Monday, June 16, 2008

In a desperate land

This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end

("The End", The Doors)

Luciano and I are watching the news on TV right now, wondering if these are the final days of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's presidency, after just 5 months in office. You can tell things are serious when the news stations, which are typically supporters of whichever government is in power, have fixed headlines such as "Horas decisivas - protestas en todo el pais" (Decisive hours - protests throughout the nation) or "Critica día" (critical day).

The conflict between the campo (countryside or agricultural interests) and the federal government has been going on for more than 3 months now. The primary issue is new taxes, up to 44% of market value, which growers believe will bankrupt them. At times the two sides talk, other times the negotiations collapse and the campo blockades highways or halts production and shipments of food. We live with sporadic shortages (or complete lack of) of meat, dairy products, cooking oil, and other basics so we try to keep stocked up on the essentials.

Tensions have been increasing lately with new but related problems. Sympathy strikes resulted in cessation of all bus transportation for long-distance travel, the primary means of journeying in Argentina. Gasoline is completely unavailable in some provinces and in short supply in the rest of the country, with long lines and rationing.

We walked over to a large superstore (Jumbo) this evening to replenish our cupboards with whatever we could find. The streets during the day were eerily quiet and I wasn't sure if it was because today is a public holiday or if something more ominous was awaiting. When we left the store to walk home, we heard the banging of pots and pans, the famed cacerolazos which Argentinos use to demonstrate their grievances. Before, they had been mainly street protests, groups of people marching and hammering away. This time it was everywhere, literally. Every street we walked down had people on their balconies or hanging out of open windows, pots and pans clanging away, not to mention the people actually out on the streets doing the same thing. On the news we see that every barrio (district) of Buenos Aires is resonating with protests. Hundreds of thousands are loudly and visibly expressing hostility toward the government. Every major city in the country is experiencing the same civic disturbances. Every major highway is blockaded.

What will be next? I don't know. I'm still a stranger here in so many ways but to me it seems like there is so much frustration with the government that I don't know how they can continue their present course. Luciano is much blunter, he says if Cristina doesn't cave in and repeal her tax hikes, she has at most only a few days left as president. Presidenta Fernandez may soon be singing the Doors song rather than one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hits. Like the old Chinese curse, we're certainly living in interesting times.