A look at recent events in Argentina - December 2001




Wednesday 21 December 2001

Its 11.00 at night, there is a storm outside but not a drop of rain has fallen on this hot December night.

It sounds a lot like rain but its not. Its called a giant casserole, people are outside on their balconies banging pots and anything else that makes noise, its a protest against the government, a cry for solidarity in the face of huge social and economic hardships, and also a plea for help.

It's like an eerie rain that descends from the top of the apartment blocks to the ground, accompanied by shouts, whistles, and car horns. It's both hauntingly beautiful and tragic, a cry for help that only fellow sufferers can hear.

Its hard not to be emotional about Argentina's problems, they are a wonderful and expressive people with many virtues, right now they are struggling to keep their heads above water. High unemployment, unpaid wages for those that have jobs, restricted access to bank accounts, social exclusion, and violence are the waters that are threatening Argentina.

Today things came to a head with many supermarkets ransacked and looted, trucks were stopped on the motorway and contents stolen by armies of homeless and poor. Television interviews showed images of normal people forced into desperate measures to find food for their families. Pleading not to be judged as criminals.

A state of emergency has been declared restricting movements and public gathering, shops have all shut early or put up metal doors.

The noise continues, maybe its a panacea for the frustration inside, a way to somehow express all those emotions that are inside, relieve some tension.

We are all safe, there is no violence where we are, we are feeling sad though, and are not sure just what the future holds. The radio is playing Supertramp's "Its raining again"



Saturday 29 December 2001

The storm clouds over the city are oppressive, like a roof they keep the heat in. They threaten to erupt and bring some relief from the suffocating heat but at the moment its just noise, like the empty promises of politicians.

The air is dense, a suffocating stillness which forces movement to a crawl. The tarmac so hot that it feels like hell is burning beneath the city. A climatic metaphor for the social misery that Argentina is suffering.

Last Thursday the political protests reached their nadir when thousands upon thousands marched on Parliament, they demanded the resignations of the Economy minister, and of the President. The majority of protesters were peaceful, indignant at the conditions they were being forced to live in. But then came the violence, battles in the streets made Buenos Aires resemble a war zone and not the modern European capital Argentines are so proud of. Shops were smashed, cars burnt, and 27 lives sacrificed up to the political gods.

The President and Economy minister duly resigned to bring a temporary pall over proceedings and Adolflo Rodriguez Saa from the opposition Peronist party was appointed as caretaker President until elections can be held in March.

The new President's first measure was to announce that money will be printed to pay state sector salaries and pensions, the new currency "The Argentino" he said will be secured by Government owned land and buildings. Exchange restrictions were put in place and huge queues formed outside banks as people tried to withdraw funds before they were frozen or lost value.

Christmas was a solemn affair. People tried to remain optimistic but it was hard with such a weight hanging from the neck. The simple act of sending a Christmas card seemed full of irony, how could you wish someone a "Merry Christmas" with all this going on?.

Yesterday in 35 degree heat pensioners were forced to line up outside banks to collect their monthly allowance, stifling and hostile conditions for those who should be enjoying the golden years of their lives. Last night the pots started up again, and thousands marched again on Parliament. Once there they tried to smash the buildings, the very assets on which the new currency is supposedly secured.

In three days 2002 will be here, what will it bring to this nation of 36 million people?, a nation of enormous potential, many say that it will remain so forever.

Outside not a drop of rain has fallen.