Protests – Political and Gustatory

2005.Nov.05 Saturday · 0 comments

in Life, Popular Posts, Restaurants

Casa RosadaBuenos Aires – I received several e-mails from friends concerned that I was finding myself in the middle of “the riots” that occurred yesterday. Local news media certainly sensationalized what was happening, concentrating, of course, on the truly negative aspects of the protests. I’m not really sure what those of you “in the states” or elsewhere got to see – I took a look at the online pages for several major U.S. newspapers and the same was true, though little coverage overall seemed to have been devoted to the events. First, I’m fine, and for the most part, nowhere near to the summit and its accompanying protests. Mar del Plata, a beach resort community “for middle class Argentines” (or so it keeps being termed), is 250 miles south of Buenos Aires. The short-lived manifestación, or demonstration, that occurred early yesterday evening in front of the Casa Rosada, or Pink House (the presidential office complex, shown here sans protest), is about a 40 minute walk from where I live, and was also relatively peaceful.

Here’s my take on the events, and I watched a fair amount of it live on local television, plus of course it’s been a major topic of conversation for weeks (they even moved the Gay Pride Parade from this weekend to two weeks from now so that people didn’t have to choose). The 25-30,000 people who marched, peacefully, in Mar del Plata, and attended the rally, also peaceful, led by President Chavez of Venezuela, have their views on the impact of the various Free Trade proposals and U.S. “Imperialism.” I think both sides have some valid points. I’m not a fan of GW either, nor of certain U.S. policies like the continued exclusion of Cuba and Fidel Castro from various events. Let’s face it, the U.S. negotiates, has conversations with, and allows trade and tourism with mainland China, with the various former Soviet states (and allowed the same during the USSR’s existence), and many other far more repressive countries. It’s almost like we’ve picked this one little island in the Caribbean as a place to set up as some sort of example. In other points, I don’t really think we’re out to invade Venezuela for its oil resources, nor do I think (though I’ve heard speculation even amongst friends back home) that we’re all set to steal away the glaciers of Patagonia here in Argentina. Time of course will tell, but I just don’t think those things are likely.

The marches and rallies were for the most part peaceful and well organized. In Mar del Plata, somewhere between 1-200 folks out of nearly 30,000 “engaged” police, for the most part taunting them, but also throwing some rocks and a few molotov cocktails. Police responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets, and quelled the problem fairly quickly. The bigger problem, and where I take issue, and also most of what appeared on the news channels, were the roving bands of teenage and young adult thugs, who used the protest march as a cover for smashing windows of some 60 local businesses and looting them, then setting fire to them to cover up their thievery. Even though they got the lion’s share of media coverage, my opinion is that they had nothing to do with the protests. They weren’t targetting U.S. businesses, essentially all they did was steal and put a large number of locals out of work.

In the two “violent” incidents here in the capitol it was much more targetted. A few protestors broke away from the march and rally and threw molotov cocktails at a couple of fast food outlets and smashed windows and furniture in a Bank Boston branch. Though they were targetting what they perceive as U.S. imperialism, the problem is, these businesses are here, and successful, because locals want them to be. And once again, all they did really is put more locals out of work. Despite whatever mouthings of distaste that I hear from Argentines about fast food outlets, foreign banks, and chain stores like Wal-Mart and Carrefour, they’re the ones shopping in those places. Trust me, you walk into the local Wal-Mart, the aisles aren’t filled with U.S. citizens trying to find goods from back home, they’re filled with locals trying to get “American” goods at a bargain price. The teens hanging out eating burgers at McDonald’s and Burger King aren’t backpackers from Indianapolis, they’re locals spending their parents’ hard-earned pesos on “a real American hamburger.” Every Argentine I know who has any amount of money stashes it in one of those foreign banks, often in an overseas branch. The first thing I heard the other day when I became a padrino was “how do we send our kids to America to be educated?” And despite the occasional complaints I hear about all the U.S. and British ex-pats moving here and buying up homes, nobody’s turning down the influx of currency and investment when it comes time for their share.

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Back to the world of food…

We just wanted a quick bite at a local grill last night, so we walked down to the corner to Los Porteños, Las Heras 2101. I guess I should have looked it up online first and I would have been prepared for just how bad a parrilla could be. Or maybe we would have skipped it altogether. We certainly will in the future. I wish I’d had my camera just to document my grievances, instead I’ll just list them: dirty menus; a burnt empanada – and they were out of every kind except ham, which was not the usual diced ham and cheese, but rather a filling of rolled up slices of grocery store grade lunchmeat; old frying oil filled with bits of debris and flies, much of which, including the flies, came fried right onto the french fries; a wrong entree and then attitude from the waitress when we wanted it replaced with what we’d ordered; a burnt grilled chicken, a flavorless milanesa napolitana, and a manager who just sat behind the counter shaking his head. He finally came over at the end of the meal (which we didn’t touch after discovering the flies) and without apology offered us dessert on the house. We declined, he brought the bill, only charging us for two bottles of water, and… the one incorrect entree (the most expensive of them, but then, it wasn’t worth arguing over at that point). [This place has, thankfully, closed.]

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