Argentinian Diary – Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

The no-go area

The no-go area

Argentinian Diary – Day 6

Locking the city down for the G-20, 2018

The work to exclude the vast majority of the population of Buenos Aires from a sizeable chunk of the city centre began during the night, with the barriers being partially installed along the whole length of the perimeter. A certain amount of movement was being allowed on the Thursday but in such a way that people would soon get the message that it wasn’t worth the effort. This first tranche of lock-down has made ‘my bar’ out of bounds for at least the next three evenings – things will start to be relaxed as Sunday wears on.

Many shops and businesses were closed as the sheer effort of getting into town and then back out later in the day wasn’t worth it. Those who could choose decided to have a longer than normal weekend. The fact that the buses, on those lines that were still running on Thursday, were also going to finish early meant that by mid-afternoon the city was quieter than it was on a Sunday.

Preparation for the G-20, 2018, in Buenos Aires

Preparation for the G-20, 2018, in Buenos Aires

As shops and restaurants start to close the definition of the no-go area will be complete and riot police will be in attendance every second of the day and night until some time on Sunday morning, when all those who have caused such disruption are long out of the country.

How long it will take for the city to get back to normal will depend upon the willingness of the authorities to take down the barriers as quickly as they were installed. They won’t be going into storage and they will be ready for any disturbances in the future. Hard times are definitely in store for many Argentinians and, hopefully, they will start to stand up against he ‘adjust brutal’ demanded by the International Monetary Fund.

I’ll be going to look at the results in the morning. There are two barriers within about 5 blocks both to the east and the west from where I’m writing this. Transport difficulties (which on Friday and Saturday will be compounded by the fact that the underground system will also be out of action) means the streets will be very quiet.

There’s a demonstration planned to start at 15.00 on Friday and will be meeting up a long way from where anything will be happening during the day so don’t have a clue how matters will pan out. If people plan to try to break through the cordon it means they will only really have managed to get a block or two closer to any goal as there are cordons within cordons and then any buildings will have their own, immediate ‘protection’.

The cost of this must be huge but haven’t seen any figures of how much and who will be paying, the city or the national coffers. As things are so bad economically perhaps the Argentinian President will be passing the hat around at the gala planed for Saturday night.

Madres of the Plaza de Mayo

Since 30th April 1977 mothers of those Communists, trade unionists and other social militants who were abducted and murdered by agents of the military dictatorship walked around the monument in the centre of the Plaza de Mayo, next to the government building known as the Casa Rosada. It was a Thursday and the time was 15.30.

On Thursday 29th November 2018 they did so for the 2120th time – without interruption.

There was a fear that the preparations for the G-20 Summit due to start on Friday 30th November (described above) might have caused that unbroken series by the blocking off of the square as it is in part of the no-go area. In order that such a situation could be forestalled a number of the women from the organisation, together with supporters and various members of the international media, arrived before midday and installed themselves in the centre of the square. They reasoned, accurately I would have thought, that the Argentine government would not like to have images of women in their 80s and 90s being dragged off by heavily armed riot police.

The stupidity of governments can never be overestimated but there was no move to prevent the traditional even from taking place and I saw no obvious police presence at the time. What might have happened since I’ll discover on my walkabout tomorrow morning.

More than 30,000 men and women were ‘disappeared’ by the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. They were abducted by agents of the fascists, more often than not tortured (for no other reason than because they could be), murdered and their bodies disposed of in unmarked graves in the countryside or just thrown from helicopters into the Atlantic ocean.

Although more than 40 years have passed there are still many parents and family members who know nothing about the whereabouts of their children’s remains. And justice is as far from being given these murdered champions of the working class now as it was then. The killing goes on. As I wrote about the demonstration in the centre of Buenos Aires on Monday 26th November, two militants have been killed by the police in the last week.

The symbol of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

The symbol of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

Anyone who goes to the square today can see white scarves, the symbol the women adopted from the very start of their campaign, painted in the circle they walk each Thursday.

Due to the proximity of the G-20 and the threat that the women (and their supporters) might have been prevented making the traditional circuit of the square I don’t know if what happened on Thursday 29th November was the norm – but I don’t think the process would have been much different. The Press Conference wouldn’t have taken place but the procession, I’m sure, has established its format over the years.

What happened was that a small group (just after 15.30), with the old women in the front, holding a banner from the top edge in front of them, walked slowly around the square (probably getting slower each passing year) and someone read out a list of names. Once the name was announced the crowd would shout ‘Presente!’ in the idea that even though no longer alive they were forever in the memories of those who knew them. I didn’t count but they must have walked around the square close to ten times. As was the tradition from the start there were copies of photos of those who were abducted and murdered either pinned to their clothes or held up as placards.

Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

Then the women from the leadership of the organisation, who had arrived at midday and had spent the time under a temporary bodega (to protect them from the sun but on that Thursday it rained in the early afternoon but, fortunately, it had stopped by the time the clock struck the half hour past three) stood up so there were now two groups walking around the monument in the centre of the square. They didn’t read out names – but did carry photos of those ‘disappeared’ – but sang songs and from time to time started anti-government, workers solidarity chants.

This went on for about half an hour when the press conference took place. (This can be listened to on the official website of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.)

There’s no shadow of a doubt that this is a very emotional occasion. The determination and steadfastness of these women has to be admired. As has their development of the organisation that is not only seeking justice for their dead children but expanding into one that fights for social justice in present day Argentina – when so-called ‘democracy’ has changed little for the better for the workers.

However positive their struggle and the lessons it has provided for movements around the world there is still a problem with (what I consider) a lack of understanding of the society in which we all live.

My knowledge of Argentinian politics and history has never been that good and it will take me some time to get up to date. That means that some of the statements made and slogans chanted in the press conference were lost to me – I’ve gotten out of the habit of understanding how Latin Americans refer to their political leaders.

If I understood matters at all, after all that the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo have suffered during the period of the military dictatorship and through the different governments since they are still peddling the idea of parliamentary cretinism, supporting some leaders because others are worse. I don’t know if there is potential in Argentina for a radical change but if aggrieved mothers haven’t got justice in 40 years I think it is time they looked for a more radical and revolutionary change in their society.

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Argentinian Diary – Street art in La Boca

Smashing the State

Smashing the State

Argentinian Diary – Day 5

La Boca – street art

La Boca was, and probably still is, the most important dock area of Buenos Aries but as in other port cities the introduction of containerisation has had such a negative impact upon the labour force that the area has lost what had made it special in the first place, its sense of solidarity, community and a uniqueness which comes from being outside the ‘sophisticated elite’ that dominated the centre of the city as it expanded from the centre the areas of Palermo and Belgrano.

The fame of the Boca Juniors Football Club, involved in the ‘incidente’ of last Saturday yet still based in the area in which it was established, and the multi-coloured houses has turned La Boca into a couple of hours’ tourist destination which benefits a few but bears no relationship to the real lives of the people who live there.

The very small area with the multi-coloured, painted houses offers nothing of authenticity but merely an opportunity to make money out of tourists who can say they have entered the ‘badlands’. Poor working class areas exist throughout the world, to go any further than these few streets is no more nor less than an example of poverty porn – which might produce unwanted experiences for the unwary tourist.

Despite the tacky souvenir shops, the young women with skirts split to the waist who try to entice men in a sexy, provocative tango embrace for a photo opportunity, the singers of Gardel ballads who ‘entertain’ diners in the restaurants that take over the streets there is still a reason to visit this part of Buenos Aires.

One little street in particular, Caminito (de Juan de Dios Filiberto) is worth walking along for its examples of street art, some of which date back to the 1920’s. Many of these represent the people who lived there, where they worked and what they did as entertainment. You get the impression that anything new is there for effect rather that a true representation of the community, this small area being really taken over for tourist fleecing. I doubt if many dockers and their families live in these houses any more.

Some of the sculptures, bas reliefs, mosaics are not the best examples of their kind but some are quite charming. There is a series of stone bas reliefs that depict the different tasks undertaken in the past by those related to the docks which wouldn’t be out of place in post-Socialist societies. Figurative art under capitalism can celebrate workers but has no message or purpose other than representation.

However, there are two murals, relatively recent, that seek to remind the viewer of what happened under the military dictatorship of the 1970s and what is euphemistically referred to as the ‘disappeared’.

Craftmanship is culture

Craftmanship is culture

One is on the wall beside the official monument to the Argentine struggle for independence from the Spanish.

This is not treated with the respect it deserves, a movable street barrier and framing from one of the street stalls resting against it – which can’t do the paint work a lot of good. I can’t really understand its full message.

It’s painted around one of the series of bas reliefs mentioned above – this one is of a blacksmith. Incorporated into the mural is a white board, on which (in black letters) is a list of fourteen names and the dates they were last seen. These names are under the heading of left-wing militants, from La Boca, who were murdered by the military between 1976 and 1979. However, there were more than 30,000 so-called ‘disappeared’ throughout the period of the military dictatorship and this number seems surprisingly low for a predominantly working class neighbourhood. An interesting aspect of this board is that 1976 is the start date for State sponsored murder but the end date is 2018. From what I wrote about the demonstration last Monday it is clear that even under a so-called ‘democratic’ government workers representatives are being routinely murdered.

