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Argentine politics everywhere

Mid-term elections are coming up quickly & if you live here then you can’t escape the media blitz by all the politicians.

Even today when I went to my RSS reader and opened up the San Francisco-based literary blog Conversational Reading I came across an unexpected feed ad for Margarita Stolbizer.

stobizer ad

Obviously a targeted combination of georeferencing and Google’s algorithm detecting that Conversational Reading does on occasion mention Argentine literature and, every now & then, include some Spanish-language excerpts, though not at all on this particular posting. Now, I’m wondering which Argentine political ad I will see next in my feed reader.

Farewell to Alfonsín

This afternoon Ceci & I met up with Robert to stake out a spot on Av Callao to watch the funeral procession of former President Raul Alfonsín .

After the procession many in the crowd flowed onto Av Callao to follow the coffin to Recoleta Cemetery, but we decided to take a side street and come up to the cemetery via calle Junín where we found the mounted honor guard lined up outside the cemetery walls.

We assumed that there was nothing else to see but we wandered up toward the cemetery anyway. Then we got swept into the surging crowd as an entourage surrounding Alfonsín’s son moved towards the entrance of the cemetery. Then Ceci & I got separated from Robert. Never saw him again.

The police were pushing through trying to form a passage so that the coffin could make it to the cemetery. At this point I just held up the camera and turned on the recording mode as the flag-draped coffin moved by. Actually, for quite a while, the coffin just sat there. Not a very good video but definitely a typical Buenos Aires in-the-crowd moment. I love that! But, I later learned that while I was recording this video someone in that very packed crowd stole my wallet. Fortunately, I never carry much money or anything valuable in my wallet, so the theft doesn’t bother me too much.

Perhaps the person with the best vantage point of the funeral was this dude in the crane.

Dreaming of Argentine Politics

I stayed up till early morning watching the Argentine senate debate and subsequent vote on the agricultural retenciones. Since I generally stay awake till 3am anyway and I’ve always been a news junkie, not falling asleep wasn’t difficult. Besides, it certainly was dramatic, finishing at 4:30am.

The VP Cobos, who had to cast the deciding vote in a tie-breaker, definitely looked like he wanted to be anyplace but in that position. It’s not often that a Vice President votes against his President, so the political fallout should be interesting to watch over the next few days. Of course, Argentina is a constitutional republic and not a parliamentary republic, so Cristina has several more years left as president. Next year’s mid-term elections should be fascinating. Despite Argentina’s checkered history of insurrections in the last century, the great thing about republics is that – over time – they survive political divides and unpopular presidents.

During this year’s political crisis in Argentina I tried to stay away from blogging about politics, and work demands kept me away from Tuesday’s massive demonstrations. Somehow, though, a part of me does wish that hundreds of thousands of people would gather in support of improved education, health care, or fighting prejudice and discrimination. (But that doesn’t happen in my own country either, though Obama is turning out good crowds). Ultimately, politics does so much come down to economics.

The other night I had a dream

…..I had gone into the small grocery in my neighborhood…you know, one of those Chinese-managed supermercados all over Buenos Aires. I brought my bread, eggs, salchichas, & Coke up to the counter. The cashier, rather than being Chinese, was Cristina Fernández de Kirchner….she rang up the prices on the register, which all seemed much more expensive than my last visit to the market, and passed the items on down the counter to the bag boy, who turned out to be Néstor Kirchner….but as he sacked my groceries, Néstor kept breaking the eggs……..I’ll let that image sit with you for a moment……………for those readers who don’t know… eggs, huevos, in Spanish has a double meaning.

That’s a true dream, seriously…..though I guess now it’s Cobos who is doing some egg breaking.

So, if I’m dreaming about this, then what do Argentines dream?

Obama’s search for a VP leads to Argentina

I don’t like mixing politics with my blogs, though while prowling the Huffington Post (another thing I don’t do too often) I came across this analysis of possible vice-presidential candidates for Barack Obama.

Somewhere out there a Hillary supporter is screaming, “But he doesn’t yet have the nomination!”……true but soon…anyway, I voted for Obama.

Regardless, you really should read that analysis and the surprising recommendation for the perfect VP candidate. There’s an Argentina connection…really…but you have to read to the end of the article.

