Argentinian Diary – Riot Police in Argentina

Barrios de Pie - Enough of the price rises

Barrios de Pie – Enough of the price rises

Argentinian Diary – Riot police in Argentina

Another day in Buenos Aires another demonstration against the conditions in which the majority of the working people have to live. On my last full day in the country I encountered yet another demonstration that had formed up at the Obelisk on Avenida 9 de Julio at the normal meeting time of 12.00, midday. But whenever there’s a demonstration in Argentina the riot police aren’t that far away.

This demonstration was called by, and was formed of, the organisation ‘Barrios de Pie’. My understanding after talking to some of the stewards present is that this can be translated as ‘Neighbourhoods on the March’ or as ‘Neighbourhoods standing up’. The reason for the march was the usual – against austerity, which is increasingly having a detrimental effect on an increasing number of the poor, and the problems that are being created with an annual inflation rate (for 2018) of almost 57%.

Although all the peaceful demonstrations that have taken place in Argentina in recent months, including that against the G-20 summit at the end of November 2018, achieve no change of heart on the part of the government – who is more prepared to listen to the ‘neo-liberal’ economic strictures of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund or the Inter-American Development Bank which lead to even more privatisation and cuts in whatever remains of any social welfare provision – many Argentinians are still prepared to go into the streets to make their feelings known. (This is so different from the lack of any such activity in Britain in the ten years since finance capital caused the crisis of 2008 which has led to the ‘austerity’ of the intervening years which has seen a worsening of the living conditions of the majority of working people in the country.)

In this post I want to look at an aspect of the Argentine state activity that demonstrates that they know exactly what is happening in society. However, rather than seeking ways to ameliorate the effects on the general population what they do is to put ever more resources into efforts to protect capitalism (and their own privilege). What I want to look at here is the use of the riot police both to intimidate people on the streets at the time and to reinforce the idea of letting everyone know who is in control.

I have already written how during the G-20 bash at the end of November 2018 the Argentinian state showed that it was prepared to lock down the country’s capital for the best part of three days just to allow the world’s most insidious gangsters to feel safe as they travelled around the deserted streets and to pig out at banquets where ‘important’ decisions were made. It was reported that 20,000 police and army personnel were deployed in Buenos Aires over that weekend, all geared up in state of the art riot gear and with, no doubt, more lethal weaponry close to hand.

(It’s difficult to understand the mindset of these ‘leaders’ who now must consider such a situation being the norm at their international meetings. With them living in such a bubble – not that they weren’t in a similar bubble in the past – their statements of us ‘all being in this (i.e., austerity) together’ rings even more untrue.)

Riot Police at rear of Barrios de Pie demonstration

Riot Police at rear of Barrios de Pie demonstration

I came to the ‘Barrios de Pie’ demonstration by chance at the Obelisk just after it had moved off and what struck me was the number of fully kitted out riot police still in the area and preparing to march at the side of the rear of the march. It wasn’t a surprise to see them there as they had been in evidence at the first demonstration I was to experience on my first Monday in the country but it made me think of their role in Argentinian society.

Riot Police escorting head of demonstration

Riot Police escorting head of demonstration

Argentina is not unique in having riot police prepared to appear on the streets when workers seek to make their grievances known to the rest of the population but I’ve now had the opportunity to see how it works on a number of occasions. This approach is slightly different in a country such as Britain where the state places a few, less intimidating police on the streets but with the ‘iron fist’ prepared to appear on the scene within minutes if called upon.

The march and the Obelisk

The march and the Obelisk

The issue in Argentina (and probably in most Latin American countries, more than likely due to the continent’s history of military dictatorship) is that the armoured police are there from the start – even though they would know that in such circumstances it only takes a slight misunderstanding for matters to escalate (perhaps the reason they are placed there in the first place). And many others would be on call if a peaceful march was to take a violent turn.

