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Imagine a clean Buenos Aires

It’s political season again here in Buenos Aires with the city’s elections just a couple months away. That means posters are popping up all over the city. Here’s one from Daniel Filmus suggesting that a vote for him is a vote for a cleaner city.


I wonder if they only put that poster on the filthy streets…anyway, I suspect more people were noticing the Chat Phone posters surrounding it. More posters from all your favorite candidates coming soon.

To the Plaza…

On their way to the party yesterday in Plaza de Mayo a number of buses came by the apartment. The photo shows a line of about a dozen buses from Lomas de Zamora.

There’s some controversy about the event. It was clearly a pro-Kirchner political rally paid for by the government. Of course, the incumbent always has a lot of benefits.

According to the news, these bus trips for yesterday’s event were subsidized by the government.

Just to underscore that it was a political rally and not a celebration of the national holiday, a large part of the crowd left just after Kirchner’s speech and before two of Argentina’s most well-known (and best) singers – Victor Heredia and Mercedes Sosa – performed. Evidently, it was time to get back on the bus.

Cromagnon: Waiting

Just past noon on Tuesday I wandered up to the center of the city to see what was happening around the city legislature building as the political trial of Buenos Aires mayor Anibal Ibarra over the Cromagnon tragedy reached its conclusion.

The crowd turnout was rather small, particularly considering the massive size of many demonstrations in Buenos Aires. There were two clear fractions to yesterday’s gathering and the police did a good job of making sure that the two opposition groups were separated.

The pro-Ibarra forces were in front of the Cabildo where Diagonal Sur enters Plaza de Mayo, just in front of the legislature building. The families of victims from Cromagnon were on Av de Mayo at the pedestrian intersection of calle Peru, which also leads to to legislature building. The arrangement ensured that neither group was visible to the other. Two rows of several dozen policemen blocked off Av de Mayo in front of the plaza just in case the groups decided to approach each other. However, individual pedestrians could easily pass through the police line between the two areas.

While I stayed mostly on the shadier Av de Mayo, I found myself going back-and-forth quite a bit between the two groups. About eight minutes before one p.m., when the proceedings were to start, Ibarra arrived in a small motorcade to the cheers of his supporters.

Ibarra’s supporters waved a number of signs stating that this vote was a golpe, a coup, of the government. Pictures of Mauricio Macri, Ibarra’s political opponent whom many believe is orchestrating events, were on some of the signs.

On the Cromagnon side, most of the people gathered were family and friends of the victims. Most of the parents had gathered in the cafes along Av de Mayo to watch the proceedings on TV. Others crowded around the windows along the street to watch the TV coverage. Occasional passers-by would stop and ask about the vote.

Early in the afternoon a group of young people, mostly university students, came marching down – of all places – calle Florida to join the Cromagnon crowd. They were carrying banners of the Workers Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party, as well as FUBA, the student federation from the University of Buenos Aires.

Amusingly, at the very same time, a group of Asian tourists walking down Av de Mayo came to a complete standstill when they saw the red communist flags complete with hammer and sickle. The Asians looked perplexingly at each other as they absorbed the situation. Eventually, they decided to turn around and head back in the direction from which they came.

I assume that many of the young people were friends of people who died in the Cromagnon fire. Others likely came out of a sense of identity with those who died, most of whom were also young. Others, with their flags of the far-left, likely came out of a sense of youthful idealism.

After four hours of waiting, the tenth and deciding vote against Ibarra was cast. The street erupted in applause. The photo was taken outside of the London City Cafe just moments after the final vote.

Families came out of the cafes with tears in their eyes. A woman dropped to her knees in the middle of Av de Mayo. A gray haired man around fifty walked away from the crowd and covered his face to hide his tears. The vote gave the families a brief, fleeting sense of justice, whatever they may be, but there can never be justice in the case of Cromagnon. While parts of the crowd were exuberant in jubilation, it was obvious that the families were thinking more about their loss loved ones rather than Ibarra.

Now, they wait for the criminal trials of Omar Chaban, the nightclub owner, and Callejeros, the band that was playing in Cromagnon that night.

Cromagnon: Families and Politicians Wait

Late Monday afternoon I walked over to Plaza de Mayo where families of victims from the Cromagnon nightclub fire were starting a vigil. The families had placed posters of the dead around the monument in the center of the plaza. A quarter after six p.m., the families started walking around the Pirámide de Mayo in a manner reminiscent of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.

Below each poster of the deceased is a small sign. Some say things such as “Dead because of being transported in a bus instead of an ambulance”, “Dead because the ambulances had no oxygen”, “Dead because of the corruption”…. some of the signs are more political with accusations towards specific individuals in the city government. Of course, the center of attention is now Aníbal Ibarra, the suspended mayor of Buenos Aires who is facing impeachment. Tuesday afternoon the city legislature will present their verdict.

I’ve written before on the political fallout of the Cromagnon tragedy. Unfortunately, the battle between opposing political forces in the city, as expressed through these proceedings, has overshadowed the safety issues. The politicizing of the event has become a controversial topic and there will never be any agreement about it in this city. A good post, in Spanish, at Agua Fuertes talks about the contradictory nature of the issue.

Elections & the Voting Process in Argentina

I ran across an interesting series of postings Michael Alvarez, a professor of political science at Cal Tech, who observed last October’s election in Argentina, particularly a pilot project for e-voting. It’s an interesting series of readings:

Buenos Aires e-voting pilot project

Election observation in Buenos Aires — understanding the process

Initial impressions of Buenos Aires e-voting pilot project: physical security (I didn’t realize until reading this about the involvement of the military in Argentine elections).

Testing, testing, testing; the Buenos Aires pilot project

Qualitative evaluation of Buenos Aires e-voting pilot project available, includes a link to an 11 page report in PDF.

