It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood
The sun is shining and today is almost warm enough to walk around in only 2 layers. However, you walk to the center of town on Avenida 7 and the street is blocked. Last night, ruralistas, or people from the countryside in the province of Buenos Aires basically set up camp in the street last night. Burning tires provided some warmth and a few were cooking dinner for the many families that were sitting crowded together in bus shelters. Others seemingly impervious to the cold where yelling and waving large handmade fabric signs. I counted at least 6 different organizations that were standing in protest. The larger question last night was why all of the people had made the journey into the city to sleep in the cold amid the smell of burning rubber.
It turns out that the la presidenta de la nación de Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner is in town today supporting a new provincial law or something to that effect. The ruralistas are demanding that the government reconsider social plans for the poor that include social welfare programs related to food and work among other essential needs. Until the government agrees, the ruralistas basically intend to hold Avenida 7 hostage. Just to paint a picture, Avenida 7 is THE primary artery through the center of the city. The blockage has almost paralyzed the town and there are riot police out in full protective gear, shields and batons included.
It’s hard to discount the ruralistas’ argument; they want to feed their families and they want work. Both are in short supply for them. I found myself blaming the government for not providing for its own people. After all, for the first two months that I was here, the news was consumed with a strike/standoff between the federal government and the heads of agricultural production. The government wanted to raise taxes on the soy farmers. Argentina is the world’s third most important exporter of soy and profit margins have been growing virtually exponentially in recent years.
Only in the last few days has the president offered a package of social works dedicated to reducing poverty and providing other social services. I think that the offer is not going to conciliate all of the people affected by this tax increase. At this point is seems to only be a politically expedient pander designed to clear the roadways and get things back to normal. I have been reading Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power lately, which has led me to think about the way that society contributes to the inequality that characterizes poverty and its stubborn endurance. When I see the ruralistas, I know that many of them have lives similar to the patients in Centro No. 13. They are struggling for even the most basic necessities, never managing to get ahead of the curve. Every setback is just another signal that they is no individual, group or institution to back them up and help them. I don’t know if these proposed social programs were the original intent of the tax increase, nor do I know if the government will follow through. I do know that the Argentine government has promised its people to protect their citizens’ human rights in both the national constitution and a number signed conventions and treaties aiming to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The historical track record has been a failure to say the least. I can only hoped that things have changed.