We stumbled upon a massive protest last night in the Plaza de Mayo, the plaza in front of the president’s official address, the Casa Rosada. According to unofficial numbers reported in the press, the crowd topped 200,000 in Buenos Aires. Thousands more gathered in other cities.
Their message? “We’re against Cristina,” said one protestor, a short woman who looked to be in her 60s, referring to President Cristina Fernández. “She’s becoming like [Hugo] Chavez,” said a middle-aged man in a pink shirt and Bermuda shorts.
The most astonishing thing about the protest was the noise–thousands of people were banging pots with spoons and singing protest songs. There were moments where the crowd solemnly sang as a chorus, then erupted with shouts and thunderous clanging. There was an urgency and conviction in the marchers I’ve rarely seen at American protests.
The protest was organized by Twitter and Facebook, and was explicitly not associated with any political party. Protestors had a litany of complaints against Fernández, who is universally known just as “Cristina”: proposed changes to the constitution allowing her a third term; massive inflation; cutting off access to US dollars, where many middle- and upper-class Argentines keep their savings; financial restrictions that make it very hard to travel abroad.
Argentina has class and geographic divisions that are much more stark than the United States. Cristina is a populist with a base in the working class–she’s never had much support in Buenos Aires, and last night’s protests indicate how deep the resentment is against her here.
(Interestingly, many political observers say that’s why her government backed the gay marriage law in 2010–it was a way to pick up support from urban elites. “This was a way to capture a progressive electorate, of course thinking that, ‘If I do the equal marriage law, all the gays are going to vote for me.’ It’s a little primitive,” a former opposition politician, Diana Maffia, told me in an interview earlier this week.)
Argentina’s been a country palpably on edge since we arrived. I detect it in the desperation of people for dollars, the increased reports of crime in Buenos Aires, even just the mood of the people we’ve met. These protests make me wonder if it’s close to a boiling point.
If you want to see more pictures of the protests, La Nación has an excellent gallery of scenes from around the country towards the end of this article. And the Associated Press has a good report in English–which seemed to have gotten picked up by hardly any papers back home.