Argentina in the Protest Season

by Suzie Raven

It’s 11:30 on a weeknight in Buenos Aires. I’m sitting on my friend Paula’s bed, flipping through a magazine and listening to her talk about her first day of class. The smell of different meats, rice and rich sauces float from the kitchen down the hall — many students are just finishing dinner in one of our floor’s two kitchens. I notice that my body is almost used to eating dinner at 10 or 11, as is customary here.

Suddenly, the sound of pots and pans banging interrupts our peaceful moment. No, not from the three or four people still hanging around the kitchens. It’s 300 or 400 people walking down the street, banging loud enough for the noise to travel to the 3rd floor (what we would call the 4th in the U.S.) and sound like it’s only a few feet away. At times, it sounds like firecrackers.

Farmers in Argentina have been protesting the government’s tax hikes on soybean exports and other grains since the middle of March. Now, the truck drivers are involved. With the farmers not selling their grain, the drivers are losing important business. In response, they are forming blockades, particularly on key routes in the central and eastern parts of the country.

Conflict is seemingly everywhere. We didn’t know if our bus would leave Iguazu for Argentina's captial as scheduled last weekend because the protesters blocked so many streets in Buenos Aires. (It ended up not being a problem.) My exchange program canceled this weekend’s trip to Mendoza, the province famous for beautiful mountains, delicious steak and the best wine, because buses won’t run. They also canceled a field trip to Avenida de Mayo, the road connecting Congress and the president’s offices at Casa Rosada, because of the protests. Last week, protesters also banged pots and pans loud enough to wake me up from a heavy sleep. Gunshots were fired near Casa Rosada, and I have heard them more than once while in the dorm.

People feel pressured to take the side of either President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her government or the farmers (known in the local slang as el campo). The truck drivers argue that they are not on either side, but want an agreement so they can make a livelihood. My professor explained recently that many people in the middle class, herself included, feel that while they have an opinion, they don’t have much of a stake in the conflict. There isn’t a food shortage right now and it mostly affects exports. She isn’t a farmer, but she’s not a huge fan of the government.

I picked an interesting time to come to Buenos Aires. Argentina won’t calm down anytime soon, and it’s exciting to see this first hand.

(The photo of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina at a press conference in 2007 is by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom of Agência Brasil, the Brazilian news agency, which allows use of its photos through a Creative Commons License.)

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