viernes, 29 de abril de 2011

(Early) International Worker's day

The people have spoken with their feet and the streets are once again empty of cars, instead lined only by the parked, giant long-distance buses which transported the demonstrators into the city for their march in support of the current government and its program of social reform and fairer distribution of wealth.

It's something fascinating to witness, the almost complete shut-down of the metropolitan transit system, all the businesses shut in fear of violent disturbances, workers sent home from their offices to avoid the congestion, hordes of hundreds of thousands of people; grouped into their separate organisations and commitees and wearing bibs and t-shirts displaying names such as the Jovenes Peronistas, La Kamora, Sindicato de Obreros and many many other Trade Unions. Yet despite the variety they have all been called out by one man: Hugo Moyano, the chief of the General Workers' Commission (CGT) and an ever more influential figure in Argentine National politics.

Probably not since Juan Domingo Peron's populist governance of the nineteen-fifties have the Trade Unions (sindicatos en español) backed a presidential candidate with such open vigour and enthusiasm. Yesterday the opposition candidate Ricardo Alfonsín from the Radical Civic Union (UCR) criticised such unreserved backing of any one candidate, calling for a less partisan position, but his cries ring hollow in the minds of the people before an election which can only be described as in the bag.

There can remain very little doubt that Cristina Kirchner will win the elections; at present she holds 15 - 20% leads in all national and regional opinion polls and the once talked-up opposition candidates are now dropping out one by one leaving very few plausible alternatives and little room for an electoral alliance of any real strength. The streets here are bedecked with pro-Cristina propaganda, her face smiling down on the masses of organised workers, her late husband smiling down benignly from heaven.

Yet as a private teacher, the majority of whose students come from the mid-upper classes, I witness a growing despair and disillusionment. While the 'obreros' are mobilised the white-collar workers recoil in fear - one of my students told me he had ensured Spanish citizenship for his daughter... Just in case. Others talk about heading abroad to study and desperately struggle to improve their skills in the hope of landing a top-paying job or a much sought after foreign job.

So whilst the masses rejoice and the burguesia cower in their apartments the air of uncertainty grows as fast as the optimism. I don't believe this to be the downfall of Argentina at all, the government has done great things for social and political inclusion while unfortunately failing to stem the tide of fierce, criminal violence and marginalisation due to extreme poverty. They have inspired the less well-off to rise up and reclaim an improved situation for them and their families but the doubts remain about their ability  to fulfil their wild promises and combative rhetoric.

However, as I previously lamented after the death of ex-president Nestor Kirchner there seems to be a complete absence of political will to negotiate or engage with other diverse sectors of society. "Our way or the highway" the 'Kirchneristas' seem to scream. "Would you rather the dictatorship and the enslavement of the poor by the evil corporations?" they challenge, yet does it have to be so black or white? So Boca or River? I find myself torn between admiration for the immense mobilisation of the populace and disgust at the bile and hatred Argentina's politicians seem to deal in.

What will 2012 hold for Cristina's Argentina? Will she be able to satisfy the trade unionists if they will have played such a prominent role in her re-election without ceding too much power? Will the country ever improve the internal security situation and confront the Police mafias that currently extort and murder with impunity? Will the rampant inflation start to cause real headaches and possibly wider social repercussions for the man on the street and will the government be able to sell it as a destructive plot by the bitter oligarchs against the proletariat?

Winter is coming in Argentina, yet living here one can sense that things are only just starting to heat up.

"I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians."

lunes, 25 de abril de 2011

Easter Weekend

And just as quickly as it started it was over...

I started my rare three days of rest by sleeping early, a premonition told me that sleep would come in useful and frankly after having moved my classes into great long streams of teaching I had been left exhausted. So 9 o'clock Thursday night I didn't set an alarm for the morning for the first time in months! Remarkably I woke up at 8:30 and was a little bit overawed by the amount of time I had to take advantage of / kill.

I made an effort to read some more of Roberto Arlt's "Los Siete Locos" and to eat a proper breakfast of cereals and tea. Later in the afternoon I went out with a good friend, who shares my love for San Telmo, to buy a new jacket. We first had coffee in La Poesia, a beautiful antiquated café on the corner of Bolivar and Chile. He managed to convince me that buying a second hand jacket wouldn't be as satisfying as buying something new for myself so we headed out to a few trendy stores around the area but nothing much was taking my fancy and in fact he found a great 3/4 length coat which he ended up buying! Fortunately after finding myself empty handed he had a brain wave and offered to hand me down a jacket he'd bought in LA and practically never used. We went back to his apartment to try it on and it fit pretty well so I gratefully accepted it.

Still in the mood to peruse some vintage clothes I walked over to the shop I had been thinking of visiting and bought a waistcoat and a tartan scarf before passing another designer store and getting a green jumper with an odd hood/collar.

Later I played some backgammon with Luis and headed out to another English friend's apartment in Palermo for some balcony beers, cigars and (obviously) backgammon before taking a short cab ride over to Sugar where we drank, were merry and discussed everything from my apartment woes, Bradley Manning and the stark feeling of change that seems to be pervading the lives of most everyone we know here.

Happily drunk and ably accompanied by my iPod and "Los Siete Locos" I took the bus home and crawled into bed to prepare myself for more realxation on the following day.