April 17, 2014
Sunday, December 22, 2013

December: short on power, long on ghosts

Energy crisis, police strikes and César Milani’s promotion are yellow alerts lingering in the air

Writing often seems to boil down to the art of connecting apparently unconnected facts which nevertheless make sense when interwoven — not always innocently. A common enough experience, at least in politics.

Let us get straight down to those facts. The first was the power chaos in this metropolis. Only a third of the population, it is true, but always easy to annoy when brimming with resentment and with aspirations invariably exceeding their possibilities. When added to the expertise of those who like to stir up middle-class irritability, the chaos becomes imminent and unlimited.

Now that Guillermo Moreno is no longer around to play the villain, replaced by a nice-looking boy with much better manners and a highly executive style, the Argentine tradition of violent Decembers remains around the corner.

The prophets of doom and gloom and the chaos-mongers know their business. It’s so simple for them to use the social outcasts deprived of everything and brutalized by the wretched life they lead. Only seven percent of the population, some might say, but that means almost three million Argentines who have nothing to lose because they never had it and who are concentrated on the outskirts of the main cities. They’re the cannon fodder for “narcopower,” the “damned police”, the cheap political patronage of the poorest neighbourhoods and those horrible party bosses who incite them to looting, pickets and other mischief. Nothing simpler than pouring fuel on the flames to make the discontent generalize into destabilization. Because it seems they could never reach power with the ballot-box, as you should in democracy. What is true is that the energy crisis has now joined that infinite stream of resources to generate the chaos to which some big dailies and teletrash always contribute. With record power consumption levels (unprecedented because the sale of electrically powered household appliances has soared throughout the country) the power cuts served to feed the fury of those whom City Mayor Mauricio Macri likes to call the “people.”

That’s why Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich denounced a “communication strategy to make the government seem responsible.” And he immediately warned the utilities producing and distributing electricity, in particular Edenor and Edesur, that “if they do not feel like providing the service, we are ready to take over,” adding: “We are fed up with excuses. The two companies must honour the contract, invest and communicate with their clients.”

It would be unwise to read those statements as mere threats since Kirchnerism (whatever one might think of it) has shown its capacity to nationalize public services going downhill — Aguas Corrientes, the Post Office, Aerolíneas Argentinas, YPF and (more recently) the Sarmiento railway line are all proof of their vocation.

Of course, the companies defended themselves with a good argument — the utility rates in this metropolis are the “lowest in all Latin America” and make it “very difficult to provide a quality service.”

But Luz y Fuerza power workers trade union secretary-general Rafael Mancuso denounced that the main reasons for the power cuts were “lack of investment by the utilities” and “the shortage of workers.” He warned that if the government nationalized, the trade union would support the decision. At press time the issue was still open.

Of course, the week’s noise was completed by the promotion of Army Chief-of-Staff César Milani to the top rank of lieutenant-general by a Senate vote of 39 votes to 30. The Senate thus acceded to the executive branch’s proposal, even against a few human rights leaders including the Centre of Legal and Social Studies (CELS). The latter insisted on Milani being retired from the force due to charges of participating in the disappearance of the conscript Alberto Ledo in La Rioja in the 1970s.

Over and above the gravity of this case, which marks a serious rift among human rights groups, it remains pathetic to see the Army commander being accused of “genocide” by some opposition senators who had never defended a human rights case in their lives, some of them favouring the policies of oblivion and “reconciliation” which prevailed in Argentina until 2003.

The debate in the Upper House saw battle joined between two senators — the Kirchnerite veteran Aníbal Fernández and the pro-Macri novice Diego Santilli, who started shouting when the former reminded him of the illegal wire-tapping cases involving his political master. All that à propos of the possible treatment in extraordinary sessions of the bill to penalize members of the security forces who abandon their duties. The idea is important — policemen cannot desert their posts for any reason whatsoever and if they provoke material damage, injuries or death as a result, their punishment will be even stiffer.

In that context, there were less ripples over the pledge to establish public policies against drug-trafficking, signed by the Catholic hierarchy (the Synod headed by Monsignor Jorge Lozano) and a sort of opposition First Eleven including Macri, Sergio Massa, Margarita Stolbizer, Hermes Binner, Ernesto Sanz and Pino Solanas, among others. The strange thing was that although no government representatives were present, Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli backed the idea.

It also should be mentioned, as contributing to the quest for chaos, the threat of Corrientes Governor Ricardo Colombi to create a pseudo-currency as in 2001 to meet pay increases and crisis situations. Colombi, Argentina’s only Radical governor, said that he had it “all planned,” assuring that other provincial administrations were studying similar measures.

And on top of all that, underneath the carpet there is a spectre stalking the country silently — the police unions being organized in various provinces, especially Buenos Aires province. In the face of the apparent and inexplicable distraction of the immense majority of politicians, almost all those heading the budding unions are ex-policemen with the worst records, bounced out of their forces and implicated in brutal violations of human rights.

Those yellow alerts linger in the air.

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Tags:  December  looting  power cuts  Kicillof  

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