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The Today Show Comes To Buenos Aires

April 28th, 2008 | 07:41 PM

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NBC’s The Today Show and über-host Matt Lauer have been hanging out in Buenos Aires. The famous American morning TV show shot around a dozen videos about Argentina. You can see the online story here, and check out the videos here.

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Argentina Goes To The Movies (Less)

April 27th, 2008 | 05:43 PM

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All the good movies have been made. — Targets 1968

Argentina’s film industry is known all over Latin America and many of its films have gained global recognition. Local films have been nominated five times for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Only 16 countries have produced more Oscar-nominated films, according to The Film Experience. Argentina won an Oscar in 1985 for The Official Story.

But none of that is helping to reel in audiences at local theaters, where ticket sales have been falling constantly in recent years.

The average Argentine goes to the theater less than once a year, an industry source told The Argentine Post. In contrast, the average American goes 6 times a year, according to a study by the Motion Picture Association of America. Europeans went to see an average of 1.8 movies last year, according to a Council of Europe study. The French are Europe’s top movie-goers, with the average Frenchman going to see 2.8 films last year.

In 2001, when Argentina was on the brink of an economic meltdown, theaters sold 30.9 million tickets. Despite a staggering recession in 2002, nationwide sales rose to 31.5 million. The upward trend continued through 2004, when Argentines bought a record 44.4 million tickets.

But in 2005 sales began to drop and they have not recovered. Theaters sold more than 10 million fewer tickets last year than they did in 2004.

As sales have fallen, ticket prices have risen. A full price ticket at the Village Recoleta, which sells more tickets than any other theater in the nation, cost 8 pesos in 2001. The same ticket now costs 17 pesos, or 113% more than before the economic collapse.

As measured in dollars, Village ticket prices plummeted in 2002 but have been rising each year since. Prices went from US $8 before Argentina’s 2001 currency devaluation to $2 in 2002. They have since rebounded to US $5.40 today. The average ticket in the U.S. costs $6.88, up almost 22% from 2001. (Of course, ticket prices in the U.S. vary within cities and states, just as they do in Argentina. The Argentine Post was unable to find a national average price for Argentina.)

“It’s hard to be sure that people are seeing fewer movies because of higher prices. Historically, ticket sales are determined by the quality of movies and the number of blockbusters released each year,” said the industry source. “These factors are much more decisive than ticket prices.”

Indeed, after a record year in 2004, worldwide ticket sales fell by almost 8% in 2005, indicating that Argentina was not alone in seeing sales drop. But since then sales have largely recovered in most countries while they have continued to decline in Argentina. One possible explanation for this is the availability of inexpensive, high-quality pirated movies.

“We can say for sure that pirated films are affecting sales,” said the industry source. “Meanwhile, an enormous number of people are buying Home Theaters and staying at home to watch movies.”

In March the Argentine Video Editors Union (UAV), together with city officials, carried out “pirated DVD” raids throughout Buenos Aires. They targeted “trucho” DVD stores and kiosks that sell pirated DVDs. In total, they confiscated 6,545 pirated movies recorded on CDs and DVDs.

Seven out of every 10 DVDs sold in Argentina are pirated, according to the UAV.

The UAV estimates the sale of pirated DVDs at 350 million pesos annually. That is equivalent to about half of all the DVDs sold legally in Argentina each year. Pirated DVDs are sold in every neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, scores of online catalogs offer thousands of high-quality DVDs, including the latest unreleased Hollywood blockbusters, for as little as 3.5 pesos. Many of these businesses offer home delivery, making it easier than ever to buy pirated DVDs without even leaving your home. In fact, at many online stores, the more you buy, the less you pay per DVD. What’s more, customer service at pirated DVD stores is often better than it is at legal businesses such as Blockbuster.

The growth in pirated DVD sales has made it almost impossible for the world’s leading video rental chain, Blockbuster Video, to operate successfully in Argentina. To survive, Blockbuster has abandoned its business model, closed stores, and begun advertising itself as a kind of “maxi kiosk” that sells candy, soda, ice cream and other goodies. Many pirated DVD stores now offer a larger selection of movies than does Blockbuster. Such stores are profiting from the demand for cheap DVDs, but their gains appear to be hurting profits at local movie theaters.

“Profits from this business are not rising because, even though ticket prices are going up, our costs are going up too,” the industry official said.

As measured in dollars, Argentine theaters earned US $ 180,117,000 from ticket sales last year, compared with US $247,000,000 in 2000. So while ticket prices have increased 113%, dollar-based ticket income has actually declined 27%. This is important because key operating costs – such as the acquisition of movie reels – are in dollars.

