December 20th in Argentina

Two weeks ago I ran into a fellow American in Buenos Aires. He’s a journalist living there. We had met before, thus we engaged in the meaningless chitchat that marks such occassions. “Are you going home for the holidays?” I asked. He assured me he was but, “After the 20th. I hope there’s work.” “The anniversary you mean?,” I asked “Yeah but i hope it is all over by the 23rd.” Thankfully, his hopes weren’t met, as the violence was he was waiting for never manifested. Perhaps he should try Venezuela or Iraq, or change his values.

December 20, 2001 will forever mark the pages of the Argentine history books. Last year, as the argentine economic crisis hit rock bottom, the streets were filled with angry mobs and demonstrations some of which led to confrontation which ended in extreme violence. At least 30 demonstrators were killed and President Fernando de la Rua was forced to resign, as the crowds chanted the now famous, “Que se vayan todos.” (Everybody must go!)

Unlike my friend, I left before the 20th. I wished my freinds, peace and safety and went back to the North. When I arrived, I searched the web and waited for emails from my Argentine friends, to know how these greatly anticipated days passed. After reading a variety of Argentine dailies, I got an email from my friend Sara, who reassured me the demonstrations on Plaza de Mayo were ‘huge” but passed “peacefully.” Just last week she had retold me stories, how last year she was afraid to leave her home just blocks from the Plaza, and her street was flooded with hundreds of mounted policemen, how it “looked liked a war zone, something out of the movies.” But thankfully, despite the rumors that flooded the papers weeks before of paid-off thugs and picketers, both December 19th and 20th of 2002 passed with little or no violence.

Though the demonstrations were peaceful, this in no way implies Argentina is any better off than it was a year ago.

Over 50% live beneath the line of poverty and around 25% are unemployed. The night streets of Buenos Aires are flooded with the now infamous “carteneros” who scavenge through the trash looking for enough cardboard to make $2 USD each night, enough so they can eat. Though many Argentines do their best to help them, such acts of solidarity as sorting their trash, or cooking them food, the only beauty in this kind of work is that it is work. Others are not making enough to eat.

20% of Argentina’s children are malnourished. The papers are filled weekly with photos of children dead and dying, unable to eat. 3 children die each week. The are not dying for a lack of food as Argentina is the world’s forth largest exporter of food and the supermarket shelves are full. They are dying as a result of the lack of access to food and social services. As Argentina recently defaulted on its loans to the IMF, its people will not recieve any more loans, but had it paid it would have have had to cut more social funding. A lose, lose situation.

Poverty is violence, and violence kills children.

Just last week a 13 year-old boy was killed stealing Christmas decorations from a neighbor’s yard. Earlier he had asked his mom why they couldn’t have something to decorate the door with. His mother told him, because they didn’t have the money. After a night time soccer game he decided to get some decorations. He climbed into a neighbors yard and took around $2 USD worth of Christmas decorations. As he left the yard the owner of the house appeared and fired six shots. One bullet hit the child in child in the chest.

Neighbors said the man had recently been assaulted by a gang of youths and was “jumpy.”

The crime cycle often begins with the will to survive. However, this will does not always have to lead to violence, as so many have demonstrated over the years in Argentina. During the last years over 100 factories have been occupied and then reopened by its workers. When the creditors came knocking last year, many factories were abandoned or closed by their owners, but the workers refused to leave. With their will to work, and with the support of the communities behind them, the factories are working. They work often at reduced salary, but they are working. And in Argentina work means survival.

There is no doubt Argentina is in severe economic crisis, and within this crisis there are good people, doing good things. Though it is often difficult to find the ‘good’ examples, they exist. One cannot deny the power and importance of the will of so many for both peace and justice. The demonstrations of the last two days are perhaps as meaningful as the first. Despite the memory of last year’s violence, the baiting rumors, the uncertainty of the future, the will of many prevailed and violence was overcome. In this time of ever lurking war and other acts of violence we need to exalt these examples of non-violence every chance we get. Although the Argentines are truly terrorized by the products of poverty, crime and hunger, they chose to fight it, peacefully.

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