Democracy’s Failure in Argentina

That attention-grabbing headline could have been written about several periods of Argentine history in the 20th century but this particular instance is from the March 30, 1962 cover of Time magazine featuring a portrait of Arturo Frondizi, president of Argentina from 1958 – 1962. The cover story is titled Ghost from the Past, a reference to Perón.

Frondizi Argentina

In the post-Perón years of the late 1950s there was a lot of economic and political strife with the military closely watching and hampering Frondizi’s function as president. The focus of the Time magazine article is the 1962 congressional and gubernatorial elections that were won by the Peronists in a landslide. The military wanted Frondizi, who had opened the doors for the Peronist party return to politics, to annul the election.

Time Magazine writes about the events with a quality of prose generally missing from today’s mainstream news publications. Too bad the actual writer of the article isn’t credited with a byline:

For hours on end, a solitary figure sat stiffly in an ornate office in Buenos Aires’ presidential Casa Rosada. A few lifelong personal friends kept an uncomfortable vigil in an ivory and green anteroom. Outside the door, a pair of knee-booted grenadiers of the palace guard stood, like life-sized toys, with ceremonial sabers bared. A stream of messengers came and went, bearing bulletins. Arturo Frondizi, 53, President of Argentina and currently his country’s most unpopular man, was waiting to see whether he would be allowed to remain as elected Chief Executive of South America’s second biggest nation.

There are a few editorial interjections that color the article as an artifact from the U.S. perspective such as the constant pairing of the word dictator alongside the name of Juan Perón and the reference to “Che Guevara’s Red mother Celia” showing up at a Peronist rally. Time also couldn’t help but point out that the sixty-six year old Perón (as of 1962) “lives in luxurious exile with his two poodles and 27-year-old Isabel”, foreshadowing another calamitous presidency.

What’s not mentioned in the article, occurring just after the magazine had gone to print, was the arrest of Frondizi by the military.

The article does raise the intriguing question: how did the military, which had not fought a war since 1870, control Argentina for much of the 20th century?

Fiesta de la Democracia

Some photos from Monday’s Fiesta de la Democracia in Plaza de Mayo. The crowd wasn’t nearly as large as it looks in the photos or on TV. Everybody was crammed into the part of the Plaza that is nearest the Casa Rosada. On the other side of the security fence that runs across the Plaza were very few people. For most events the security fence is used to keep the crowd far away from Casa Rosada. This time the fence came in useful to make it appear that there was a larger crowd.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, if the Kirchners hadn’t bused in a ton of supporters then there would have been very few people present. Befitting a peronist shindig, wandering through the crowd was a guy selling huge photos of Evita.

Fiesta de la Democracia

Fiesta de la Democracia

Fiesta de la Democracia

Flowers for Presidenta Cristina

Yesterday I walked down to Av de Mayo to witness the inauguration day parade of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Scores of buses that had carried people in from the province were lined up along the part of Av 9 de Julio south of Av Belgrano. If the Kirchners’s hadn’t bused in supporters then the crowd for the later fiesta in Plaza de Mayo would have been very small. It seems like most porteños found something better to do on a very pleasant afternoon. I’m a sucker for pomp and ceremony.

Even along Av de Mayo it was very easy to find a spot along the fence that the police had installed on Av de Mayo. For most of Av de Mayo the crowd was only one person deep along the barricade.

Coming along first was the colorful military unit on horseback along with their band. I’ve not seen these guys since Perón’s reburial. They had a nice sound. I didn’t bring a real video cam but caught a few seconds of grainy video with my Sony digital camera.

And here’s the video of Cristina riding in the back of the car, waving, and asking one of her security detail to give her a rose tossed by the crowd.

Flowers for Cristina

I’m glad I went. Afterwards I made my way down to Plaza de Mayo for the Fiesta de la Democracia. Tomorrow’s blog posting will have photos from the plaza.

The obligatory post-election post

Not much to say about today’s presidential election in Argentina, certainly no surprises. I don’t have a problem with a Cristina presidency. Indeed, all the top three candidates – Cristina, Lavagna, Carrió – seemed okay to me. I do have this theory that Cristina might give a further boost for tourism to Argentina just through the inevitable appearances she is likely to make on the E! channel based on her fashion sense.

South America in the Early 21st Century

Grown weary of those cliché articles about traveling to South American cities, the stylized descriptions of snazzy hotels and restaurants imitating trends elsewhere? A highly regarded publication out of Virginia, though much under read compared to its glitzy New York counterparts, offers another perspective on the texture of life in South America through an issue devoted entirely to South America in the 21st Century.

