I’ve been coming to Buenos Aires since 2002. In these past 15 years I’ve learned to speak Spanish, learned about Argentinian culture and have made wonderful friendships with many people here. But I’ve only just begun to learn about Argentine politics, as a new president is elected and policies and programs shift from liberal to conservative.
Political conversations seem common and frequent among everyone here. The multiple political parties and their respective perspectives are spread across the conservative-liberal spectrum. Often, as I would listen to others’ political discussions, someone would ask me if I understood what they were saying about various political issues and situations here, and I’d always told them no I did not. Everyone would always reassure me that it was okay not to understand, because even the Argentine people having those same discussions did not understand the politics here either! And we’d laugh at their self-critique and self-commentary.
“Without freedom of speech there is no democracy.”
That was then. I’m not laughing now.
My political education has begun.On December 10, 2015 Argentina elected a new president, Mauricio Macri—a conservative former governor of the city of Buenos Aires—who, it appears to me, wants to rollback and eliminate the social, political and economic policies established during the past twelve years of Kirchners in the presidency (Nestor for 4 and Cristina for 8 of the past 12 years). Slightly more than half of the voting public, 51%, chose Macri. Thus, in a country where popular political expression is a fact of daily life, I expect to see those who sympathized with the former president, Cristina Kirchner protesting in the streets. Kirchneristas–how those who supported her are often referred to in the media—are indeed taking to the streets to advocate for their interests. But once there, protestors are not being allowed the complete freedom of expression as was common during the presidency of Cristina Kirchner.
Kirchneristas (whose candidate Daniel Scioli garnered 49% of the presidential vote) are gathering almost daily in demonstrations against the latest in the series of conservative changes Macri has made in the lone month since he has occupied the presidency. In this short time, Macri has been responsible for firing 10,000 government workers, appointing two new Supreme Court justices and bypassing Congress’ approval. He has imprisoned a political activist, had the riot police attack protestors who were being fired from their jobs. Just what the newly unemployed need–not. Along comes the 40% devaluation of the peso that impacts everyone’s lives.
Popular radio journalist Victor Hugo Morales was suddenly taken off the airwaves, likely for expressing anti-government views. Macri had already seen that the popular nightly political news analysis program “678” was taken off the air. Free speech seems to be facing swift attacks. The Argentine government has begun again to criminalize peaceful dissent, and to censor opposing points of view.
What is going on? I can understand people wanting change in their government. (The name of Macri’s center-right political party is just that: “Cambiemos”, “let’s change”). I have often voted against the leadership in my own city, state, and country. But what I don’t understand is how those who voted for Macri explain the big, quick shift to the right this conservative new president is taking the country in. And I understand even less why they are tolerating these changes. I wonder what they think about Macri’s actions this past month. Is this the Macri they expected? What now?
Macri’s actions remind me of the censorship and repression that Argentines faced during the military dictatorship of 1976-1973, known as the “dirty war,” when more than 30,000 people were tortured and “disappeared”, killed for their opposition to the dictatorship. I can’t help but think that Macri is taking Argentines down that desolate path again, with these recent moves to punish and restrict dissent and free speech. Consider for yourself:
Timeline of presidential actions Dec. 12, 2015 – Jan. 17, 2016
Dec. 10 Macri elected to office.
Dec. 15 Macri bypasses the Congress and appoints “by decree” two Supreme Court Justices. The last time a president did so was in 1862.
Dec. 17 Macri undermines the media law and the popular public tv news analysis program “678” disappears from nightly tv.
In one week in early January Macri fires 10,000 government workers.
Jan. 7 unhappy that Macri dismissed them from their government jobs, public workers in La Plata, Argentina are attacked by riot police using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Jan. 11 Continental Radio journalist Victor Hugo Morales is fired from his job. Morales believes he has been censored by the government for his criticisms of Macri’s actions.
Jan. 12 “Thousands march to Plaza de Mayo in support of Victor Hugo Morales” reported TeleSur TV network. “Without freedom of speech there is no democracy” was the slogan used by many of those carrying pickets in the demonstration.
Jan. 16 Popular Argentine indigenous leader Milagro Sala is arrested for criticizing the governor’s attacks on social programs in Jujuy. She is imprisoned and remains there under charges of inciting crime and stealing public funds.
Wonder what else I’ll learn in the coming days and months about politics in Argentina? Me too. Subscribe to my blog: http://www.seebuenosaires.com
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