Porteños – the citizens of Buenos Aires – are also constantly reminded of the preparedness of the state to react to any civil disturbance by the number of ‘vallas’ (large, black, metal barriers) that are dotted around different parts of the city centre. I wrote about these in the posts in reference to the G-20 of November last year. The vast majority of – it must be – hundreds of new ‘vallas’ have been removed from the streets and now in some unknown (to me) storage facility, ready for any eventuality (if they aren’t already on a ship mid-Atlantic heading to Osaka, Japan, the location of the next G-20 at the end of June 2019). However, there are always some stacked in a corner near the Casa Rosada and, strangely, the Cathedral at the top end of Plaza de Mayo seems to have a screen of ‘vallas’ in a semi-permanent state.

Vallas ready for use at the Casa Rosada

Vallas ready for use at the Casa Rosada

It’s the heavy hand at the beginning which shows the contempt the state has for the people’s right to demonstrate. They try to frighten people from coming out in the first place and then by escorting the march along its short route (from the Obelisk to the Casa Rosa is much less than a kilometre) they are reinforcing the message.

The marchers from the ‘Barios de Pie’ understood this well and knew what the state was attempting and the demonstration was very heavily stewarded, many men and women walking between the police and the general body of the march. And they ‘policed’ their own people. That Thursday was very hot and once the march reached the top end of the Plaza de Mayo (the square in front of the Casa Rosa – the Presidential Palace) a few women, a number of them with babes in arms, moved out of the march to seek shade from the few trees at the top end of the square. This caused a couple of the stewards to come over and ask them to re-join the group as ‘they didn’t want trouble from the police’.

Stewards - in blue vests - between marchers and Riot Police

Stewards – in blue vests – between marchers and Riot Police

I wasn’t aware of the idea that the square was a no-go area before that incident. And that knowledge explained the manoeuvre of the police who had been escorting the march at the front into context. As the lead marchers turned the corner from Avenida Peña into Avenida Bolivar the police peeled off and stood in a line between the marchers and the Casa Rosa. It wasn’t a substantial line and they would have had problems holding it if there was a concerted effort to enter the square, their stand was more symbolic, wordlessly making the challenge ‘pass if you dare’.

Riot Police deploying at top of Paza de Mayo

Riot Police deploying at top of Paza de Mayo

But there was no chance of that happening. There were perhaps around a couple of thousand people on the march but a not inconsiderable number of them were mothers with very young children. There was no way such a group of people would carry out a suicide attack to get into a square which would achieve nothing even if they were successful. This was not a group of people such as the present day ‘gilets jaunes – yellow jackets’ in France who are expressing their anger at the effects of government policies on living standards and prepared to face the flunkies of the capitalist state.

Riot Police between marchers and Plaza de Mayo

Riot Police between marchers and Plaza de Mayo

After spending some time at the top of the square the march moved just a couple hundred of metres to get as close as possible as it could to the Casa Rosada – the palace has two sets of very high yet thin metal fences from the centre of the Plaza de Mayo to the entrance of the building – the second is only closed off when there’s some anti-government activity in the vicinity, in the process disrupting the traffic as the roads are also blocked. Such a fence would be no deterrent to a determined force as they would bend easily if enough organised force was used to pull them down. Just in case of such an unlikely eventuality there were a number of police inside the grounds of the Casa Rosada ready to react if called upon to do so.

Riot Police inside first fence of the Casa Rosada

Riot Police inside first fence of the Casa Rosada

But once here the march became quiet after making quite a lot of noise with the drums and whistles when on the move. And it stayed there for a long time, with me not quite understanding why. They were being totally ignored by the authorities in the palace and staying in the street just meant that their own people were being cooked at the hottest time of the day.

Matters eventually became much more relaxed. People started to drift into the shade of the trees in the square, the police totally ignoring this transgression, and some of them opened up their bags and had a picnic on the grass – on all the demonstration to which I’ve been a witness, including the big anti-G-20 march – many people came with some sort of food and drink. Others queued up at the public water fountain close to the fence. They had left the demonstration but hadn’t drifted off as is normally the case in such situations and they were ready to be called back once the decision to move was made.

Even the police became more relaxed, first resting their shields on the ground which was soon followed by them removing their helmets which changed the whole general feeling of the situation, any tension being dissipated. These movements were all organised and it seems that the Argentinian police are organised in squads of seven or eight as that was how they moved. As mentioned in the post on the demonstration in Buenos Aires back in November there are women in the riot police and here there seemed to be a squad made up of only women – all of them with long hair tied into pony tails – which indicates that there was no serious thought of violence on the side of the authorities as that long hair would have made them extremely vulnerable in the event of a flare up.

