March 7, 2014
A dangerous police extortion
1987 Easter mutiny was revisited this week as police strikes and lootings took place
Not easy to analyze what happened this week in Argentina. And above all why (observe the novelty) it happened throughout this vast nationwide territory. There was hardly a province which did not repeat the police blackmail initiated and pampered in Córdoba the previous week.
Just as 26 years ago with the 1987 Easter mutiny of Army officers, an armed corporation placed the republic in check.
And no coincidence that it did so when this country was celebrating the first 30 years of uninterrupted democracy.
Obviously all the outrages and vandalism of the last few days could not have been a coincidence. And the result was atrocious — over a dozen deaths, hundreds injured, damages of every kind and scale in the shops of at least 10 cities, some of them important provincial capitals, and losses amounting to more than 600 million pesos, according to initial estimates. And all that due to the extortionate provincial police tactics of confining themselves to their barracks and defying authority of every kind, surely manipulated by sinister interests and egged on by the most irresponsible and irrational press and television.
In Argentina it is well known that tragedy comes with violence — that is nothing new. But rarely seen on this scale. Both the 19th and 20th centuries were dogged throughout by crimes and uprisings, instability and authoritarianism, and even genocide as in Patagonia or the War of the Triple Alliance. There was hardly a decade in the last century which did not produce rebellions ending in ferocious repression, each with its long repertory of dead and wounded. But looting like this past week, with cops and robbers more or less the same, never.
Odious even to pen it but that is our history. Futile to deny or falsify it when it ends up as a kind of social behaviour which creates havoc and provokes ferocious resentment in every generation.
Therefore all the negotiations deserved repudiation because it was nothing more or less than blackmail and because it was based on the arms which republican institutions have placed in the hands of thousands of presumed public servants. It concerns approximately 200,000 policemen, most of whom holed out and left the population at large unprotected. And worse, still, according to countless denunciations, turned themselves into the promoters of every kind of crime.
It sounds dreadful because it is. And because at the same time society was witness to the capitulation of the political system, which even rewarded the rebels with pay increases impossible to honour, which augurs renewed conflicts in the next few months.
It is true that some argue that there was no other way to calm things down but the precedent thus established is extremely serious. What does one say to the claims which will now surface, whether from teachers or teamsters, employees of the public or private sectors? And even the police themselves.
“The attacks, arrogant and premeditated, were aimed against the 30 years of democracy being celebrated,” Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich explicitly said. Not a truer word was spoken in the light of events. But also nothing more frustrating because the celebration went ahead just the same as a way of not accepting the blackmail of the violence, which was understandable, but the festivities were overshadowed by that horrendous parallel party of violence continuing alongside, protagonized by the most brutish sectors of society..
Of course, as the President stressed in her speech to celebrate the 30 years: “Only a democracy can make the necessary changes.” She thus condemned the looting and the “extortion of those who bear arms to defend society,” expressed solidarity with the victims and called for the democratization of the provincial police. All very well and fine but she did not explain the roads to those goals. And that will be the big challenge these days. How do you change the mentality and the habits of the police throughout the country — tens of thousands of armed citizens who come from the lowest socio-cultural levels, poorly educated and many of them putting on a uniform to flee poverty rather than out of any authentic vocation?
That reality was going to blow up at any moment and those who had always underlined it — in reality very few people and including this columnist — seemed to be preaching in the desert. As the ex-judge León Carlos Arslanian did a decade ago in Buenos Aires province when he put into motion the most serious proposals which were immediately curtailed by political and mafia interests frustrating that process of the integral regeneration of the Buenos Aires provincial police, popularly known as “the damned police.”
Paradoxically enough, the country was not knocked off course by all this and there was even some good news —as a corollary of some arduous agreements with the IMF, the Cabinet chief could announce the début of a new system for measuring prices as from next February. Which could be a milestone in the fight against inflation and which combines with the announcement of YPF CEO Miguel Galuccio and the president of the National Securities Commission (CNV) of a new YPF bond for minor investors, which is expected to have the same or even greater success than the previous one.
Of course, nothing good can result when the republic’s skin is so irritated and when a few things need to be made clear. The first is that all violence must be repudiated and Argentina must keep meeting the process of abandoning authoritarian practices head on. The second is the urgency of reforming the police system throughout the country, guaranteeing the integral education and the professional training of policemen with their due place in a democratic system. And thirdly, and most importantly, this country must put a definite end to that ominous six or seven percent of its population (around three million people, at least) still submerged in poverty and destitution. A minority perhaps but they are people and desperate people who still live in infrahuman conditions and, as we have seen in recent days, can become the cannon fodder of violent mafias and authoritarian corporations.
Without a humanitarian solution to dignify their lives, there can be no political solution for this country. The élites, both in the government and in the opposition, would do well to take note of this and to start taking care of it in speedy and consistent fashion.