30 September 2009

2009.09.30_the workers in effect

What did I say.

Today I gathered with thousands of pissed off citizens in Republic Square, primed to march to the Labor Ministry, demanding free and democratic unions, and the reinstatement of fired Kraft workers.

It was huge. Just when I thought everyone was here and we were ready to go, I looked over the hedge, and saw this gang coming down the street:

And look! It's actually the media, right where they should be:

(Now please don't put me on the news; my boss would flip.)

Then, at the starting line of the best protest I'd ever been to, it happened -- my camera battery died. Now I'm left trying to describe, in less than a thousand words, what my camera does in the flash of a shutter. Ahhh! The pressure! Okay. (Here are some photos of the setup, if you prefer).

The energy was off the chain. The march was so loud I couldn't hear myself chant (which is fine, since I didn't really know the words). There were trombones and trumpets and fireworks. Every tenth person had a drum, and when they coalesced, my insides would shake. There was juggling... and peanuts! At one end of the march there were workers with their arms thrown over each other's shoulders, at the other, groups of grown men chanting and jumping in unison, and all throughout, lines of people linked arm-in-arm that spanned the width of the street. Old curmudgeons couldn't wipe the grins off their faces.

This is clearly something that they do here, and they are damn good at it.

The array of organizations and contingents was overwhelming. Even my very own subway line (I live here now, it's mine) was represented. Solidarity among subway lines was demonstrated with signs like Ni mejores ni peores; diferentes; La "D" and Uno es todo; Somos uno; La "A" while one contingent claimed to be La loca banda; La "E" and another simply declared that they were here: La "H" presente.

Without permits or other bureaucratic nonsense, we cut (took) the streets. With no regard for traffic, we completely shut down Avenida Corrientes, a six-lane vein in the heart of the city center, and we swarmed restaurant patios with impunity. The banks on the street were all gated off (with a cute little hole for customers to crawl through), and I'm pretty sure I saw envy on the faces of the suits standing behind the gates, watching.

The best part of the day? Practically pigless! No riot gear, no tear gas, no belligerent machismo for miles. I counted SIX cops on motorcycles that blocked traffic as we rounded a corner, but while a demonstrator spray-painted pro-worker slogans on the street, yards away, they chatted. I also caught a glimpse of a horde of riot police lurking behind the gates of the Labor Ministry waiting for a showdown, but unlike riot cops in the states, they only played defense.

Though the largest protest in the city today, it was not alone. Elsewhere, Kraft workers blocked a highway; nightclub owners blocked streets in protest of a government-imposed 5:30 AM closing call; pensioners, former inmates, and port workers protested other things at other places. Just another Wednesday in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

2009.09.29_fuera Kraft!

Today I stumbled upon a music festival at the Plaza de Mayo, home of mass demonstrations, and political hub for Buenos Aires. The event was dedicated to supporting the current struggle of Kraft workers in Buenos Aires, and to denouncing government labor policy (or lack of). Click for more snapshots:

After 40 days of employee occupation, Kraft managed to expel the workers and reopen their Buenos Aires plant Monday. A court order lead to the arrest of 60 workers, and the injury of 12, as Argentine police, ordered by the government to defend the interests of a North American company, executed operation Sell-Out.

The employee occupation was instigated by Kraft's massive layoffs and anti-union activity. 162 workers, mostly activists and union representatives, were fired in July for fighting for better health conditions and provoking other workers. If you ask Kraft, they deserved it, but if you ask anyone but Kraft, it was part of a larger design to rid the plant of union organization and worker protections; a plot to make more money off cookies and Handi-snacks.

"They wanted to quiet us so they could begin applying the 12-hour American work shift, employing agency laborers that rotate every six months, increasing production without increasing salary or work force, freezing salaries and all the measures that these types of companies apply," said Cristian Abarza, axed after eight years.

Illinois-based Kraft, the second-largest food manufacturer in the world, reported record revenues of $42 billion in 2008, and they just can't stand to lose their Buenos Aires plant, Argentina's second-largest food processing center. But Argentina, like always, is not going to take it laying down. Monday night, thousands of leftists, unionists, workers, and citizens marched from Congress to the presidential palace. They're mad at Kraft, and they're mad at Cristina Kirchner, who's in the doghouse both for steering clear of talks between Kraft and the Labor Ministry, and for buddying up to one of Kraft's representatives this last weekend, the Obama administration.

The Kraft pickle is just the current focal point of a profound conflict between the Kirchner administration and labor forces, so stay tuned for more mass protests and road blockades!

28 September 2009

2009.09.28_out from under the repression

My friend received this communique from a demonstrator in Honduras. Google and I did our best to translate accurately, but in case you don't believe us, the Spanish is below. It gets a little rushed and the grammar starts to struggle toward the end, but if you know anything about the situation in Honduras, you'll let it slide.

From Ingrid Storgen
Boy friends, girl friends [I translated this directly for cultural effect]:

I am in a building near the Brazilian Embassy with 30 comrades, mostly members of Artistas del Frente Nacional Contra el Golpe de Estado [basically, artists against the coup].

