May 20, 2013
The city’s burning
Thursday night’s pot-bashing was undoubtedly the biggest protest demonstration since the pro-farm backlash of 2008, which does not necessarily take it in that or any particular direction. It was not even wholly anti-government since the protest had something of the “begone with them all” tone against politicians in general permeating the upheavals of 2001 — there was far more frustration with an impotent opposition at this chaotically spontaneous event than the instigation alleged by the government (which rather contradictorily also drew comfort from the lack of any clear opposition beneficiary). Yet even less was this a green light to go full steam ahead with the drive for a third term for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner — indeed rejection of that prospect and abuses of power was arguably uppermost among a welter of grievances along with exchange hassles. Such problems as crime, inflation and corruption all found their places in Thursday evening’s outcry after years of systematic exclusion from official rhetoric.
Almost as important as the actual causes of the protests is the government’s perception thereof (in private rather than public). The official interpretation of a dollar-crazed minority venting its anger might lead to the CFK administration simply toughing it out but (especially if these protests persist) it might also lead to the search for some scapegoat to regain the middle class. In that event the prime candidate would undoubtedly be AFIP tax bureau chief Ricardo Echegaray — at the forefront of the often improvised and arbitrary currency curbs on a seemingly daily basis (even if often a case of long neglected measures finally being implemented) while not entirely free from the main corruption scandal of Ciccone money-printing either. In the less likely event that public anger over crime or inflation is recognized, the ministers in charge of those areas might be changed but the powers behind these thrones (Sergio Berni and Axel Kicillof respectively) would probably prefer to stay put.
So how important was the protest? It is easy to downplay the numerical importance with perhaps not much more than 150,000 people nationwide (only reaching five digits in Córdoba and Mendoza outside this metropolis) but would anybody say that the Cairo assaults on the United States Embassy were unimportant because only a few thousand out of that city’s 20 million people took part (any more than that they thus represent the Arab world)? Within this context Thursday evening came one week too early to be an “Argentine Spring” — we must see what comes next.