Most of the movies shown in Argentine theaters were made in the U.S., though many were made Asia, Europe and other regions. Argentine films, while highly praised by local media critics, almost always do poorly at the box office. Nonetheless, INCCA, the national film and audio-visual arts institute, forces theaters to show local films each year. This, industry experts say, has made it harder for theaters to make money.

“The INCCA obligates cinemas to show a certain number of films…even if there is not a single decent film available to show,” the source said. “If it’s necessary, we have to show films that have been made by students.”

Argentina has a “screen quota law” forces theaters to show local films. “This law is not in anyway positive,” said the source. “Just think about it. Why would we not be interested in showing an Argentine film? If the film is acceptably good, we will want to show it. To give you an idea of how bad this law is, consider this: In the theaters where we are forced to show Argentine films, the occupation rate is exactly five times lower than it is in any other theater.”

Link: INCCA
Link: Cine Nacional
Link: MPAA
Link: UAV
Link: The $35 Luxury Movie Ticket

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Fernandez Picks Fernandez To Join Fernandez & Fernandez

April 24th, 2008 | 09:33 PM

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Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner late Thursday fired 17-year-old Economy Minister Martín Lousteau and moved to replace him with world-renowned economist Carlos Fernandez, according to C5N, or Cristina Cinco Nestor, the almost-official television network. Cristina decided there were not enough government officials named Fernandez, so she moved decisively to raise the number of high-ranking officials named Fernandez, including herself, to four.

President: Cristina Fernandez
Cabinet Chief: Alberto Fernandez
Justice Minister: Anibal Fernandez
Economy Minister: Carlos Fernandez

Analysts expect the move to immediately boost the president’s approval ratings, avert another farm strike, tame inflation, spur economic growth, reduce unemployment, eliminate traffic accidents, improve relations with the U.S. and lead to the freeing of FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt.

At least one analyst said the move may even lead Argentines to stop using the word caramelo, or “candy,” to describe Halls cough drops.

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The Street Artist

April 23rd, 2008 | 09:09 PM

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Pablisky Moreira has exactly 24 seconds to perform his act. If he takes any longer, he wastes time, energy, and risks bodily harm. His act is timed to coincide with the changing of the traffic light at the corner of Libertador and Alvear, in the Buenos Aires suburb Martínez, where he often performs. This particular light stays red for 34 seconds before flashing yellow and then green. Moreira juggles four balls for 24 seconds. He then stops and takes 10 seconds to collect donations from people whose cars are stopped in two lines at the light. Moreira weaves in and out of the cars as they begin to move. Some people honk. Others yell, telling him to get out of the way. Some smile. Some say thank you. Some wave. Many just ignore him.

Today Moreira’s timing is off. Perhaps it’s because I am watching, observing his every move. I seem to be making him nervous. Moreira is dropping balls right and left. Balls are rolling in between cars and sliding into the gutter before he can reach them. He is wiping his brow a lot, trying to prevent beads of sweat from rolling down into his eyes. It’s hot outside, especially for a street artist. Moreira is an entertainer. He tries to make people smile. He loves making people laugh. He smiles himself and his smile is genuine. He loves people. He loves what he does. “I am a street artist,” he says. “I like what I do. I like to make people smile. My goal is to make people smile, to make them laugh. If I can do that, I’ve done my job. I like to bring happiness into people’s lives.”

Moreira works six hours a day, five or six days a week. He makes around 30 pesos a day, sometimes more, sometimes less. “It varies every day,” he says. “It’s enough.”

You can watch Moreira yourself by checking out the latest Scooping Argentina video here. If he makes you smile or brings even a little happiness into your life, he will have done his job.

Link: Scooping Argentina

*TIP: If your bandwidth is slow, click the “pause” button and wait for the video to fill-up before watching it.

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Solving Arentina’s Smoke Problem

April 19th, 2008 | 09:16 AM

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Aire Y Luz: The New Buenos Aires City Blog

April 17th, 2008 | 12:40 PM

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Macri talking about why he makes surprise visits around the city.
From Aire Y Luz, the city’s new blog.

The Buenos Aires city government has started up a new blog. It’s called Aire y Luz and it is remarkable because of what it represents. The blog, which is run by my friend Alejandro Rozitchner, as well as Marcos Peña, Laura Ojeda, Federico Suárez and others, allows the city to communicate “directly and informally” with residents. If you want to know what the city is doing and why it is doing it, check it out.

