to get to Santa Fe.

Also, once again proving that the Kirchners and their minions have no moral boundaries, several opposition politicians and agricultural organizations' leaders have been summoned to court under accusations of illegally blocking roads (not that it's not illegal — it's just that Kirchnerist piqueteros don't usually receive such treatment, and never so swiftly); Néstor Kirchner says that he's ready to resist even as the whole country demands a peaceful solution ("This is a long fight and it's only begun…The government is going to show them it has the power") because the farmers' "would already have staged a coup if they had bayonets"; Kirchner's son Máximo says the Kirchnerist Youth are ready to kick farmers' ass if necessary; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (co-owner of a US$11-million dollar luxury hotel in Patagonia) asked the farmers to "think of the poor", for whom apparently fake inflation rates are no longer enough; and the state-financed shock troop leader Luis D'Elía has warned that he and his gang are planning to "refresh the memory of the oligarchy" and they're coming to Rosario on Flag Day (June 20) to clean, so to speak, the stain left by the massive meeting of May 25.

In the meantime, there's a different protest every day, fuel and natural gas are running out, as are milk and dairy products, beef, vegetables. And of course, our patience.

01 June 2008

Che Guevara's statue

The bronze statue of Ernesto Che Guevara arrived in Rosario, its city of birth, today, after four days travelling by boat up the Paraná river from Buenos Aires, where it was made. I wrote about el Che's monument in February, after I'd read about plans for the celebrations of Ernesto Guevara's 80th birthday (June 14th).

The statue came at noon, and I guess I could've been there, but didn't know and I was exhausted, and expected at home for lunch. There was a welcome celebration at the Flag Memorial Park, and then a parade that took the statue to the place where it will be set up, its own Plaza Ernesto Che Guevara within Parque Yrigoyen, on 27 de Febrero Blvd. The next two weeks there'll be a whole lot of Che Guevara-related activities organized by the Municipality, which is (I'm told) spending its last cents on these events. (The economy is going badly, what with inflation and public employees' pay rise and all.) Yours truly expects to be present at least in some of them.

The statue of Che Guevara arrives — caught by a fellow Flickr'er!