We have sought this place to rest, keeping aware that at any moment the army and police will enter the perimeter where about 5,000 of us met to give protection to President Manuel Zelaya.

They attacked us at 5:45 am with gunfire and tear gas. They killed an unspecified number of colleagues in the first barricade at the end of the bridge Guanacaste. They surrounded and attacked the barricade at the bridge of La Reforma.

In our estimates, the operation had about 1,000 police and military.

Cornered and beaten. 18 seriously injured in the hospital. They continue to pursue the brave students who organized the precarious barricades last night in the Barrio Morazán and Guadalupe Neighborhood.

The time now is 8:00 am. Outside the Brazilian Embassy they have placed a loudspeaker with the national anthem at full volume while they search the houses adjacent to the Embassy. They threw tear gas bombs into the embassy. The president remains inside, threatened by the coup plotters that argue through the media the "legal" reasons to proceed with the raids.

Thousands of people heading to Tegucigalpa have been detained around the city. The town is completely empty, ghostly. The curfew was extended to all day.

The repression against the unarmed demonstrators was brutal. On several occasions, Radio Globo and Channel 36 have been taken off the air.

Hundreds of prisoners.

We are isolated.

Here are the core of the organizers of the major cultural events in resistance: poets, songwriters, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, boy painters and girl painters [just trying to preserve the culture] ... humans.


We have a 17-hour curfew. And we will continue until 6 pm on Tuesday.

(We don't doubt that they will extend it ... the same happened in the department of El Paraíso two months ago)

The military and police have invaded the privacy of the neighbors of the Brazilian Embassy.

The police and the military ... have broken the windows of cars and motorcycles of persons in the resistance, they are burning their cars (they have left them there, like seals)

There is talk of three people dead, injured (the injured were taken to hospitals ... the military is raiding the hospitals)

Those caught are taken to the stadium Chochi Sosa. (the same that Pinochet did)

PLEASE: Help us spread the news.


De Ingrid Storgen
Amigas, amigos:

Me encuentro en un edificio cercano a la Embajada de Brasil junto a 30 compañeras y compañeros, la mayoría integrantes de Artistas del Frente Nacional Contra el Golpe de Estado.

Nos avocamos a este lugar para descansar, manteniendo la conciencia de que de un momento a otro el ejército y la policía entrarían al perímetro donde alrededor de 5,000 personas nos encontrábamos para darle protección al Presidente Manuel Zelaya.

Atacaron a las 5:45 am con fusilería y lacrimógenas. Mataron a un número indeterminado de compañeros de la primera barricada al final del Puente Guancaste. Rodearon y atacaron la barricada del puente de La Reforma.

Haciendo cálculos aproximados, el operativo contó con alrededor de 1,000 efectivos policiales y militares.

Arrinconaron y golpearon. 18 heridos graves en el Hospital Escuela. Siguen persiguiendo en el Barrio Morazán y en le Barrio Guadalupe a los bravos estudiantes que anoche organizaron las precarias barricadas.

En este momento son las 8:00 am. Frente a la Embajada de Brasil han colocado un altoparlante con el himno nacional a todo volumen mientras catean las casas aledañas a la Embajada. Lanzaron bombas lacrimógenas dentro de la Embajada. El Presidente continúa en su interior amenazado por los golpistas que ya argumentaron a través de los medios sus razones "legales" para proceder al allanamientos.

Miles de personas que se dirigían hacia Tegucigalpa han sido retenidas en los alrededores de la ciudad. La ciudad está completamente vacía, fantasmal. El toque de queda fue extendido para todo el día.

La represión contra los manifestantes indefensos fue brutal. En varias ocasiones Radio Globo y Canal 36 han sido sacados del aire.

Cientos de presos.

Estamos aislados.

Aquí estamos el núcleo principal de los organizadores de los grandes eventos culturales en resistencia: poetas, cantautores, músicos, fotógrafos, cineastas, pintores y pintoras... humanos.


Llevamos 17 horas de toque de queda. Y seguimos hasta las 6 de la tarde de hoy martes.

(no dudamos que lo extiendan... igual paso en el departamento de El Paraíso hace dos meses)

Los MILITARES y los POLICIAS han invadido la privacidad de los vecinos al par de la EMBAJADA DE BRASIL.

La policia y los militares...han quebrado los vidrios de los carros y motos de las personas de la resistencia, estan quemando sus carros (ellos los habían dejado ahí, como retenes)

Se habla de tres muertos, heridos (a los heridos que se trasladarón a los hospitales... los militares los están sacando de los hospitales)

A los atrapados los llevan al estadio Chochi Sosa. ( lo mismo hizo Pinochet)

POR FAVOR: Ayúdenos a difundir las noticias.

23 September 2009

2009.09.23_fuera golpistas!