You may have read in Clarín or La Nación about Mayor Mauricio Macri doing this or that. But if you want to know why he’s doing what he’s doing, he’ll tell you in the blog. The blog consists largely of video interviews with city officials, including Macri. It is informal. The site is simple and unvarnished. The interviews (in Spanish) are straight forward and conducted with Flip Ultra video cameras, which are uploaded straight to YouTube. In a decade as a journalist writing about politics in Argentina, I have never seen anything like it.

Beyond that, there is something refreshing about the way city officials make themselves available in the blog. Their approach to communication contrasts starkly with that of the national government, which often displays distaste for people who want to learn more about why it does the things it does.

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Simpsons Episode Stirs Debate In Argentina

April 13th, 2008 | 10:42 AM

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“I’d really like a dictatorship like that of Juan Perón.” 

“When he disappeared you, you stayed disappeared.” 

“Plus, his wife was Madonna.”

 

Click on any of these Photos to be taken to another site where you can watch the original video. I had uploaded a high-quality version of it to YouTube, but it was removed after Twentieth Century Fox claimed it infringed upon the company’s copyright. In any case, these three screen grabs represent the relevant scenes from the episode.

The lovable Simpson family is once again stirring up controversy. This time the cause célèbre is not Bill Clinton or Hugo Chávez or homosexuality. Instead, it is Juan Domingo Perón, and at least one Argentine politician is not happy about it.

Former Peronist Congressman Lorenzo Pepe has asked COMFER, the national radio and TV broadcast regulatory agency, to prohibit at least part of a recent episode of The Simpsons from airing in Argentina. Pepe, who served in Congress from 1983-2003, now runs the National Juan Domingo Perón Institute. “His job at the Institute is to defend the figure of Perón,” a person from Institute told The Argentine Post.

In an interview with Radio 10, Pepe said the “ignorant” U.S. had no business “interfering” in the affairs of Latin America. He also said that with this Simpsons episode the U.S. wants to “poison” Argentine society. The proper antidote to such interference, Pepe said, is to ban the show, from the Argentine public. Pepe said this is necessary for Argentina to have “a more tolerant society.”

The controversy swirls around the question of whether Perón, who was democratically elected to three terms as president, was also a dictator responsible for the disappearance of Argentines. Perón was president from 1946-1952, 1952-1955 and 1973-1974. A little background on Perón may be of help to Argentine Post readers who want to better understand Pepe’s reaction.

Before 1946, Perón, who was then an Army colonel, was a member of the United Officers’ Group (GOU) that overthrew the democratically elected government of Ramón Castillo. Castillo had been the vice president under Roberto Ortíz, who resigned just before dying from complications related to diabetes.

Neither Ortíz nor Castillo led picture perfect presidencies. Historians have accused both of rigging elections and the dean of Argentine historians, Felix Luna, has described Castillo as “a pig-headed man.” Yet there is no denying that Castillo was overthrown by armed officers, including Perón, who denied the man an opportunity to finish his term in democratic fashion. In many ways, this is where Perón began to earn a reputation, among detractors, for being a less-than-democratic leader.

Perón’s political career was born in 1943 when he became Labor Secretary in the military government. He used his position to woo support from labor unions. His charismatic nature and savvy social skills helped him forge alliances that would form the base of his political support for decades to come. Perón’s alignment with labor and the working class, and his antagonistic attitude toward upper-class Argentines, provides just one example of the social divisions that he fostered throughout his career. Many of those divisions are still notable in Argentina today.

Among other things, detractors criticize the way Perón welcomed former Nazi leaders to Argentina after War World II. Perón offered protection for many of them, including the infamous Angle of Death, Josef Mengele, and the so-called “Architect of the Holocaust,” Adolf Eichmann. Mengele arrived in Argentina in 1949 and Eichmann in 1950.

But the most strident criticism of Perón comes from those who view him as authoritarian, a democrat in name only. Much like Chávez in Venezuela, Perón, his critics say, used his electoral legitimacy to undermine many of the institutions that make democracy possible. He squashed opposition parties, completely dominated a largely docile Congress, silenced those who disagreed with him, and did everything possible to control the media. Felix Luna described Perón’s record through 1955 this way:

“Nothing remotely like tolerance or pluralism existed during Perón’s years as president. On the contrary, a hostile attitude prevailed fostered by Perón himself. In many of his speeches he had harsh even deranged words for the opposition parties: he threatened to hang them and with his own bailing wire if they vexed a government that had the support of the people. In such a harsh climate the opposition had no loyalty to the government. Wild plots to overthrow Perón abounded, almost none of which had any chance of success.”

