Thursday, September 01, 2005

Misrepresenting the Unrepresented

No matter where you walk in Buenos Aires you are bound to come across a street demonstration of some sort. If it is not the heroic Madres de Plaza de Mayo, it might be anyone from the striking fuel station attendants to veterans of the Falklands War, laid-off oil workers or the recently vociferous medical staff of the main city hospital.

It must be said that on meeting such gatherings, no matter what their (usually justified) grievance is, you can simply dodge your way through and continue on with your journey. Unfortunately however the same can certainly not be said of Los Picateros. These hard line and full time picketers are a temperamental type and never shy of a rough scuffle with the police. Furthermore, renowned for their unprovoked heavy handedness , the said activists recently set up camp in the central Plaza de Mayo, location of the presidential palace.

Given the hysterically unjust history of Argentina you at first naturally sympathise with such groups until of course you get talking to the working class locals. They quickly tell without hesitation of how it is common place for Los Picateros, who live off social welfare, to block routes in and out of the country, block public entry to the Metro or simply cut access to the main city streets.

A person might be forgiven for having a romantic view of such groups who refuse to be bought out and stand firm for their uncompromising principles. As in my case, all is fine and rosy in your political conscience until you become curious as to what these people exactly stand for. You then begin to make your enquiries and soon discover the incredible story of how they forcefully occupied a main commercial street and traffic artery whilst they demanded a free train to transport them to a distant resort for their vacations !! This very week you can read the newspaper headlines of their proven collaboration with disgruntled out-of-office politicians (Menem and Duhalde) to destabalize the then government of De La Rua. This was of course in December 2001 when the confused world watched the violent reaction of a public instilled with fear.

There are two sides to every story and this is only one. However you must ask yourself what does anybody gain and who do they claim to represent when they prevent "by force" the poor worker, who has no car, from making his journey to work? What does this group serve by punishing the parents who are struggling to pay rent or feed their children? Moreover what type of social activist will victimize those who through labour are trying to improve their own lives and country? I readily acknowledge that in a country like this that perhaps the only way to seek deserved change is by taking to the streets. However each hour the hard line demonstrators alienate further their once highly sympathetic public. It is the ever increasing view of the person purportedly represented by los picateros that a point has been reached of blatant abuse of power.

Only last week while passing through the very same Plaza de Mayo I witnessed the aforementioned picketers attack a 20 year old toyota car containing a father and three children. I felt sick in my stomach as I saw them break the windows of the car and try to even hit the young. Meanwhile the heavily armed federal police watched on passively while three random motorcycle couriers had to take it upon themselves to protect the family. Today when you pass through this normally beautiful plaza you get the stench of bladder fluid and faeces.

Life in Buenos Aires is difficult when not only do people prevent poor citizens from working, but they also prevent them from the affordable free enjoyment of the city parks and open spaces !!

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