Whilst I was watching not very much happening I wondered what these young riot police thought of their role in the state machine. I don’t know if the state had decided to protect their salaries from the force of 57% a year inflation but even if it did all these officers would have known people who would have had no such protection. 2018 wasn’t a good year for Argentinians and the vast majority would have ended the year worse than they started. Yet these people were still ready to stand between an angry population and the state and its capitalist supporters.

In the past the police have not shown restraint when let loose on anti-government protesters, there being a number of deaths under ‘democratic’ governments, at least three in the final months of 2018, although on no occasion did I witness such an attack. Whether that reflects a change in the policy of the state which realises that such an approach doesn’t stop people from going on the streets or whether the state is not sure of the total loyalty of the police and asking them to attack people with widely accepted and recognisable grievances might eventually backfire I can’t say.

The march along Avenida Peña

The march along Avenida Peña

However, these forces of ‘law and order’ are a vital for the existence of the capitalist state and having the riot police out at least a couple of times each week in Buenos Aires alone must eventually get some of them to question what their role is in Argentinian society.

Or perhaps not. Their predecessors in the 1970s were either active participants or passive onlookers to the ‘disappearance’ and murder of more than 30,000 Argentinian citizens – the very people who they pledge to protect when they take their oath on becoming police officers.

(The more observant of my readers might have noticed that both Evita and Che appear on the lead banner of the ‘Barrios de Pie’. I hope to address the issue of Evita and the way she is considered in present day Argentina in a post in the not too distant future.)

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Argentinian Diary – The Cost of the Buenos Aires G-20

G-20 preparations
G-20 preparations

The Cost of the Buenos Aires G-20

I’m not going to really discuss any of the issues that might, or might not, have resolved at this day and a half get-together of the world’s top gangsters but more about the effects that unnecessary meeting had on the city of Buenos Aires and the country of Argentina in general.

The Argentine government, police and military have probably been clapping each other on the backs since the return to ‘normality’ last Sunday. As a security exercise it was definitely a success. They avoided confrontations (although many in the riot police would have loved to have got their hands dirty – they have shown little reluctance to do so when confronted with peaceful gatherings in the past) and any march of many thousands of working people of Buenos Aires was kept far enough away from their foreign visitors that it wouldn’t have effected their appreciation of the champagne.

But at what cost, in both financial and social repercussions.

20,000 police, hundreds of the high, black barricades – known locally as ‘vallas’ – which closed off streets and surrounded ‘sensitive’ buildings, the lost wages of those who couldn’t get to work due to the cancellation of public transport (buses, local trains and the underground), the loss to businesses in the centre of town (shops, restaurants, etc.) who found that the normally busy streets were more like those after some apocalyptic disaster.

There were security rings within security rings within security rings.

The police presence was there not to provide security to the civil society but for a self selected group of VIPs, whose decisions affect the lives of all those on the planet but of whose lives they know little and care even less.

Minutes after thousands of people, less than half a kilometre away, were rejecting the political decisions that cause unemployment, homelessness and real hunger these same ‘leaders’ of the free (capitalist) world were enjoying a banquet where cost was the last of anyone attending’s concern.

I wondered what these people, who are not entirely stupid but totally heartless, thought about a huge part of a major capital city being in lock down just so they could go the Teatro Colon and ‘enjoy’ a lack lustre dance performance and then a slap up meal. What is behind their thinking when the decisions they make have an effect upon millions of people but they seem to have no concern what those very same people have to say about their policies? Are they in such a protective bubble that they can just compartmentalise such opposition as the work of self-interested and professional agitators? Do they not see the conditions in which so many throughout the world live and struggle to exist?

But them I remembered that they live in a world apart. A world where the maintenance of their decrepit and moribund system is all that matters. At times that system is, more or less, tolerable for a sizeable proportion of people on the planet, even at times a majority, but their periodic crises means that – as it was generations ago – the vast majority of even those chosen few are only a wage packet away from penury and real suffering. Those who live such a life all the time are used to it so why should they complain.