In 1955 Perón received a dose of his own medicine when he himself was overthrown in a military coup. He spent almost two decades living in exile, first in Paraguay, then in Panama, where he met his future wife, night club singer María Estela (or Isabel) Martínez, and finally in Spain, where he lived under the umbrella of Francisco Franco’s military government.

In 1973 Perón returned to Argentina. His arrival immediately stoked the passions of separate left and right-wing factions among his supporters. An estimated 3.5 million Perón supporters went to the Ezeiza airport to greet him on his return. But members of a fringe movement of right-wing followers, known as the Triple A (the Argentine Anti Communist Alliance) and led by José López Rega, greeted the followers with bullets. A Clarin article at the time said the shooters killed at least 13 people and wounded 380.

A later article indicates that the number of casualties may actually have been much higher. Whatever the case, Perón’s return marked the beginning of a decades-long battle between differing factions within the Peronist movement. These differences grew in time and are partly responsible, among other things, for the bloodshed that followed Perón’s death in 1974.

Which brings us back to The Simpsons and the show’s reference to the disappearances that occurred during Argentina’s Dirty War. The seeds of the Dirty War (which history books say occurred between 1976-1983) were sown in part by Perón and López Rega that day at Ezeiza.

López Rega would later become Perón’s minister of social welfare until Perón died in 1974. Before his death, Perón had ordered a crack-down on “subversive” activists, and it was largely López Rega’s job to help quash left-wing rebels. Yet it was only after Perón died that López really began to gain power. After Perón died, his wife, the former bar singer, became president. But Isabel was woefully unprepared to govern and this was more than evident to everyone around her, including López Rega. In Perón’s absence, López Rega became a kind of super minister who largely dictated government policy.

There is reason to believe that in some ways the Dirty War began actually before the 1976 military coup that toppled Isabel Perón and López Rega. Both Isabel and López Rega signed the now-infamous Decree No. 261, which called on the military to “neutralize and/or annihilate the actions of subversive elements who are acting in the province of Tucumán,” where left-wing activists had gained a major foothold. This was followed by Decree No. 2772/75, which authorized the armed forces to “annihilate the actions of subversive elements in all of the country’s territories.”

There is a lot of controversy over the degree of influence that Perón had over the evolution of López Rega’s thinking and the development of the Dirty War mentality that has so scarred Argentina’s economic, political and social landscape. There is also a great deal of controversy over the nature and number of murders and disappearances that took place before and immediately after Perón’s death. But there is little doubt that at least some of Argentina’s Dirty War problems began before most people think they did in 1976.

The most commonly-cited study on the Dirty War was carried out in 1984 by Nunca Más, the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons. An introduction to the study provides a concise summary of some of its findings:

“As the report shows, murder, rape, torture, extortion, looting and other serious crimes went unpunished, as long as they were carried out within the framework of the political and ideological persecution unleashed during the years 1976 to 1982.”

But the introduction also says this:

“There are some 600 instances of abductions recorded in the Commission’s files which are said to have taken place prior to the 24 March 1976 coup. After that date the number of people who were illegally deprived of their liberty throughout Argentina rises to the tens of thousands. Eight thousand, nine hundred and sixty of them have not reappeared to this day.”

It is not exactly clear what happened to those 600 people who were abducted before 1976. How many of them disappeared because of the decree’s signed by Isabel Perón? Was Perón himself responsible, either directly or indirectly, for any of those abductions or for the bloodshed that ensued? These questions are the subject of heated and emotional debate in Argentina. They are in many ways the third rail of Argentine politics. To touch them, to speak of them, to think of them, even if only tangentially, is to play with political fire.

The wounds opened during Perón’s multiple terms in power have yet to heal and the latest Simpsons episode is but a trivial reminder of the profound influence he had on Argentina.

All that said, Pepe was right about one thing. Many Americans are ignorant about Latin America in general and Argentina in particular. But they also are often ignorant about the U.S. A 2006 survey of 1,000 random adults showed that 22% of Americans could name all five Simpson family characters. But only one in 1,000 could name all five freedoms of the First Amendment. These include the freedom of speech (which Pepe wants to limit), religion, assembly and the right to petition the government to redress grievances.

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Kicking & Punching D’Elía – Just for Kicks

April 13th, 2008 | 09:44 AM

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In the serious world of politics not everything is fun and games. But sometimes, just sometimes, it is. Click on the above photo and it will take you to Pictogame, an online video game site where you can kick Luís D’Elía until your heart is content. After all, it’s only a game.