Neither do I understand the imagery. The words, ‘Artesania es Cultura, Cultura es Indentidad’ (Craftmanship/handicraft is culture, culture is identity) I can accept but I’m not sure how that fits in with the only other words in the mural, ‘Memoria, Verdad, Justicia’ (Memory, Truth, Justice).

On the right hand side there’s what I assume is a mother and her female child, both of them have a scarf over their mouths. The woman holds a hammer above her head in her right hand and her left arm is wrapped around the child (in a protective manner) and that hand holds a banner with the words about culture and identity.

To the left of this pair is another female figure, who is singer the words memory, truth and justice whilst banging a tambourine.

On the right hand side there’s a couple dancing the tango – probably the image which is most used to represent Buenos Aires – in front of the skyline of La Boca with its wooden buildings. But the largest part of this section is taken up with the image of a male figure, head thrown back, screaming. In his right hand he holds a large paint brush and his left hand is holding the other end of the banner.

30,000 reasons why we shouldn't forget

30,000 reasons why we shouldn’t forget

There’s another, larger mural dedicated to the ‘disappeared’ at the top end of the square which is at the end of the Caminito. This is much larger and also much more angry in its images. It shares stylistic similarities to the smaller mural so might well be by the same painter – I didn’t see and signature. It is also quite recent and has suffered from a certain amount of ignorant graffiti.

This mural consists of a number of faces with names attached, being militants from La Boca who were murdered in the 1970 – and possibly to date.

On the right of the mural there’s an image of a woman naked from the waist up. In fact the majority of the images are of women, the largest of whom is really angry and whilst motioning to the viewer to join in the struggle with her left arm stretched back behind her her right fist is smashing into the Sun of May, the symbol which is in the centre of the official Argentinian flag.

But this sun is not beneficial, the warming rays depicted on the flag being replaced by vicious and sharp spikes which harm the people.

The pre-G-20 Summit

I don’t know, and care even less, about how this meeting is being reported in the UK. Yesterday morning on a Argentinian TV station they itemised what some of these leaders of ‘the free world’ were bringing with them.

Not surprisingly Trump was arriving with half a battalion of thugs and an armoured car (called ‘The Beast’ – and which arrived on a military aircraft some time during Wednesday). Obviously he will never travel in it, why advertise his location when it could be a target? He will be travelling in a Ford Fiesta, until he needs the photo call.

Putin and Merkel, if I got it right, are staying in the same luxury hotel – if not the same then very close to each other. Putin is bringing his own cook (presumably a food taster as well – if you can’t trust the cook then you need someone else to be the fall guy if your trusted cook can’t be trusted) plus his own team of snipers.

I can’t tell you what the British Prime Minister is demanding (apart from a walk in fields of gold) as Argentine TV didn’t think the UK was worth mentioning – even though they did mention Macron, from France, who wants, it seems, vegetarian food. Really getting into the culture in a country which survives on the slaughter of millions of animals each year.

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Argentinian Diary – The G-20 effect on Buenos Aires

Designed to keep the people out

Designed to keep the people out

Argentinian Diary – Day 4

After four days all plans thrown up in the air

The last thing I though I would be doing, within a week of landing in Argentina, would be sharing the air with 20 of the most duplicitous, cheating, thieving and corrupt creatures on the planet. But that’s what I’ll be doing from Thursday night and for the next three days. For on Friday the 2018 G-20 summit officially begins here in Buenos Aires.

If I had known the summit was to take place I certainly wouldn’t have organised a flight to the southernmost city on the continent on any of days it was due to take place. But not knowing I innocently booked a flight to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires this coming Friday morning. Since I became aware (yesterday evening) the gangsters and their equally odious entourages were to descend on this country, in its own deepening economic and social crisis, I have been trying to decide what to do.

As these meetings have been drawing protests wherever they take place the matter of ‘security’ has become the most important aspect of any planning. But that ‘security’ takes precedence over anything and anyone else. I’m still getting to know the city of Buenos Aires but with what little I do know I can see how this meeting will cause unbelievable disruption during its three days duration. A vast area along the north-eastern coastal edge of the city will become a virtual no-go area.

Public transport in the area will be non-existent for the best part of three days. This includes buses, the subway and even the city’s main railway station – only a shadow of its former splendour.

