August 7th, 2004

Ant

Protest

Argentinia is not having its best time economically, a widely known fact. Since losing the 1 on 1 exchange rate to the dollar, many people have become poor overnight it seems. But they do know who is to blame: the government. In Rosario I saw one protest march end in a square and later walked into another. In the paper that evening I read that I missed two others.

In Buenos Aires things haven´t been different. The first afternoon a group was refused to come near some municipal building, yet with a lot of noise and pamphlets thrown from a window of an office building, they still managed to attract a lot of attention. A huge crowd of riot police was awaiting them, just in case things got out of hand.

Yesterday I say quietly on a bench in Plaza de Mayo, while one group, harbour workers I think, were aiming their protest towards the Casa Rosada, the Presidential palace. A few minutes later another group came to help them, from a side street. And another five minutes later from another side, a third group. This went on for a while until thousands had gathered in front of the palace, producing enough noise to at least annoy the president if he was working there.

Everything went according to a strict manual it seemed. A group starts somewhere in the city, walks a few main roads and tries to draw as much attention as possible. Apart from the front walkers with a huge banner ("insert name suburb" presente) plenty of flags, mostly in the Argentine light blue and white. Several of the group have been designated as the drummers of the group, sometimes with proper drums, mostly with improvised barrels turned into instrument. As long as it makes noise. A new element for me were fireworks. Not very visible in daytime, yet plenty of noise to scare the pigeons on the square.

By the time the groups arrive at the Plaza de Mayo, they join the other groups and together make plenty of noise. I was well impressed, at least for an hour and a half groups kept appearing from all different directions. Some tourists from the south of Argentina told me about the president. Apparently Kirchner is the first from the south to become president, hence they supported him. "Some people are never content", moaned the lady, though continuing with a rant herself how her son, an engineer couldn´t find a proper job where he lives and had to work as an office clerk.

Most groups seemed to be from the transport unions. Truck drivers, bus drivers, harbour and marine workers, the lot. With my flight on tuesday in my head I was a bit scared to notice that the airplane technicians couldn´t even manage to keep an inflatable plane in the air. Most of them seemed rough men, none of them would be your favorite to bump into in an alley on a dark evening. They all looked grim as well. I was delighted to see that one group (I couldn´t read their banner) at least had fun while putting up that banner. Attached to a tree on one side, they had to extent the rope to then tie it to a lamp post. While climbing into one, one of them found that this wasn´t easy at all, to the amusement of his mates, who then went on to take of his shoes while he was trying to get a knot in the rope. Not much later they were rolling on the ground like little children.

A bit more worrying was the protest I saw that afternoon (one a day is not enough). Several elderly people were aiming the banks in the business area of the city. Apparently they had anticipated the protest, as they had blocked their windows with metal beforehand. The old folks were one step ahead though, as they had brought hammers and started banging on the metal, quite a noise on the street, but it must have been scary inside the banks. In the meantime some 60+ year old lady was using a can of spray paint to write on their walls, while another man of at least the same age was wearing a sandwich board claiming that he wanted his dollars back.



Not a very quiet day yesterday in Buenos Aires, but by the looks on the faces of many passers by, not an extraordinary day either. For me it was though.