Plaza de Mayo always has been a popular gathering spot for political assemblies in Buenos Aires. It’s the historic plaza of the city: on one end of the Plaza is the 18th century cabildo and the city goverment building, on the other side of the Plaza is Casa Rosada, which houses the executive branch of the Argentine government. Leading away from the plaza is Avenida de Mayo, one of the grandest avenues in the city, stretching for thirteen blocks, culminating in the Congreso.
One controversy this week has been the recent decree by Aníbal Fernández, Minister of the Interior, that marchers will need permits to march into Plaza de Mayo. This new regulation came after piqueteros camped out for a week in the Plaza and when marchers were blocked by police last Friday. There was a significant outcry in the city about this new restriction. A lawsuit was filed in the courts stating that such actions have not been seen since the end of the dictatorship. One of the founders of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the most well-known human rights group in Argentina, stated that the Plaza needs to remain a symbol of freedom for the country. Yet, the restriction was primarily directed against the piquetero movement, a loose confederation of political and social groups comprised of the unemployed and the working class. The piqueteros most common form of political expression are marches and roadblocks, which snarl the already congested traffic in the capital city.
I normally agree with the government of Nestor Kirchner, President of Argentina. However, I was concerned that this new restriction was mostly a political tool. Congressional elections in Argentina are to be held next month and Kirchner has come down hard on the piqueteros recently as a way to appease the middle-class, which is often frustrated by the traffic jams caused by the piquetero roadblocks. (Next month’s elections deserve their own series of postings, particularly the almost absurd senatorial campaign between Kirchner’s wife Christina and previous Argentine President DuhaldeÂ´s wife Chiche).
So, it seems like Plaza de Mayo briefly became a political hostage. Earlier this week I saw a small group of protestors (artisans and hippies, not piqueteros) turned away from the Plaza, stopped by the police just a block away at the intersection of calle Florida and Av de Mayo. However, towards the end of the week, Interior Minister Fernandez announced that this evening’s marchers would be allowed to enter Plaza de Mayo. Yet, it turned out that there was a little surprised waiting for them. See my next posting about the march.