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Published: June 12th 2009
The litany is almost comical in extent: restaurant workers, meat packers, bankers, subway workers, and nearly the long-distance bus drivers. The number of striking unions listed in the Buenos Aires Herald each week is a lesson in instability. There are so many labor unions and such discontent that complaining in this country is the norm and a certain degree of chaos is the status quo.
Given the long history of inept leadership and social discontent in the country, Argentines have learned how to make their grievances heard. In a place with enough of a traffic problem already, these people know how to bring the city to a standstill.
The piqueteros are the most famous, the men who protest in the street so as to shut down traffic, sometimes effectively cutting off every by-way from the suburbs to the city of Buenos Aires. Sometimes the piqueteros are met with resistance, even violence, as commemorated on an overpass by the mural of the two social leaders that were assassinated in a brutal execution-style crack-down by police following a protest. As Gabriel Di Miglio pointed out, however, these men are kept busy by their protesting and satiated by the social reforms that they win, so more piqueteros often also means less crime.
But more often than not big protests mean headaches. Walking in the microcentro with a member of my mother’s family, we encountered a large group of pro-Kirchner protestors that immediately sparked fear. “These are gypsy people the government pays to protest for them,” she said, “we should scram in case they get too violent,” and as they took to the street, the bottleneck around the plaza was totally immobilized. Indeed, the Plaza de Mayo is the symbolic epicenter of the madness in protesting, consecrated by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and other righteous groups, the fact that it is necessary to put barriers in between the plaza and the Casa Rosada but not block off the roads that lead to the presidential office demonstrate where the crowds will come from.
I had to learn to expect delays because of the funnel nature of the city and the protestor’s expertise in blocking off the Subte. Uncertainty about travel or violence is a fact of life for Porteños. This protest can be quite powerful-just look at the ousting of President de la Rua by mob influence-and also tragic, as many people died during that same protest. Whatever the outcome of the rally, as long as Argentines complain, the populace of Gran Buenos Aires will have to cope with the reality of uncertainty, violence, and power by the unsettled masses.
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