If you want to punch him, without actually hurting anyone, click here.

 

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Kirchner, D’Elía & The Contagion of Hatred

April 8th, 2008 | 08:42 AM

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Luis D’Elía, in the middle, attacking at the Plaza de Mayo.
Moments before this, he was a special guest at the Casa Rosada.
Photo from La Nacion

Hate is contagious. It spreads like a disease, devouring its carrier in much the same way that viruses like Ebola devour theirs. It is an emotional carcinogen capable of destroying lives and relationships. And just as cancer corrodes the body, hate corrodes the body politic. It inspires animosity, distrust and anger. It can coarsen a country’s social fabric, leaving it worn out and unwoven.

Argentina’s political debates are often tinged with remnants of hatred that stem from physical and emotional battles that occurred decades ago. Sometimes this is hard to see; other times, it is hard to avoid.

The hate that pervades so much of Argentina’s political infighting was on display recently when the street thug, former government official and perennial protester, Luis D’Elía, appeared on a popular radio talk show. The show, El Parquímetro, airs from 7am-10am M-F and is hosted by Fernando Peña. It is not a show for the tame of heart. Peña, who has a wicked wit, can tear into his guests and leave them embarrassed by their inability to respond to his biting and caustic remarks. But in many ways his show is largely a joke, and most people know this when they call in to talk with him.

This time, Peña made the call. He called D’Elía at home to ask for his perspective on the mildly violent clash that took place on Tuesday, March 25, between D’Elía, scores of his paid companions and thousands of peaceful farm protesters. The protesters had gathered at the Plaza de Mayo to protest new government taxes on the agriculture sector. The protest was covered by all of Argentina’s major television networks. The stations showed a gathering of middle to upper-class people banging pots and pans. The group included parents, grandparents, grandchildren and teenagers, among others. To many observers, the protest seemed somewhat innocuous, at least from the perspective of people concerned about public safety. The protesters were not armed with guns, knives, sticks or pamphlet bombs. Many had smiles on their faces. Clearly, their intentions were nonviolent.

But to many people in the government, the protesters were far from innocent. They were an eerie reminder of the December, 2001 protests that helped lead to the downfall of then President Fernando de la Rua. Back then, De la Rua sent the Policía Federal to the Plaza de Mayo to curb the protests. Deadly violence ensued, precipitating his resignation. This, of course, is an over-simplification of events and it leaves out many other important economic and political contextual details that led to De la Rua’s downfall. But it was these events that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her advisors had in mind as they watched the farm protests unfold in the Playa de Mayo.

For Kirchner, who later called the farmers “golpistas” (implying that they literally wanted to overthrow the government), the protest was too much to bear. The farmers represented more than an innocent display of political dissent. They represented a threat to her government. Kirchner, aware of what happened when De la Rua sent armed police to the Plaza de Mayo, knew not to repeat his mistake. But she did not want to let the protesters have their say. The specific details of what happened next are not clear. But the broader facts are well known and documented.

A band of roughly 150 thugs, led by D’Elía, stormed the Plaza de Mayo and used brute force to push out the thousands of protesters who were peacefully exerting their right to free speech and assembly. D’Elía, who earlier in the evening had been a special guest at the Casa Rosada, led the blitzkrieg. Minutes after leaving the Casa Rosada, he barnstormed the plaza. His black shirt unraveled to his navel. His arms flailed in mid-air as he lurched toward anyone within reach of his tightly-clenched fists. The Plaza, D’Elía later would say, while panting for breath on national television, had to be “liberated from the people who had come to occupy it from Barrio Norte and Recoleta.”

Kirchner’s chief political lieutenant, Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez, in October had accused Porteños of being “arrogant” for not voting for Kirchner in that month’s presidential election. But D’Elía’s fisticuffs-style removal of the plaza protesters is the first indication that the cabinet chief’s comments were more than the mere remarks of an embittered partisan.

Apparently, as D’Elía’s actions and words seem to demonstrate, the government and its allies actually believe that some Porteños – those who hail from the city’s wealthier barrios – are not all equal under the law. Evidently, if you live in Barrio Norte or Recoleta your free speech is not as worthy of protection as that of people who hail from other parts of the city or the country. This presents a stark contradiction because for years Cristina Kirchner’s husband and predecessor actively supported protests throughout the country. Both Kirchners also have sponsored massive protests in the Plaza de Mayo. Just last week Cristina Kirchner spoke at such an event, leaving the impression that it is all right for some, though not for others, to voice their political beliefs in the country’s most historic public space.