Which city will be welcoming the G-20 next year? Buenos Aires has shown that ‘trouble’ can be averted – but at a price. How many cities would be prepared to accept such disruption and loss for a meeting that barely lasts two days? One thing for sure is that Paris won’t be chosen for that ‘honour’, the people there having shown (as they did in the 19th and 20th centuries) that they don’t suffer such fools gladly.

Conspiracy Theory or not

Not being a devout conspiracy theorist doesn’t mean that sometimes I think some things are too pat to be true.

I read two articles in the local newspapers in the lead up and start if the G-20 conference and don’t know how they might have been reported outside of the country.

One was related to a number of supposed ‘bomb alerts’ that occurred in the city in the days leading up to the summit. I don’t know where these alerts occurred as there was no definite information that could pinpoint a particular location. Also I was in the centre at the time of these so-called ‘alerts’ and wasn’t aware of any additional activity that I would have thought would have accompanied such a response in a situation of high alert.

And the pictures of the supposed bombs were like a five year old’s impression of an explosive device. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the image in the newspaper wasn’t of a black, round object with the world ‘bomb’ written in white on the side and a fuse sticking out the top.

I don’t totally reject the idea that someone might have made a telephone call with a false bomb alert to cause disruption but the other example is even more food for a conspiracy theory.

It seems that a taxi was stopped on the Thursday and a number of ‘Molotov’ cocktails were found, together with a rather large bag of walkie-talkies. As a result of this a number of people were detained. But something was wrong from the beginning when the story was being related on the TV news.

All the bottles looked as if they had just come out of the supermarket, the liquor thrown away and petrol put in its place. All the bottle were of a different size and mark and the labels were pristine, with not a mark of petrol to spoil the image. It was if they were being put on show to advertise their involvement in the heinous attempt to subvert democracy.

But if that wasn’t bad enough the report continued by saying that all those detained had been released on the orders of someone high up in the Argentinian judiciary. Are they kidding?

To the best of my knowledge there wasn’t a general and random ‘stop and search’ operation in force. If that was the case then any reason for stopping a vehicle would have been based on ‘intelligence’. If that was the case how could the security forces then let whoever was implicated in this act of violence go free? Are they pulling someone’s plonker? I doubt whether this issue will ever go through the courts.

As far as I’m concerned, with my ‘conspiracy theorist’ hat on is that theses two reports were all conceived to make the overwhelming security presence(and cost) more acceptable to impressionable Bonaerenses.

But there were positives from the summit.

Trump showed himself not just to be a bully but so arrogant that even though he might get his way in the short term he is only leaving himself with almost insurmountable problems in the future. He spurned those who he might need in the future. He treated his host (an equally cretinous individual) with contempt, even though the lapdog would have done anything to ingratiate himself with the occupant of the White House.

The American considers that he is so settled in his homeland that he doesn’t need the support of other nations. But his knowledge of world history is as dire as his interpersonal skills. He seems to totally ignore the de-dollarisation that is taking place under his nose. He doesn’t seem to be concerned that alliances are being made between those who were previously ‘enemies’. He doesn’t realise that he is the one who will wake up one morning to a different world. A world where competing powers are in an anti-American political and economic alliance.

If American was the loser in this meeting then so was the old world, the European powers such a Britain, France, Spain and Italy – who were barely mentioned in any analysis of what was happening in Buenos Aires.

Whether this will affect the incumbent in the Casa Rosada is another matter.Argentinian politics are complicated (not that the situations in other countries are not equally complex) and although the life of so many was effected over these three days and with the majority of the population living in the general Buenos Aires conurbation, nothing is secure in the future.

Corruption and distrust of politicians is deep within the Argentinian population but the people seem to have a memory lapse when it comes to the future. Corruption claims are made against everyone with a public profile. Even the Co-ordinator of the ‘Madres of the Plaza de Mayo’ has a corruption charge pending.

Some will argue that this is just a result of the ability of one section of the society to manipulate the media and the judiciary. And there’s probably a lot of truth in that. The problem is that when corruption has existed for such a long time, has been embedded in the body politic, many aren’t even aware of what they are doing and make themselves targets.