Demonstrators united outside the Brazilian embassy today in Buenos Aires, in solidarity with demonstrators at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where Zelaya has been granted refuge. Congressman Edgardo Depetri, of President Cristina Fernandez's Victory Front party, and Nora Cortiñas, from Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo (an association of Argentine mothers whose children "disappeared" during the Dirty War) both said a lot of things I didn't understand. Nevertheless, the messages today were unequivocal: end the repression, return Zelaya to power, and nice call, Brazil.

click for more photos

Since democratically-elected Zelaya was ousted and forced into exile by Roberto Micheletti's coup regime on June 28th of this year, Honduras has seen the longest protest movement in the country's history, accompanied by... wait for it... brutal repression. When Zelaya sneaked back into Honduras on Monday, the de facto state was quick to intensify repressive measures. Zelaya has called for dialogue; Micheletti has called for a crackdown. A curfew was imposed, electricity and water were cut off, military checkpoints were installed, and local international airports were closed. When a demonstration of thousands was broken up at the Brazilian embassy yesterday, mass arbitrary arrests and police beatings ensued; at least two adults and one child were killed; and transmission interruptions and power outages were used to prevent Radio Globo and TV channel 36 from broadcasting. All this to "protect tranquility, life and goods of civilians," maintains Micheletti. The situation is precarious, but Zelaya has promised, "Starting from now nothing will force me to leave; return to the power or death." How exactly Zelaya made it home is a secret, but the feat does suggest that not all of the armed forces are pleased with and ready to submit to the illegal coup regime.

For more information on the situation in Honduras now and since the June coup, see today's Amnesty International report.

21 September 2009

2009.09_Argentine idiosyncrasies

To sum.

Sobre el clima: It's so erratic -- every morning (noon) I pull the drapes, and I'm shocked. Today was the first day of spring in Buenos Aires, and as if the universe knew its cues, the rain cleared and the sun heated up the city. I even got the nerve to whip out my fancy camera long enough to grab a few shots.

Sobre el dinero: Shit's so cheap -- I gave the grocery store the equivalent of $7, and they gave me a two-day food supply and a bottle of fine wine. The weird thing is that the cajeros spit out 100-peso bills (100 peses ≈ 26 USD), but that's like a lot, so most vendors refuse to change this bill. This tends to leave me with a lot of $26 bills, and incapable of buying anything because I can afford it too much.

Sobre los alimentos: Okay okay, the meat is good. I give I give! Now give me more.

En las calles: One thing that BA does not have going for it is cleanliness. I waited at a crosswalk today (Seattle taught me to do this), and when the cars cleared, all that was left was a puff of smog so thick that I couldn't make out the silhouettes on the other side. A minute later I was walking behind a boy -- hand in hand with his mom -- that threw a soda cup in the air as high as he could. I wondered how he was going to break away from mom to get it, but he was not wondering the same thing. Both he and his mom watched the cup fall to the ground several feet away, and continued on without breaking their stride. The 80s are back!

Sobre la enfermedad: While Argentina accounts for a quarter of the Swine Flu deaths in the world, nobody wears masks, and there don't seem to be any signs of paranoia, or even caution. However, I did cough in a crowded bar the other night, and the mass flinching that ensued proved that this nonchalant veneer is merely a state of denial. This same theory was reinforced on the subway -- where every window in every car stays open, even on the cold days. Yes the windows on the subways open, and the operators hang out of them and high five each other at stops. It's so cool.

Sobre el tiempo: My friend asked if I wanted to go get a drink the other night, to which I said yes, of course. He then told me he would come get me at 00:00. Now, it was only 19:00 (7) at this point, so of course I triple-checked to make sure 00:00 meant midnight, which it did. Okay, maybe I can't keep up.

Sobre el entretenimiento: See photos of my first Argentine concert at link above. If I'm not mistaken, they speak for themselves.

More on the workers' movement soon, I swear, but here's the thing. People speak very little, if any, English here, which is wonderful, but I'm going to have to get this Castellano Spanish jargon down if I want to hold substantial political conversations. I've tried, but I hear them speak with their Italian accent and gesticulations, and then all that comes out is Italian. I'm actually rather amazed and annoyed with how much Italian I've retained. Whatever I want to say goes through the other-language filter in my brain, pops out of my mouth as Italian, and everyone's stare tells me that I made no sense. I blame it on them for not keeping to their roots.

In the meantime, I watched a great documentary, Argentina Latente (Dormant Argentina), that gives tangible insight into the devastating effects of neoliberal Structural Adjustment Programs and privatization on Argentina. Like any good documentary, it manages to traverse some very demoralizing material, and still end on a motivational note. Though it's mostly about the degeneration of Argentina's engineering industry and its involuntary transition into an export-based agro-industry (compliments of the U.S.), it incorporates inspiring clips from worker-run factories (fabricas recuperadas). One such factory found that, because of technological advancements, it had too many workers with excess time. Instead of laying everyone off, the workers chose to use resources recovered from cutting off management costs and executive salaries to implement social services. What kind of social services? Oh, trapeze and African drum workshops, baby massages... you know, standard factory activities.

I don't know what baby massages are either.

"Our independent history began with men who said 'It's possible,' and showed it was so, with the stubborn effort of the people. After decades of darkness, a rebirth emerges from the Caribbean to the Patagonia as the utopia of native nations and majorities that have been fighting for their emancipation. Latin America has every resource, knowledge and original cultural heritage it needs. It is time to become a great community of nations in order to overcome our little countries' weaknesses." -- Argentina Latente