It is not clear if Kirchner or one of her cabinet members personally directed D’Elía to storm the plaza and silence its “occupants.” But it is clear that neither she nor anyone in her cabinet prevented D’Elía from savaging the rights of peaceful Argentines to speak freely that night. Indeed, two days after D’Elía drove fellow Argentines from the plaza, Kirchner invited him to appear near her during a major speech at Parque Norte that was broadcast on national television. The inescapable conclusion from this is that Kirchner not only supported D’Elía’s violent actions but that his style of confrontation had the backing of her entire cabinet, which was also present at the speech. In an interview with Gente magazine, D’Elia said this about the Parque Norte event:

I’m not a member of the government. I am simply a Kirchner militant. I can tell you that when I was in Parque Norte I received the recognition, the warmth and the care of everyone who was there.

Kirchner’s appearance with D’Elía was not just a public validation of D’Elía’s actions. It was also an implicit warning to everyone who had protested at the Plaza de Mayo. The message: “Do this again and you will be met with force.”

When Fernando Peña called D’Elía, he did so to ask him about the events that took place that night at the Plaza de Mayo. D’Elía did not hold back. With the same passion that spurred him to take over the plaza, he took Peña’s audience on an emotionally violent ride through the hate-filled valleys of his own heart. Here, without editing, is the conversation that followed on Peña’s radio show:

Peña: “We have a colorful segment – a black segment because we’re going to talk to Luis D’Elía.”
Peña: Hola, Luis. How are you doing?
D’Elía: How are doing, you piece of shit?
Peña: Piece of shit? How are you doing, you piece of shit? What a nice way of starting this interview.
D’Elía: I’m doing great (bárbaro). The score is now 1-to-0. All right, go ahead.
Peña: Tell me what happened Tuesday night? Why did you hit people? Let’s see if you’re willing to tell the truth.
D’Elía: Because I hate them. I hate the damned oligarchy. I hate white people. I hate you, Peña. I hate you. I hate your money. I hate your house. I hate your cars. I hate your history. I hate people like you who defend an unjust and unfair country. I hate the fucking Argentine oligarchy. I hate them with all the strength of my heart. You understand? I hate them. I’m telling you clearly. I hate them. Sarmiento said it in 1880: the blood of Gaucho’s shouldn’t be spared. You would say that same thing about black people (la gente negra). For you, and the shit like you, we are nothing but shit, crap, trash. You are an asshole, a servant of our fucking oligarchy. You pretend to be a transgressor but you don’t have the balls to put up with what we put up with. You live in San Isidro (a wealthy Buenos Aires suburb). And do you know where I’m talking to you from? From Laferrére (a ghetto)…I hate all of you. I hate the Argentine upper-class that has done so much damage and killed so many people in the name of profit.” 

This is emotional rage in its most expressive form. It is a verbal outbreak of intense emotional, even physical angst and anxiety. It is as explosive as it is corrosive. And insofar as political and social progress depends on dialogue, compromise and understanding, this kind of aggression is the exact antithesis of what Argentina needs to overcome the challenges it faces. One might hope that the most powerful politician in the nation, regardless of his or her political affiliation, would condemn such vitriol. But Kirchner has refused to reproach D’Elía. This even though Kirchner herself is not only a white person but also a Recoleta property owner and one of Argentina’s wealthiest citizens. Theoretically, at least, this ought to make her as much the subject of D’Elía’s hate as the protesters he forced out of the Plaza de Mayo.

Argentina is a strikingly beautiful nation with almost limitless potential. But as long as its body politic continues to suffer from the acidic, divisive emotions and suspicions that defined its past, the country will not live up to its potential. The recent events at the Plaza de Mayo indicate that while Argentina’s economy is now in better shape than it was 10 years ago, the political climate is not. What is needed to improve the climate is exactly what the protesters who were driven from the plaza that night sought: dialogue. The way to foster this is for the president herself to offer conciliatory words and actions, taking the high ground and showing detractors that she herself does not share D’Elía’s hatred for her fellow countrymen.