Pedestrian access will also be strictly regulated – all aimed at preventing the mass build-up of protestors. But everything is unsure. I spent part of this morning trying to get answers about how access will be effected over the weekend but no-one could give me a definitive answer. Knowing what will be the situation no more than eight hours before in advance makes any planning impossible.

So after four days in the country with the only fixed, more or less, plan I have so far made have been ditched. I’ve extended my stay in Buenos Aires till Tuesday of next week – when, in theory, everything will have returned to normal.

When I made that decision, literally on the hoof, as I was walking to the bus station to find out if or how I could get to the international airport for a 09.00 flight I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find anywhere to stay. Would all accommodation, especially of the more economic kind such as my hostel, not be full of angry protestors. The fact there was no problem in extending my stay might indicate the level of the protest – at least from those non-Argentinians.

It will almost certainly mean that I’ll have to forego the airfare. When you go the cheapest way there’s no opportunity to change the timetable. My only hope in this matter is that the workers of Aerolineas Argentinas will call a strike for Friday and I’ll get my money back or an alternative flight. That’s not totally impossible. Strike action is taking place this week as part of a long running dispute with the management. And a statement made by the Transport Minister that I read in a newspaper yesterday was definitely intended to ratchet up tensions by insulting all who work for the company.

This Minister, whose name I can’t and don’t even want to remember, has obviously be cast from the same ugly mould as the transport incumbent in the present British Tory government.

Having made the decision before the end of today at least I won’t be losing out on accommodation I had already booked. The internet booking sites are useful in that way when plans have to be changed at short notice.

The reason for my decision was twofold – the first being more important. I’m very unlikely to be in the same place as the conspirators cabal at any time in the future and it would be a crime to be leaving when it all was going to kick off – whatever that might be. What made that decision easier was the sheer logistical nightmare of getting to the airport. There’s no definitive information about what the restrictions are or how they will affect anyone not part of the circus. They know everything, we know nothing.

Things might be easy (although very unlikely) but I wouldn’t know until I tried to get away. The money has been spent so there’s no real loss. And it will be interesting to see how the Argentinian workers and any foreign supporters will react to the criminal gang polluting their atmosphere. So what’s the reason no to be here?

I’ll have to make efforts to find out exactly what is planned for the three days. I know there is definitely a demo in the timetable for Friday, but exactly where and when I have yet to discover. Yesterday afternoon I was able to eventually get in touch with the only Argentinian contact I have. She’s a Trade Union official and I know she will have all the details to hand. Between now and Friday I have to make sure I also have them. But I forgot about a rally that had been called for this (Tuesday) evening and didn’t remember that it was taking place until I saw a ‘live’ report on the TV. I don’t believe I missed anything. Such rallies are merely a reaffirmation of what the people think, useful, no doubt, but in the general it rarely takes the movement forward.

The weekend could be an interesting few days. The Argentinian state is already ready geared up to deal with crowds who might represent something the government, of whatever political colour, might not like. On my first Saturday afternoon here I saw these large black screens (the name of which I read last night in relation to the ‘incidente’ of Saturday, but can’t at the moment remember and the young people in the hostel I have asked couldn’t come up with the exact name) in the area of the Casa Rosada, pushed to the side but within easy deployment reach.

On my way to the bus station to find out about transport to the airport there were many of them around one of the hotels that will be used by those lackeys attending the summit – many of them spanking new. The no-go area is so large they will be a need for thousands of these things – so someone has already made a pretty penny out of the meeting.

I’ve never experienced a city in lock-down so if you would like to know what happens watch this space for updates.

An Argentinian Joke

It might lose a bit in the translation but this is related to the ‘incidente’ of last Saturday and the on/off, if/when, and where of this incredibly boring game of football. (I never expected to write such a lot and spend so much time on this game.)

‘¿Has escuchado que el partido se juega en martes?’

Have you hear that the game will be played on Tuesday?

‘¿Esta semana que viene?’

‘Next week?

‘No, en la planeta.’

‘No, on the planet.’

In Spanish ‘martes’ means both Tuesday and the planet Mars.

Even more on the ‘incidente’ of Saturday

It has started to be a metaphor of the malaise in which the country is gripped. If you can’t organise an efficient sporting event then how can you run a country? People have ‘resigned’ (i.e., thrown to the wolves, and the only way this might come to an end is the fact that the G-20 will become even more of an issue. But that only lasts three days and if it’s a bad news day on Monday then the sharks will be out for the frenzy. That’s especially so as although the date/s of the game has been announced, the location hasn’t. I’m not really sure how you can do that? And we allow these cretins to rule us. Who is worse, them or us?

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