~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, July 3rd 2012
What a difference a year makes. Last summer in London, anti-cuts protests and rioting left parts of the city in flames; this year flag-wavers lined the streets for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Last year in New York, Zuccotti Park was packed with protestors; this year the park is unoccupied and donations to the movement have slowed to a trickle. This is the summer when direct action has shifted south of the equator.
A few days ago, I was sitting in a bus depot in Puerto Iguazú on the border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil as local Argentines in the café gathered around the television screen. The news bulletins were showing the Paraguayan capital of Asunción descending into riots following the rapid impeachment of the President for "poor performance”. That same week, in Santiago, Chile, students were taking to the streets to protest "for-profit" universities.
A few days later, in Buenos Aires, the Plaza de Mayo filled with van-loads of civilian and riot police on the eve of a labour strike over income tax that many feared would bring the city to its knees. In the end, the labour strike was fairly peaceful, and the headlines were given over to striking truckers threatening to drain Argentina of fuel and—a big story for British readers—President Cristina Kirchner ramping up the rhetoric over the Falklands. Two weeks ago at the G20 summit in Mexico, Kirchner handed David Cameron an envelope provocatively marked "UN Malvinas". You could be forgiven for thinking that this is what angers Argentines most.
But it isn't. The most famous protesters in Argentina are the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who first marched in front of Congress in the Seventies to protest against their disappeared children, thousands of whom were snatched and murdered by the military dictatorship. The mothers, recognisable by their white headscarves, still march every Thursday. Their white headscarves are imprinted on the circular pavement of the plaza, a forceful reminder that political activism here comes from all corners of society.
On my visit to the Plaza de Mayo, I saw banners about "Las Malvinas", but my guide Nico explained the banners referred to fair pay for veterans, rather than the sovereignty of the land. Over the following days, the local porteños I spoke to—waiters in restaurants, taxi drivers—agreed that Kirchner's insistence on bringing up the Falklands was a distraction technique to revive patriotism as her popularity slides. More than one person said Kirchner was trying to "tug on the heartstrings".
My guide Nico was also fearful that a small group might use the Olympics as a platform for Falklands protests. But at the celebrations to send off Argentina's Olympic team last week, Kirchner rejected the idea of using the games as a forum for international politics. Well she might. In Argentina at the moment, inflation is in double-digits, fuel truckers are striking and prudent savers are facing a ban on the purchase of foreign currency. Argentines have plenty more immediate issues to protest.