While widely criticized as a contradiction with previous indulgence, the ruling Victory Front’s bill to limit pickets should surprise nobody — if proposing such “respect for urban co-existence” was one of the mostly loudly applauded parts of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s state-of-the-nation speech to Congress seven weekends ago, it was only a matter of time before her wish became the command of her caucus in what a recently deceased literary lion would have called a “chronicle foretold.” The contradiction is more apparent than real. While Kirchnerite presidencies have a widespread public image of being too permissive towards pickets in the name of not “criminalizing social protest,” the pickets themselves tell a different story with frequent crackdowns in recent years and this future legislation not essentially offering anything new. And while the bill presented by ultra-Kirchnerite deputy Carlos Kunkel along with five other Victory Front deputies makes a careful distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” protests (the latter being a total blockade of the street which does not serve notice 48 hours in advance), it stops short of defining any punishment for the “illegitimate” (also insisting that intervening security forces be clearly identified and unarmed) — to that extent Kirchnerism is not contradicting its former “permissive” image.
There is a potential jurisdictional squabble as to whether controlling street protest is a national or local government responsibility but in some ways this debate is academic because the Victory Front legislation largely overlaps with the ordinances of a City Hall ruled by Mayor Mauricio Macri’s PRO centre-right party (which loudly applauded CFK’s expressions of frustration with pickets during her state-of-the-nation speech early last month). This overlap feeds the speculation of those pundits who believe that CFK would prefer being succeeded by Macri than being displaced by an heir from her own Peronist movement but that aspect is not the point of this editorial.
Given that City Hall’s regulations have an unsuccessful track record in stopping pickets, the Victory Front legislation should perhaps take a harder look at how it proposes to offer effective protection to other rights of other citizens such as freedom of movement (including going to work). But whatever the details which need finetuning, the ruling party’s will to tackle this public nuisance should be hailed as one more exit from simply denying the problem, which we have seen in other areas — even the harshest critic would have to agree on “better late than never.”