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Comments & Reader Responses

April 7th, 2008 | 11:10 AM

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Matías Maciel, an Argentine journalist in NY who runs a fine Spanish-langauge blog over at Entretanto, has brought something important to my attention. The comments section on The Argentine Post does not work properly. Matías twice tried to comment on my recent video post about young farm protesters. He was unsuccessful. After hearing this, I tried to post a test comment myself and was similarly unsuccessful. I’m looking into the matter and hope to have the problem fixed soon. Meantime, here is what Matías tried to post:

I think that it is very important for young people like Manuel Malenchini to get involved with politics, whatever their ideological perspective. I believe that the construction of a more fair, inclusive and egalitarian society depends on citizens’ commitment, participation and responsibility.

That said, I think it is unfair to

1) imply that all other protesters (those that don’t have a soft voice or speak English) “carry sticks”, “smell of alcohol” or “hide behind a scarf”.
2) compare Manuel’s case –who is protesting a tax increase- with people who are making claims to the state because they are “literally” hungry.

I am against violent methods and so are many of the hungry people who strike, protest, block roads peacefully in all of Latin America.

It is unfortunate to think that most protesters are violent.

Good points, Matías. It is indeed unfair to generalize and lump all protesters into the same category. My point, made partially, implicitly and evidently not very clearly, was not that all protesters are violent or smell of alcohol, but rather that too many of them do resort to less-than-civic behavior while trying to get our attention. This is unfortunate because it distracts attention from what can be, as you said, very legitimate claims.

After 10 years of covering aggressive, even violent protests in Buenos Aires, it was a pleasure to come upon a group of dissenters whose tactics were amicable. This is admirable, even if one disagrees with the farmers’ and their policy perspectives.

Here is another response to the same post. This one, which came via email, takes a very different tone. I have changed the name to protect the identify of the author, who I believe is an Argentine woman living in Los Angeles, California. The comments are unedited:

I don’t know who is behind this “The Argentine Post” nor why it is written in English, but just in case I am responding in the same language. One thing is clear to me: If this post is intended for foreigners that live in our territory to read, they should learn our language. Second: your points of view are so bias they make me puke. Regarding your well mannered farmers, besides being the same old ruling class that continues to live in the past where they are the only ones with all the privileges while the rest of the population hungers, (you don’t need to go so far as yesterday when they were organizing “BBQs” alongside their protesters while the rest of the population starves), they are the ones who let all this foreigners come to our country and take over vast territories. Tres chic! How cool! Shame on you! 

Gloria Haden
Los Angeles, CA. USA

Sorry about the puke, Gloria. But thank you for the feedback. Keep it coming. I asked Gloria to post her comments for all to enjoy. She did not reply.

Gloria’s comments are typical of those often made in politics. They epitomize the “argumentum ad hominem” (literally, argument to the man) school of debate in which debaters attach each other instead of attacking each other’s ideas. Farm protesters hit the streets because, among other things, they wanted the government to reduce or eliminate taxes on agriculture exports. Notice that Gloria did not address this topic. Are those taxes too high? Are they fair? Are they necessary? Perhaps they are fair and necessary, but we certainly would not know this by reading Gloria’s comments. Instead, we know only that my bias is vomit-inducing and that farmers are living in the past. Gloria attacks the farmers and me but does not say whether the export taxes themselves are worth protesting. Would those taxes be any better or worse an idea if the farmers stopped organizing BBQs while protesting?

The ratio of emails to comments received is about 30-1. Why, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because the comments section is not user friendly. Or perhaps it’s because most people want their communication to be private. That is fine, but it’s also a pity in some ways because it denies readers a chance to see what other readers are thinking. Alternatively, I know that not all readers read comments, and some even fine them a waste of time. If you have an opinion on the matter, let me know, preferrably via email since, apparently, the comments section does not work.

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Comments & Reader Responses

April 7th, 2008 | 11:10 AM

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Matías Maciel, an Argentine journalist in NY who runs a fine Spanish-langauge blog over at Entretanto, has brought something important to my attention. The comments section on The Argentine Post does not work properly. Matías twice tried to comment on my recent video post about young farm protesters. He was unsuccessful. After hearing this, I tried to post a test comment myself and was similarly unsuccessful. I’m looking into the matter and hope to have the problem fixed soon. Meantime, here is what Matías tried to post:

I think that it is very important for young people like Manuel Malenchini to get involved with politics, whatever their ideological perspective. I believe that the construction of a more fair, inclusive and egalitarian society depends on citizens’ commitment, participation and responsibility.

That said, I think it is unfair to

1) imply that all other protesters (those that don’t have a soft voice or speak English) “carry sticks”, “smell of alcohol” or “hide behind a scarf”.
2) compare Manuel’s case –who is protesting a tax increase- with people who are making claims to the state because they are “literally” hungry.

