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Published: March 4th 2015
I was having a nice sleep in until 10am when my friend Elizabeth (from Norway) and I were woken up by the sound of firecrackers, gun shots, drums and Argentinian flags flying past the hostel windows. There were hundreds of them. I ate breakfast quickly thinking I must be missing ‘Carnaval’ like what we had in Bolivia. As soon as I hear noise and the sound of drums and explosives I immediately think that there must be a party, like there was in Bolivia.
But oh no, this was something bigger, a historical moment which was about to include me, a chance to celebrate democracy with the Argentinians, democracy which many British take for granted. I raced out of the hostel having just heard that it was the annual opening of the Congress (after the Argentine holidays which were taken in January and February) which takes place every year on 1st
March in which the current president gives a speech to the people of Argentina. Luckily, my hostel was only a few blocks from the palace of Congress so I headed off. On the way I met a guy from the same hostel as me. His name was Martin, from Montreal. He didn’t want to go to the Congress alone but wanted to see what all the fuss was about so we went to it together.
The city of Buenos Aires came to a complete standstill, people left their cars and buses parked in the middle of the roads, and headed to hear the three and a half hour speech. People were marching from all directions in groups, waving flags of ‘Peron’, ‘Che Guevara’ and various ‘trade unions.’ They all shared the support for ‘Cristina, the current socialist president of Argentina’ , More and more people gathered in La Plaza to welcome the president until the square was a mass of Argentinian flags.
Cristina arrived in a car, through the streets into the Plaza (we could also see all this happening on a big screen as we struggled to see due to the hundreds of flags flying) . There were huge balloons flying in the sky, all with different colours, shapes and writing. The crowd applauded, official gun shots were shot into the sky, the national anthem was sung and Cristina addressed the nation. She began by mentioning the famous liberator San Martin who had given Argentina its independence and the crowd cheered even louder. The first part of the speech addressed the economy in which she read through a list of countries who had reduced their debts and then announced that Argentina was one of them. The crowd applauded. After 20 minutes of hearing about the economy and her plans, Martin and I decided to leave as it was hot and crowded, and we realised that as a Brit and a Canadian this was not going to impact on our lives back home and therefore it was not worth sticking around for the entire speech. It was a good choice because three hours later she was still giving her speech whilst we were sitting comfortably watching it from the hostel on TV (it was on every channel, even The Simpsons was cancelled because of the speech). She must have outlined all her policies during the three and a half hours.
She is clearly a very good speaker, very convincing and charismatic. Whether she is popular for her policies, or whether the people turned out to show their support for democracy we were not sure. After Argentina having had military dictatorships like the many South American countries I imagine that democracy in Argentina is highly appreciated and valued. I felt the huge turn out was more in support of the nation and democracy, rather than for this particular president. However, I am just speculating.
At the hostel Martin and I headed back to the hostel to discuss our opinions on what we had seen and our opinions on the culture. We also talked about art, film and theatre, as well as politics. I then introdued him to Elizabeth and the three of us went to a fancy restaurant in the neighbourhood and ordered a bowl of home-made pasta each. Martin got on really well with Elizabeth. He knew a bit of Norweigan having had a Norweigan ex girlfriend so he enjoyed speaking Norwegian with her and was keen to demonstrate his knowledge of Spanish to her. After the meal he bought a bottle of wine for us all to share and drink on top of the hostel roof in the evening whilst relaxing in hammocks.
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