April 17, 2014
Thursday, December 12, 2013

The day after

Life seems to be gradually returning to normal in most of the country after a weeklong orgy of looting but that does not mean that these shocking episodes can now be forgotten by everybody except the families of the dead and the retailers who lost everything in the almost 2,000 stores assaulted, especially the small shopkeepers.The provincial governors were able to agree on an 8,000-8500-peso pay floor figure (“a decision, not an offer,” according to Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli) to appease most of the mutinous provincial policemen and in the process restored the “governors’ league” supposedly underpinning the new Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich, which had seemed in crisis when the looting started in Córdoba. But while not exactly worse than the disease, this cure creates new problems of its own —pay improvements of 30-35 percent clash with national wage guidelines of 15-20 percent in general and are already having a domino effect among provincial and public employees in particular which will be hard to satisfy (thus the 2014 Buenos Aires provincial budget so arduously negotiated between Scioli and Sergio Massa’s Renewal Front includes no provisions for pay increases whatsoever).

Yet the main unfinished business is undoubtedly the reform of the provincial police forces, as highlighted by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in her speech to mark the 30th anniversary of continuous democracy. But criticisms of the provincial police should be accompanied by some self-criticism as to the total lack of any consistent national security policy in the Kirchnerite decade with extreme fluctuations between permissive and tough law and order approaches. Retraining policemen to the standards of a civilized society also implies salary levels making them worthy of their hire — it must be admitted that many of the police pay demands this month were as reasonable as their methods (holding society hostage) were wholly inexcusable —and this is not easy if provincial governments are receiving little over a quarter of federal revenue-sharing funds. Apart from incorporating the police into democratic society, Córdoba Governor José Manuel de la Sota (so much at fault in the origins of this crisis) was quite right to propose that national and provincial governments should agree on legislation strictly defining the duties and rights to strike (if any) of those in essential public services — perhaps a basis for consensus on more general security policies.

The celebrations of the 30 years of democracy are now done and dusted — time to start work on the next 30 years.

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