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Crime surge revives reactionary forces in Argentina

The popular progressive Argentinean administration of Nestor Kirchner enters into a dangerous zone as right wing leaders jump into the center of the scene.
Last week, Argentineans staged mass demonstrations against the rise in crime rate. The leader of the protest, sponsored by mass media groups, submitted to the Congress a number of amendments to the penal code, some of them rather inhuman.

The future of Argentina looked promising. As economy entered into its second year of recovery, while poverty and unemployment rates began to decrease, the faultless human rights policy of President Kirchner was closing an open chapter since the outbreak of the political genocide in the 70’s, and the government was showing signs of being ready to do the battle against energy monopolies and debt creditors. In foreign policy, an independent line from Washington was adopted, improving ties with the “Old Europe”, Brazil, Russia and India.

The offensive of the government was so overwhelming that conservative forces, removed from power in May 2003, were in clear retreat. However, last week something happened, which dramatically changed the scenario in an Argentina walking into normality. The kidnapping followed by murdering of a young boy from a wealthy family of country’s capital, Buenos Aires, sparked mass protests to the center of the city led by the father of the boy.

Sponsored –or one should say induced- by mass media groups, demonstrators filled the streets carrying on lightened candles and crosses, claiming against an alleged crime surge, against the violence and standing for a hard line, sometimes inhuman, policy to fight crime. Hundreds thousands asked the Congress for amendments to the penal code, which included a rather cruel attempt to reduce the age of punishment to even 14 years old, pulling back the legislation to the nineteenth century.

“They are killing us!” “It is a war between the criminals and the society!” “We are here to save the life of our children”. That was something that could be heard not only on the streets that day, but also repeated by TV announcers and journalists in the radio and the newspapers. Fascist terror was also present: “We don’t want human rights for the criminals” shouted the crowd.

Caught by surprise, the government did not officially reacted, something that was quickly taken by the right-wing opposition as signal to advance. Riding the wave of horror and pain of the families victims of violence, conservative forces launched a campaign to force the approval of a new crime law and state a new agenda, which excludes the fight against poverty, a new policy before monopolies and the political integration of Latin America.

“We are set to go ahead with our own agenda, which includes the crime problem”, told PRAVDA.RU National Chief of Cabinet, Alberto Fernandez. “What we had last week is a typical middle-class reaction against politics. A number of angry people claiming for justice in a protest that does not settle anything”, he added.

The insecurity problem in Argentina has deep roots. Corruption among security forces is the main source of crime. The so called kidnap and ransom wave has an explanation in an unconcluded reform of the police. There is one policeman in jail for each case.

Perhaps, Mr. Fernandez is underrating the power of the conservative groups in Argentina. They do not want to go against the police. They want to give more power to the problem. Their bet is to turn the situation out of control, discredit the government before the society, and weaken it to negotiate with monopolies, the IMF and other foreign creditors.

A similar process took place in Venezuela early in 2002, months before the coup that temporarily ousted constitutional President Hugo Chavez. By that time, a lock-out sparked and fueled middle-class protests against a broadly popular leader among the poor. The Argentine government should take good note of that.

Hernan Etchaleco

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