An Argentinian told me that the problem with his people is that they think with their sentiments rather than their minds. This, in some ways, accounts for the still deeply embedded approach (and appreciation by some) towards Eva (Evita) Peron.

But this is starting to go away from the matter of the G-20.

(I stated at the beginning of my series of posts in relation to my trip to Argentina that I would aim to post virtually every day. I realise that I have already fallen down on that commitment – but will try to redeem my self in subsequent days.

My failure is a down to a mixture or reasons and excuses.

It’s difficult to do someone every day and then still have the energy to write about it in the evening. This is helped by the fact that much of the travelling in this country involves a lot of hours in a bus – the way I’ve chosen to get around the country – and that takes its own toll. After being on a bus journey that was due to take 19 hours but came closer to taking a whole day due to a number of reasons (controllable and not) the last thing the body wants to do is to sit down at a table and type.

The whole body screams out as in the metamorphosis that Jeff Goldblum went through in Cronenberg’s film ‘The Fly’ – but without providing the increased sexual vitality that his character went through.

Added to that the self-imposed requirement to keep the blood/alcohol level at a reading that puts a person into the category of a chronic alcoholic presents certain difficulties when it comes to typing.

But I’ll try to get on track – if the new ‘improved’ WordPress posting tool doesn’t become too much of a nuisance. Do these tech geeks actually use the environments they ‘improve’? )

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Argentinian Diary – The Anti G-20 demonstration in Buenos Aires

Anti G-20 Demonstration - November 2018

Anti G-20 Demonstration – November 2018

Argentinian Diary – Day 7 – Part 2

The Anti G-20 Summit Demonstration

The Argentinian State had done all it could to reduce the scale of the demonstrations called by local workers’ organisations against the G-20 Summit but still thousands of people turned up to show their hated and distrust of the oligarchs who had, effectively, taken over their city.

As I’ve stated before public transport to and from the city centre was virtually non-existent. In the morning there was more movement than I expected but even so that was very limited. As the demonstration assembled and the riot police got prepared those few access roads were closed down. Vehicular traffic was virtually zero and pedestrians had a much longer walk from certain parts of the centre. More as a matter of design, I would have thought, rather than ignorance meant that there was no clear information of what exactly was closed.

The meeting up place was at the crossroads of Avenidas 9 de Julio and San Juan, at the very edge of what had been declared as a no-go area. On the other hand the very wide streets, devoid of vehicles made it a good, and safe, place to start.

I don’t intend to write too much about the demonstration itself providing the reader with the opportunity to see a number of videos which, I hope, capture the sense of occasion, the number of people involved, the colour, the noise and the intensity of feeling that the holding of this short summit in Buenos Aires had created amongst the working population.

Here I want to make a number of observations which came to me in the few hours I was on the street as well as what I’ve learnt from other information that I been able to gain by the very fact of being here.

The official start time was 15.00 (I arrived about 14.30) and already there were a lot of people lining up behind their respective banners. I assume that a later than normal start (midday I believe is the norm) was to allow people to get from the outskirts of town. In the blog that talked about the demonstrations in the centre of town which I came across, purely by chance, on Monday I mentioned how Argentinians are almost tribal when it comes to sticking with their group.

The principal organiser seems to have been the MST (Unemployed Workers Movement) as they held the pole position and a line of their stewards were in place to prevent any other group take the space planned for their about to arrive supporters. I did notice a few confrontations which didn’t come to violence but there were definitely stand-offs with people holding their corner.

Although the MST help the lead they did cede to a small group that included a couple of Madres of the Plaza de Mayo. Obviously out of respect for their long-term struggle but I would have thought it unlikely the women would have been there for more than a token period of time. It was a hot afternoon and demonstrations take an age to get a short distance.

As a publicity stunt the first line of the MST contingent was a line of women carrying the groups slogan against the G-20. Eight of them were bare-breasted and had the top parts of their bodies and faces painted in the colours of eight of the countries represented at the summit – the UK wasn’t amongst that group of eight. I assume the plan would have been to represent the twenty but they couldn’t get enough volunteers – one space was taken by a male with false, painted breasts.

