My First Argentina Protest
Yesterday I went to Plaza de Mayo to listen to Juan Carlos Blumberg speak about crime and security in Argentina. It was my first time at a protest here and, for me, it was a very interesting experience. According to media outlets and unofficial police estimates, there were between 40 and 60 thousand people in attendance.
Blumberg has called for Argentina to toughen its laws against criminals. The government, however, has refused to do so, harking back to the tough approach to crime and punishment that was used during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, in which thousands of people were made to disappear. In fact, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have denounced Blumberg and compared him, quite unjustifiably in my opinion, with the military dictators that ruled the country back in the 70s and 80s.
If you don't know the story of Blumberg, a little background is in order. Blumberg was a textile engineer whose son was killed by kidnappers. Although Blumberg paid the ransom in the designated drop-off point, a corrupt cop with knowledge of the operation informed a different criminal gang, who stole the money. When the kidnappers were not paid, they killed Blumberg's son. Since his son's death in 2004, Blumberg has been an anti-crime crusader.
The government dislikes Blumberg so much that they staged a pathetic counter-protest at the obelisk, which gathered only about 5,000 people. In fact, there would have been more people at the Blumberg march, but many people were scared away by the rantings of the leader of the counter-protest, Luis D'Elía, who spoke of marching his counter-protest to the Plaza de Mayo to cause trouble.
Unlike most protests, which are filled with the unemployed, the Blumberg march was filled with middle-class taxpaying families, who were asking their government to fulfill one of its most basic duties - the protection of its citizens. While the piqueteros, the poor, and the leftists here are protesting every other day, it isn't easy to get a middle-class person who has a good job and a family to go and join a protest march. Usually middle-class people are content. Whenever a government starts to see its middle-class rise up and protest, they should pay attention.
The newspapers today were filled with articles at how the government had made a major miscalculation by staging a counter-protest and dismissing Blumberg as an extremist or a right-wing politician. In fact, he made no political statements at the march last night (some expected him to launch a candidacy for governor of Buenos Aires province) - he only called on the present government to improve the security situation.
Unless Kirchner is content to lose middle-class votes, I expect him to address Blumberg's concerns or he just may turn Blumberg into a political foe. We'll see what happens in the coming months.