Experiences in Argentina before the “crisis

Jessica Kullander

Experiences in Argentina before the “crisis”
by Jessica KullanderI went to Argentina not expecting much because I had no idea what to expect. I never thought I would see and experience what I did. My teachers and friends in La Plata, the city I stayed in, told me that I had come to Argentina during a unique time. Nothing like this has ever happened this way before, they said.
So what was going on? I watched with interest the peaceful street marches, I read about the gatherings of hundreds of people in public plazas talking and rallying support against pay cuts, unemployment, and the issuing of patacones (money bonds). One particularly political university group of students took over one of the university’s buildings.
Why? All public education is free in Argentina, including public universities, which means the government pays the professors’ salaries, which had been part of the financial cuts made by the president. This group of students camped out for over 30 days, letting no regular university business be conducted, barring many people from work, and holding off the start of many classes for over a month.
They were very peaceful about it all, and organized, too. They created their own daily bulletin, held marches through the city, and painted a beautiful, inspiring mural on the building. Once they agreed to relinquish ‘their’ building, classes started finally, trying to frantically catch up the time lost.
This was not the end, though. Many professors held their own protests by hauling desks into the street and conducting class outside the building. Students also had periodic, symbolic takeovers of other university buildings and libraries. I must mention that it wasn’t only the students and professors protesting-public school teachers, public health care workers, even students and their parents held or participated in marches or gatherings.
Voting is required in Argentina, so as another form of protest, many people in opposition to the policies and politics of the president, other politicians and parties, or those who were just simply fed up voted “en blanco,” or rather, left their ballot empty, voting for nothing and no one. In some districts, blank votes were over 30 percent, which caused much concern.
Could I see the resignation of the president coming? No, as a visitor I didn’t really pay much attention to politics and such. Could I see why the economic crisis got worse? Yes. Argentina took many loans during the economic downfall in the 1980s and went into deep debt. In the early 90s, they pegged their currency to the dollar, hoping to regain a foothold.
All this did was to overvalue many goods and services and contributed to the increasing gap between the rich and poor. When going to and from Buenos Aires, on the highway and especially on the train, I could see the levels of income change. Middle class and rich neighborhoods were closer to the center, and further out low income apartments eventually receded to scattered shanty settlements. With unemployment high, people try to keep their dignity by selling sandwiches or children’s underwear on the street corner, while others give in and beg on the sidewalks.
What a crisis-at least that is what it seems to us Americans. I remember reading in the paper a quote that seems to me to generalize how many Argentineans feel about themselves and their country: “Argentineans have always lived in a state of crisis, since revolutionary times, be it an oppressive dictatorship or just general hard times. Argentina will go on, our lives will go on, like they always have.”