By the number of press photographers shoving to get the right angle, and the number of interviews I saw as I went back and forth, their tactic worked. I’m sure those images went around the world – even if the message that the demonstration was giving to the world might not have been. There are some images in the gallery below.

I decided to record the event rather than be part of it. I would have walked alone and that didn’t make sense. By seeing the totality of the march I was able to get a sense of the number of political parties, obviously from the ‘left’, that exist in Argentina. I’m an outsider and haven’t really studied Argentina but I’m sure the differences between some of those groups are like the stones on an Incan temple, you would have difficulty in pushing a knife between them.

When you have a sizeable contingent which are supposed to be a United Front and then there are still separate groups then the united front isn’t very united.

I’m certainly not pushing for unity for the sake of it but the only winners with this division of the left throughout the world is then very people and interests this demonstration was against.

In all gatherings in Latin America, and I’ve seen it here whenever more than a handful of people get together, it’s not long before the street hawkers are swooping. With thousands of people standing around in the sun for a few hours the ice cream, cold drinks and even the sandwich sellers were making a killing. One near to me can be seen at a table where they were making sandwiches to order can be seen on one of the videos.

Police presence was very low-key until the march took the turn down the road to the Congress building. What the authorities didn’t want was for anyone to go straight ahead. This is the logic of the road but down there the Summit was being held.

To prevent that happening a wall of these metal ‘vallas’ had been created, the ‘L’ shaped metal Meccano like barriers which could be made as long as you like. Behind this barrier could be seen the heads of some of the 20,000 police who were there to ‘maintain order’. Their helmeted heads peeking out like Kilroy. Behind them stood all the technology developed to be used against people who a modern state can provide – the power of which I wouldn’t have a clue.

(I did pass small groups of police in riot gear along the route of the march as I overtook the main march after ending my recording. But they were discreet and many of the marchers would have been unaware of their presence, yet there was one group I passed who were being taunted with the chant below.)

On reaching this area many of the groups would start a chant which basically meant that what they wanted was for the federales to ‘fuck off’. I’ll try to (eventually) post that chant here.

And that last point is worthwhile stressing. Demonstrations, for those who can remember when people were prepared to fight for what they believed in and against injustice were like being in a morgue. Some people would chant something but after a while everyone else would get bored and silence would resume.

Not in Buenos Aires. A singer, with amplification, would start a chant and it would go on forever. Often accompanied by drummers and other instruments. When I say forever I mean from before the march moved off to when I arrived at whatever its eventual end would have been. And this was all amongst all the different groups.

The march moved off, hesitatingly, at just after 15.30 and arrived at the Congress Building about two hours later. From there the march broke into different groups following a route they had planned beforehand, taking the message to the people living in that area and then (I learnt afterwards) heading towards the Teatro Colon where a Gala was to be held at more or less that time. I’m sure the ‘dignitaries’ had all arrived there in plenty of time to avoid being molested by the hoi poloi.)

I made a mistake in my last post saying that this Gala was to be held on the Saturday night. That would have meant them staying in the country for a few more hours and no one really wanted to do that. Once the photo calls and press conferences had been endure it was time to go home.

I had a long diversion to get around the blocked streets but ended up in a bar a little before 19.00. I then had the very dubious ‘pleasure’ of being able to watch this Gala performance.

First came the group photo with all the world’s most powerful ‘leaders’ having made sure they weren’t by their worst enemy.

Then the Gala.

As I watched this mercifully short (about 40 minutes) performance I honestly started to feel sorry – but only for a few seconds – for these people who were forced to watch such performances and do so with a smile. It was supposed to have represented Argentinian culture, especially the tango dance and its regional varieties. But I though the choreography was banal and generic. What might work with a couple doesn’t necessarily do so on a full stage. I’m sure all the 19 ‘heads of state’ and the EU would have liked to have been anywhere else.

(But the theatre looks like it would merit a tour once the hype of the weekend is forgotten. Perhaps when I return to Buenos Aires later in my stay.)

Then they all went off for a meal, the cost of which would have kept an Argentinian worker in food for a year.

They do it because they can. Why do we let them?

(There are a series of ten videos, of varying length, which I’ve posted on YouTube. The first of these can be found at The mass demonstration against the G-20 in Buenos Aires, November 30th 2018.)

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