Hola, todos –
Last night (April 1) we had our first good introduction to Argentine democracy, when we inadvertently participated in a protest of hundreds of thousands of middle-class argentine citizens. We only knew there was going to be a protest yesterday, but not exactly why – or how big.
You’ll need a little history: between 1976 and 1983 argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship, brought into power by fears of terrorism and an increased need for “security”. During this period nearly thirty thousand citizens were kidnapped, tortured, and killed (“disappeared”) for their political views. The dictatorship came to an end 20 years ago after a disastrous war in the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, and the war is commemorated every year on the second of April.
Last week a university student named Axel Blumberg was kidnapped, tortured, and killed in a manner eerily reminiscent of the disappearances, the latest in a rash of kidnapings which was believed to have ended. The populace of Buenos Aires strongly condemns the police force for these events, thinking that they are at best bumbling and at worst complicit (the police have a long history of complicity in state-sponsored terrorism here.) Last night, in a protest called by Axel’s father, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to march on the Casa Rosada and Congresso. It was a sea of people shoulder-to-shoulder and front-to-back all carrying candles and chanting “justicia” and “seguridad” that filled the entire downtown area and paralyzed the city for several hours to demand reform of the police force. We were caught in the middle of two of the city’s largest streets unable to move or breathe as the police were caught off guard and could not manage any sort of crowd control, but it was a beautiful moment of democracy unlike any we have witnessed in the United States.
Partly it was such a poignant protest because this is a country that had lost its democracy, and now clings to it like a wild horse’s mane. With our country being in its currently miserable state of “democracy,” it was energizing to see so many people coming together to demand something important from their government. How much more impressive it would be if we could get so worked up *before* democracy gets lost, or before university students get killed for greed and point-making (when Axel’s parents hadn’t paid the ransom, they killed him anyway).
Well, this is very heavy-yet-important, but the city is going on mostly the same. Tonight our waitress at our pizzeria was collecting signatures for the petition to reform the police. Tomorrow we’re going out of town for the day with another exchange student, but we felt like we had to write something after such a moving event last night.
we love you all,
anna & randy
p.s. as always, we got caught in an opportune moment without our camera, so we’re attaching a picture from one of the big newspapers here.