The Virginia Quarterly Review consistently publishes some of the best writings around. True to its subheading of being a journal of literature and discussion, this special issue presents both fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry. Note that this special issue is available entirely on the Web and includes six additional online articles not included in the print edition.

This issue, however, does not seek to explicate the first half millennium of the continent’s modern existence, but rather to assess its place now and look toward the future. The essays cover a broad spectrum of topics”“from the scrap cardboard collectors of Buenos Aires to the drug wars and political corruption of Colombia, from the soy farms of the Brazilian Amazon to the riot-seized streets of Caracas, from the boys of Suriname who dream of becoming European soccer stars to the transsexuals of Lima who dream of life on the streets of Paris. In selecting work for this issue, we chose the pieces that compelled our interest and rewarded our repeated readings; in the process, we’ve tried to gather the multiplicity of experiences and voices and histories that comprise this part of the world. Not a complete picture, of course”“such a thing couldn’t be assembled, not in three hundred, or three thousand pages”“but the beginnings of one. We wanted to challenge anachronistic, outdated notions about the continent, offer some insight into the complexity of its nations and peoples who live there.

Co-edited by the Peruvian-born writer Daniel Alarcón, the issue includes some articles originally appearing in etiqueta negra, a wonderfully designed publication out of Peru; those who read Spanish should certainly explore the writings in etiqueta negra, too.

Albinos and the White Train

Readers of this blog may be particularly interested in two articles involving Argentina: Aicuña Is Not an Albino Town and The White Train.

Toño Angulo Daneri, along with photographer Paola de Grenet, traveled to a remote village of three hundred people in La Rioja known for its high rate of albinism. But what they find is something much more revealing, a factor that characterizes many small communities throughout the continent:

Trade, communication, globalization, and other facets of the modern world pose frightening hazards to a village that wants only to be left alone. Aicuña, as I have found it, with boys riding donkeys through the dust, with its lone taxi and its communal telephone, will not survive this century unscathed.

Everyone residing in Buenos Aires or have visited the Argentine capital should be familiar with the struggles of another group of people, the cartoneros. J. Malcolm Garcia takes a ride on The White Train and, along the way, takes a few timely jabs at Macri: “Macri, whose family has a city sanitation contract, has vowed to find “a definitive solution to the problem of the cartoneros.”

Does Macri want to create a more efficient and humane system for the cartoneros or is he instead protecting the interests of companies with sanitation contracts”“companies such as his own? So far, no cartonero”“or anyone else for that matter”“has demanded answers to this and a much larger question: Is it Macri’s hope to eliminate the cartoneros all together?…

There is one factual error to the article when it refers to Macri’s campaign posters: “He smiles beside his smiling wife and promises va a estar bueno buenos aires.” The unmarried Macri was next to his vice-mayoral candidate Gabriela Michetti. Update: See comment below from the VQR editor explaining how this error came about and that it will be corrected in the online edition.

Included with the article is an excellent documentary The Ghost Train by Gabrielle Weiss that I encourage everyone to view. Even if you live here in Buenos Aires and see the cartoneros out on the streets every night, this little film provides a glimpse into their lives.

Read on

There is much more to this issue of VQR, including a segment on cartoonist Liniers as well as a selection from the late Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas. Those interested in Bolaño or literary translation might want to read this interview with Chris Andrews, who also has translated Argentine writer César Aira.

“Business with the State”

Continuing with our look at the political posters for the upcoming city elections….

This has to be one of the oddest political posters around town. At first, I thought it was a pro-Macri poster with its big letters of “Vote Macri” but I was confused since I didn’t know my Macris too well. Did Macri shave off his mustache? Did he lose it jumping over a pothole?


Then it was pointed out to me that this photo is of Macri’s father – Franco Macri, a local business tycoon with a dubious reputation.

The slogan underneath the photo says “Business with the state, that is” followed by the symbol for Macri’s political party PRO. The elder Macri made a lot of money from doing business with the state. The poster implies that a Macri government will be filled with corruption.

Then again, conservative business types might just be in full agreement that business with the state is the way to go.

Do political advertisements in Argentina have to include a statement as to who funded the ad? I don’t think so but it would be very interesting to know in the cases of many the posters.

Oh, I almost forgot…as you see in the photo…someone added a derogatory statement over the posters of Macri…since this is a family blog, I’ll leave the translation out.

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