Voting Machine Prototypes Put to Test in Argentina, from electionline.org.

I went with Ceci last October when she voted. From what I saw, the voting process went very smoothly. Then again, in comparison, I remember voting with the now infamous punch card ballot in south Florida during the 2000 election disaster and in 2004 with the e-voting devices where it seemed like most of the poll workers had no idea how the devices worked. South Florida is a place that really needs election observers!


Across from a train viaduct in a southern barrio of Buenos Aires is the mural of a street scene with various additions from other artists: visible through the window of a club are couples dancing, a man stands outside the doors looking in on the crowd, from the man’s mouth has been added a word balloon: “Ibarra mata en Cromañon” ”¦ Ibarra kills in Cromañon. In front of the mural stands a lone sign with the word confidencias.


A political storm over the 194 deaths in the fire at the Cromañon club on December 30 has been developing all year. I’ve written before about Cromañon. Yesterday the city legislature voted to begin impeachment proceedings against Anibal Ibarra, the city’s mayor, for negligence.

Suspended as mayor pending the outcome of the impeachment trial, Ibarra vowed not to resign and claimed that his political rivals are using the incident as a way of targeting him. Politics are certainly playing a large role in this crisis. Unfortunately, the machinations that are so evident in Argentine politics threaten to obscure the institutional and societal issues that underlie the tragedy.

Families of the victims are experiencing understandable pain and suffering. The tragic loss of a loved one, particularly a young life, is one of the most unbearable aspects of human existence. The collective anguish expressed by so many families results in the normal reaction to such a loss: that someone is responsible, that someone must pay.

The legislator casting the deciding vote for the impeachment to move forward stated that “Ibarra has political responsibility but is not guilty of what happened”. The tragedy happened under his command and part of leadership is taking responsibility.

While inspections of clubs, restaurants, and other gathering spots were launched in January after the fire, it’s not apparent that the city government has really focused on eliminating the systemic problems within the city’s institutional structure that allowed such flagrant code violations as at Cromañon. But I’m not convinced that Ibarra’s political opponents would be anymore progressive on this front either. Both political sides need to remember that one of the fundamental responsibilities of a government is to ensure the safety of its citizens.

Stop Bush

There’s a lot of anti-Bush posters and graffiti going up all over town. Here’s some of the posters I saw in San Telmo. It says “Mr. Bush, is this the democracy that you promised us?”.


Robert has some good anti-Bush graffiti over on his blog.

This morning I noticed that Bush’s approval rating in the US is now only 37%. But he’s still going to be president until January 2009.

Oppenheimer on Bush, Maradona & Castro

Andres Oppenheimer, columnist for the Miami Herald, and a native of Argentina, has an interesting perspective on the Maradona-led rally against the visit of George Bush to Argentina this week:

It’s sad to see that Argentina’s left, which suffered a dictatorship only three decades ago, can’t protest against Bush without embracing Castro. They seem to have forgotten that there is no such thing as a good dictator.

It sets a bad precedent for this country: Today they admire Castro, tomorrow they may embrace another ”savior of the fatherland” who could jail peaceful oppositionists at home.

I’m certainly no supporter of Bush and I’m not a fan of Castro, either. And I’m going to try not to comment on Peron, who is still very admired in this country. But Argentina’s history is full of authoritarian governments and it seems that the climate here is right for another one to develop.

Arrival of the President of Angola

I was going to the weekly march of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo when I got off the subte at the Catedral stop on Thursday. Walking across the street, I noticed the ceremonial guards lined up at the entrance to the Palacio Municipal. It appeared that something was about to happen….someone important was either going to arrive or leave. So, standing on the steps of the Catedral, located diagonally across the street from the city hall, I waited. Fortunately, I had also brought along my new, tiny Sony videocam.

Soon, sirens roared, the street was blocked and a police escorted motorcade pulled up. I saw that he grey Mercedes sedan had an unusual flag flying from its front fender but I didn’t recognize it: red and black with a sickle and a star, very communist looking (and somewhat frightening). Out of the sedan stepped an older African man. He was greeted by the ceremonial guard and met by Sr. Ibarra, the mayor of Buenos Aires (whom I did recognize).

It turned out to be the President of Angola Eduardo Dos Santos, who was in town on a state visit and had met with the President of Argentina earlier that day. Interestingly, it was a day for state visits, as the President of Uruguay was across the square at the same time. I late also saw his motorcade cruising down the street.

The strangest aspect of the day was that the Angolan flag was flying from several points in the city: around light posts in the Plaza de Mayo and, more eerily from the Congreso where the Angolan flag was displayed prominently alongside the Argentinean flag not just once but several times along the facade of the Congreso.

Obviously Argentina was making a big welcome for the President of Angola, a country which always seemed rather circumspect but maybe that’s my US-biased and, admittedly, I am uninformed about current events in Angola. Checking Google news, I see that the top stories regarding Angola: an epidemic of Marburg fever that has killed 277 and that Argentina plans to open an embassy in Angola. And, ah, there’s the important part: Angola is the second-largest oil producer in sub-sahara Africa. Argentina and Angola yesterday signed an oil accord.

How safe is Angola? Google News pops up two items of interest: Angola had the second highest number of fatalities among NGO workers (behind Afghanistan) and a link to an article citing ‘Oil is a curse’. I’m becoming more and more interested in Africa, perhaps I’ll find the time to read more about Angola and what’s happening in that part of the world. But, for now, it’s back to Buenos Aires.

Note: I do have video footage of the Angolan president’s arrival and will post it soon as the first of my vlog postings about Buenos Aires. But that will have to wait a few days, I need to get a new firewire cable first.

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