December 18, 2017
Sunday, June 8, 2014

Vice-president, media obsessions and Chaco violence

Buenos Aires newspapers ignored the violence unleashed last week in the streets of Resistencia
It is truly amazing how everything referring to Vice-President Amado Boudou seems to condition the political present. Which is absurd because any sane and democratic person knows that if the charges against him are true, regarding the so-called Ciccone case or anything else, Boudou should be tried and convicted. But meanwhile and given that he is not even facing formal trial proceedings, the National Constitution undoubtedly establishes that he is innocent.

Nevertheless, the media frenzy has been convicting him for some time without a shred of information and that is bad — not only for Boudou but also for democracy. Another important political leader — City Mayor Mauricio Macri — is much closer to trial and yet no scandal surrounds him.

Obviously these words neither affirm nor deny the guilt of either man. But they do pinpoint that current media squint in Argentina whereby the rush to judgement and the media lynching is frequent, based on that despicable old Nazi teaching — lie, lie big and keep on lying and something will stick.

In that context of mad-dog journalism at the service of bosses and unholy interests, nothing less than democracy itself is affected — above all, when news of genuine interest to society is hidden or devalued. Such as, to give only one example, the three new vaccines which have been incorporated into the national calendar and which will immunize almost two million children aged under two years. One attacks the root causes of meningitis, another smallpox and a third rotavirus, the main cause of diarrhea in children. The presumably intentional burial of this information, stupidly considered political loot for the Kirchnerite government, is sheer folly.

Which becomes clearer with other examples of how some metropolitan journalism distracts itself chasing trivia and misses the important news. Thus last week this metropolis ignored the violence unleashed in the streets of Resistencia, the provincial capital of Chaco, which was impressively fierce, recalling the worst periods of Argentine history.

Those confrontations lasted 48 hours and were tremendous. In the face of the bestiality the Chaco citizenry took refuge in their homes and rediscovered old fears. The return of repression on a scale not seen for many years in Argentina centred once again on hundreds of mostly indigenous demonstrators with their women and children, all savagely beaten up. Many policemen, passers-by and local journalists were hurt in the midst of a mad orgy of water cannon, tear-gas, sticks and stones, rubber and lead bullets and a violence since Thursday out of all proportion to any of the verbal or written arguments in both pro-government and opposition media.

The absent-mindedness of the major metropolitan multimedia was, paradoxically, something of a blessing because if they had “discovered” that repression, they would only have added confusion, spite and combustion to the conflict.

But the conflict existed and still exists and must be absolutely repudiated. Neither authoritarianism nor force are the roads to social justice. Neither are the foolishly maximalist or opportunistic demands mounted by leaders on the backs of the legitimate protest of workers, the unemployed, peasants and indigenous people who for over 10 weeks have been staging assemblies, marches and demonstrations.

What is certain is that this week in Chaco will be painfully unforgettable for the sight of over 1,000 policemen (many of them mounted) wielding their truncheons on a scale not seen for years in this country and with the result of over 100 injured among the several thousand demonstrators and policemen.

After those two savage days a stunned city awoke to dozens of broken windows, destroyed automobiles (including over 10 police cars) and the city schools abandoned by half the children and even teachers.

The repression, of course, cannot be justified — and neither can the agents provocateurs who infiltrated the peaceful protests. The risk is known and politically miserable — to criminalize social protest, on the one hand, and to place the forces of law and order which every democracy needs in inappropriate roles (whether causing or being victims), on the other. Because those forces are not strong-armed policies to contain protest nor are they policemen — least of all Argentine policemen who ever since the dictatorship have not stopped displaying brutality and resentment.

A dangerous cocktail and not only because it opposes and denies the policies of human rights and social inclusion which Néstor Kirchner initiated 11 years ago — and above all because in Chaco there is a Kirchnerite government which (at least until last December) respected that tradition in full and arduously negotiated in dialogue with all social sectors — even with the most discontented and incipiently violent.

The radical change in the style of leadership imposed by the lieutenant-governor Juan Carlos Bacileff Ivanoff in the forced absence of Governor Jorge Capitanich (now Cabinet chief) did not surprise the Chaco citizenry, which was aware of the differences between both men. But nobody expected this change of style to produce such a demanding protest and far less such fierce repression.

Above all, because Chaco has changed a lot in the last few years and in general they have been changes which most of society has judged positively. The levels of inclusion and employment, industrial development, and health and education policies, among others, have produced results impossible to ignore — including (and perhaps especially) for the indigenous people, the Qom, Wichí and Mocobí who were historically abused, sidelined and (above all) denied as human beings by crushing their culture and forcing their languages (now in the process of recovery) into silence.

The mood and the methods which reign in Chaco these days are contrary to democracy and destroy it. What is happening today in Argentina — on the right and also the left — is thus no accident.

That is why it is imperative to cool things down — the exclusive and urgent responsibility of all who govern, both in the province and the nation.

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