I am against violent methods and so are many of the hungry people who strike, protest, block roads peacefully in all of Latin America.

It is unfortunate to think that most protesters are violent.

Good points, Matías. It is indeed unfair to generalize and lump all protesters into the same category. My point, made partially, implicitly and evidently not very clearly, was not that all protesters are violent or smell of alcohol, but rather that too many of them do resort to less-than-civic behavior while trying to get our attention. This is unfortunate because it distracts attention from what can be, as you said, very legitimate claims.

After 10 years of covering aggressive, even violent protests in Buenos Aires, it was a pleasure to come upon a group of dissenters whose tactics were amicable. This is admirable, even if one disagrees with the farmers’ and their policy perspectives.

Here is another response to the same post. This one, which came via email, takes a very different tone. I have changed the name to protect the identify of the author, who I believe is an Argentine woman living in Los Angeles, California. The comments are unedited:

I don’t know who is behind this “The Argentine Post” nor why it is written in English, but just in case I am responding in the same language. One thing is clear to me: If this post is intended for foreigners that live in our territory to read, they should learn our language. Second: your points of view are so bias they make me puke. Regarding your well mannered farmers, besides being the same old ruling class that continues to live in the past where they are the only ones with all the privileges while the rest of the population hungers, (you don’t need to go so far as yesterday when they were organizing “BBQs” alongside their protesters while the rest of the population starves), they are the ones who let all this foreigners come to our country and take over vast territories. Tres chic! How cool! Shame on you! 

Gloria Haden
Los Angeles, CA. USA

Sorry about the puke, Gloria. But thank you for the feedback. Keep it coming. I asked Gloria to post her comments for all to enjoy. She did not reply.

Gloria’s comments are typical of those often made in politics. They epitomize the “argumentum ad hominem” (literally, argument to the man) school of debate in which debaters attach each other instead of attacking each other’s ideas. Farm protesters hit the streets because, among other things, they wanted the government to reduce or eliminate taxes on agriculture exports. Notice that Gloria did not address this topic. Are those taxes too high? Are they fair? Are they necessary? Perhaps they are fair and necessary, but we certainly would not know this by reading Gloria’s comments. Instead, we know only that my bias is vomit-inducing and that farmers are living in the past. Gloria attacks the farmers and me but does not say whether the export taxes themselves are worth protesting. Would those taxes be any better or worse an idea if the farmers stopped organizing BBQs while protesting?

The ratio of emails to comments received is about 30-1. Why, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because the comments section is not user friendly. Or perhaps it’s because most people want their communication to be private. That is fine, but it’s also a pity in some ways because it denies readers a chance to see what other readers are thinking. Alternatively, I know that not all readers read comments, and some even fine them a waste of time. If you have an opinion on the matter, let me know, preferrably via email since, apparently, the comments section does not work.

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Young Protesters Hit The Streets To Support Farmers

April 1st, 2008 | 02:27 PM

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Manuel Malenchini isn’t your average street protester. He is soft-spoken and does not carry a big stick. He is fluent in English. He does not hide his face behind a scarf. Nor does he smell of alcohol or look threatening. He looks like a harmless teenager. And at just 16-year-old, that is exactly what he is. On Monday night, Malenchini, whose family has a farm in Corrientes Province, listened to President Cristina Kirchner give a nationally-televised speech about the country’s ongoing agriculture strike, and he decided that he did not like what he heard. This was not the first time this had happened. Malenchini, who seems particularly astute for a 16-year-old, had heard Kirchner give two speeches last week, both about the farm strike.

“We are tired of all that they (in the Kirchner government) are saying,” Malenchini said Monday night, while leading a protest in downtown Buenos Aires. “We are tired of all the lies they are saying. We are just tired. We want another thing (something else) for our country and that’s why we are here protesting.”

Malenchini is in some ways the face of Argentina’s farm strike. He is nonthreatening. Moreover, there seems to be something inherently reasonable about the way he and his cohorts express their views – peacefully, respectfully, nonviolently. In contrast to so many of Argentina’s protesters, the farmers’ approach is non confrontational, even inviting. While other protesters snarl and hurl smoke bombs, these protesters break out the ultimate weapon: the smile. Like most farmers, Malenchini is not used to protesting. But despite his age, he believes firmly in his cause. So he and his friends have taken to the streets to register their discontent with the government and its farm policies. To see Malenchini for yourself, check out this little video shot Monday night by The Argentine Post. For a higher resolution viewing, check out www.scoopingargentina.com. This video was shot with a Flip Ultra video camera.

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