Kirchner Reverses and Allows Protests... Sort Of
Anyone whose been here in Buenos Aires for more than a few months has no doubt run into trouble with the piqueteros, the roving bands of unemployed people who block key bridges, streets, subways, and generally cause problems for commuters.
Recently, due to the upcoming elections no doubt, the government decided to take harder line with the piqueteros to try and curry favor with middle class voters, who are fed up with the transit delays on their way to and from work each day. So, what did the government do? They blocked piqueteros from entering the Plaza de Mayo last Friday when they were going to protest for an increase in salaries and unemployment subsidies.
Now, in the face of criticism, the government relents and says they will allow the protests in the Plaza de Mayo once again... sort of. The government said they would require permission from the piqueteros to demonstrate in front of the Government House at Plaza de Mayo. A protest scheduled for today against the planned visit of President George W. Bush, who will attend the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, will be allowed to go forward.
I find this just a little bit hypocritical and quite ridiculous. They'll allow protests criticizing a foreign government, but not a protest criticizing their own government. They do the same thing in China and Cuba. While no one that I know here likes the piqueteros, it seems to me that blocking protests in front of the Government House is just a way to try and silence your critics. Any democracy that purports to allow free speech and the right to assemble has to allow protests outside government offices. After all, that's where the people who make the policies are working. They are the ones that need to be reached.
A better response by the government would be to stop the piqueteros from blocking roads, bridges, and subways -- which does nothing but enrage middle class commuters anyway -- and allow the piqueteros to protest outside government offices. To be honest, I'm not sure why the piqueteros don't adopt this strategy themselves. They would get a lot more sympathy and support from the middle class, whose taxes pay their unemployment subsidies, if they didn't constantly agitate them with road blocks.