Tuesday found me starting into the ink black space outside our apartment. The sky was turning from purple black to obsidian. A few homes were lit from within, but for the most part it was quiet. People were slowly returning from beach vacations during the Semana Santa and “Pascua” Easter vacation.
Begrudgingly grading English exams, I heard the sound of a large gathering of people on a nearby street. It sounded almost like a protest. What were the local Argentines–el gente–protesting for? The sounds on Avenida Santa Fe were distinct and cracked the night sharply. Wasn’t it hearing clattering pots and pans being hit from a distance? I went back to work with the curiosity in the back of my head. I wasn’t about to go out and check.
A cacophony of pots and pans erupted into the night. The neighbors on surrounding balconies joined in with the clanging protest. The bark of neighbors’ beagles melded into an off-beat rhythm, creating pandemonium all around.
The unrest had been building since the government imposed high taxes on the farmers of Argentina. The farmers, locally called “campos,” are protesting against what they feel are unreasonable taxes which cut into their quality of life and right to a full salary. The government stringently ignored their cries to be heard. Cristina Kirchner, the president, feels that the tax is necessary to keep food costs as low as possible. Gente against the government imposed tax for campos took to the streets in hundreds. The protesters are called “cacerolazos” for their beating of wooden spoons on large casserole dishes in protest.
E. and I heard a renewed protest on Wednesday night and followed the sound into Avenida Santa Fe. We found a group of around a hundred cacerolazos gathered to protest the tax. Although we don’t favor either side in this issue (have much to learn about it), we felt charged by the fervor felt through the street. We followed the mass down toward the city center, where the large group of gente gather at the Plaza de Mayo. The Plaza de Mayo is the political hot zone for protest and political demonstrations in the Buenos Aires capital.
As we neared the city center, the group from the Plaza de Mayo came our way. Perhaps a thousand people converged and melded into our Santa Fe group and headed back up the street. The blue stripes of the Argentine flag whipped through the night. Most of the cacerolazos were young twenty-somethings, but a few old people walked in the mix. A bent over elderly man hit a pan lid with his spoon. I was invigorated by the mass of combined sentiment. The group finally stopped at the intersection of Avenida Callao and Avenida Santa Fe where they joined in with political songs and pogo jumped in place. E. took the video above of one of the most energetic moments.
C. Kirchner gave a speech Thursday night saying that the government would not consider the possibility of rescinding or altering the tax hikes while picketers cutting off the integral roads of the country. Protesters have been blocking fruits, vegetables, meat, and milk from getting to their destinations because of the government’s steadfast refusal to talk with the campos. Kirchner said that the government officials would not talk with a “gun to their head.” In other words, she refused to talk with the campo blockades in place. City dwellers were starting to get nervous as food slowly disappeared off supermercado shelves.
Another protest turned ugly tonight at the Plaza de Mayo, but only the upcoming days will tell if the government and the campos are willing to mediate this impasse.