Thursday, April 03, 2008

About Pro-Government Demonstrations

Tuesday's huge pro-Cristina demonstration in the Plaza de Mayo totally fazed me. As a self-respecting former activist, I had a lot of nagging questions to answer. Here’s what I found out, and it isn't pretty.

1. Why is there a demonstration IN FAVOR of the government?

All the US protests I've ever been in or seen were to protest the government or raise an issue that had been ignored or marginalized. So I’ve known civil rights protests, anti-war protests, environmentalist rallies, pro- and anti-abortion marches, gay and lesbian parades, and even parades by Armenians decrying Turkish genocide during a visit to Manhattan.

But 30,000 people waving protest-type banners and signs TO SUPPORT the nation’s leader?

Never. Unless you count all those Hitler films that used to fill up the programming hours in the early years of the History Channel.

Maybe that’s what makes it scary to live here, realizing where some of these traditions come from. The history is shocking. What makes them possible today? How far can this be taken . . . again? So the next questions:

2. Who are these pro-government demonstrators? Who is paying for this?

Well, it turns out that the pro-government public rally was imported half a century ago from the Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini by Juan Peron, one of his deepest admirers and the founder of the party in power today. As journalist James Neilson of the Buenos Aires Herald explains, these “rent-a-crowds” should not be confused with the spontaneous assembly of the citizens who take to the streets banging pots and pans to protest government policies.

“Whenever a Peronist president feels that he or she deserves an ego trip, trade union bosses, the mayors of the sprawling townships of Greater Buenos Aires and the characters who lead private armies of piqueteros start chartering buses and trains, arranging payments whether in cash or in kind plus anything lese it takes to get as many people as possible into the Plaza de Mayo.” State employees are also “encouraged” to attend these rallies paid for by tax dollars.

Can you imagine the Republican Party orchestrating a huge rally in front of the White House to support George Bush's failed policies? Could they get away with using tax dollars to bus in professional protesters while government office employees are told to march themselves down Pennsylvania Avenue, grabbing the signs and banners from the storeroom on the way out?

Of course not. Until I moved here, the idea that a “democratic” government could engage in such tactics was inconceivable. But living in Argentina is a constant challenge to my ideas about democracy and citizenship.

Who is being fooled by these charades? No one that I have met so far.

So during that massive outpouring of "support" for Cristina on Tuesday, which happened to be April Fools Day, who was really the fool?


AliAlex said...

It will take a while (a lot of reading and self-education) until you really understand the complexities of Argentina. Your comments show a lack of knowledge, & understanding but, worst of all, a lack of cultural sensitivity or proficiency. You're measuring everything with a narrow American mind.

la seƱora bibiloni said...

Hi Gayle,

Without resorting to the aggresivity of the previous poster, I want to tell you that, as an Argentine, I feel surprised at your surprise. If you agree with something that the government you have voted, or want to show your support in times of crisis, why would it be so strange to demonstrate for them?

Since 1973, I have taken part in many demonstrations, some "for" and some "against". And, believe me, I never met someone who had been paid to do so. I know there are "punteros" (local leaders), usually in the province of Buenos Aires, who will pay some of their neighbours to do it, but that does not make the whole thing phony.

Demonstrating to show your support for a government is another way of expressing your political views -- something you know is very dear to the argentines, who always have an opinion (about everything) and are quite vocal about it. It makes me sad that you would dismiss this, assimilating it to Hitler tactics or reducing it to "rent-a-crowd" happenings.

I know that this is getting long, but demonstrations are a long standing tradition for Peronists, starting with the 17 de octubre de 1945 one -- which was as spontaneous as a "cacerolazo", and in fact Alfredo de Angeli said that the pro-campo people had their own "17 de octubre" now, referring to the spontaneity and popularity of the demonstrations.

I did go to the last pro-government rallies, and I felt so happy to be in company of the people who think like me, after weeks of keeping my lips firmly shut so as not to enter nasty arguments. I was surrounded with people who felt like me -- people from all walks of life. And I find it offensive that someone would say that the only way someone could go there is because he/she was paid for it or because he/she is a fool. We may not agree on a policy, but we still should respect each other's right to hold and support our views, withour resorting to slander and belittling.


Maria Marta