Winter is coming...
This month was the first time I celebrated my birthday in winter.
I spent the evening with Maria, looking for a place to dance tango. Unfortunately, as June 9th fell on a Monday, we didn't manage to find anything. Even in Buenos Aires, the early part of the week is rather quiet in terms of dancing, so we postponed tango for a few days and just went for dinner.
July here means winter break, so we're planning a trip to Uruguay on Thursday the
3rd. I like Montevideo and Colonia very much, but the trip is forced, as I need to do a border crossing to renew my visa. Afterwards, we're going to visit her brother in Cordoba, one of the larger cities in Argentina. I'm looking forward to exploring a bit more of the country, as I've really only seen Buenos Aires and a bit of its surroundings.
Argentina has been facing some serious problems lately. The conflict of the government with farmers and other agricultural businessmen has become more bitter. It's been causing problems for over 3 months, yet neither the unions nor the government are showing any signs of backing down.
The dispute originated over a major tax increase that President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner (affectionately [or not so affectionately] known simply as 'Christina'] passed by decree. It was necessary, as Christina and her husband Nestor, who was the President before her, went on a spending binge last year during the elections. They needed to raise some revenue to cover holes in the government's checkbook, and decided to up the tax rates by up to 15% on the relatively prosperous farmers. The farmers revolted, and the Kirchners responded by provoking them farther, insulting them and daring them to resist. So resist they did. The situation has alternated between a hissy fight and a full-on confrontation since, with the rest of the population caught in the middle. Neither the Government nor the unions care about anything besides their own self-interests, and the country has been suffering tremendously as a result. Most of the pain is from lost tax revenue, but there are also shortages of specific foods.
In the last week many people around the country have been particularly edgy. More and more of those who weren't overly concerned now fear that things could get out of hand, perhaps violently. There isn't much hope in sight, as neither side is willing to give an inch, and their demands are quite far apart.
Whereas the farmers have enjoyed popular support from the middle class, the Kirchners have resorted to hiring supporters, paying people roughly 50 dollars to attend their rallies. They usually manage to gather about 100 000 people, a huge waste of tax dollars. Yet this is somehow legal.
The farmers draw several times as many people, and those that come are there of their own initiative. A popular Argentine pass-time of walking around banging on pots to express political frustration has also come back into fashion recently.
Whether the damage done to the Kirchners' grip on power is repairable is yet to be seen. Their popularity has plummeted from 55% in January to less than 20% now. If they're deposed, it will mean a long period of political instability for the entire country. Their hair-brained economic policies, combined with their flat-out lying about the inflation rate and their own approval ratings (officially 10%, independently verified at 25%, officially 60%, independently verified at 18% respectively) could add enough dissent to bring things to a boil.
On a Canadian political note, Stephane Dion has decided to do something unheard of. He's going to campaign for the next election on a carbon tax, where people will be made to pay more if they pollute more. In effect, he will be asking voters to think of the world as a whole instead of their own short-term interests.
If Canadians elect the Liberals based on this platform, it will say a lot about our country. Or we could choose the mantra of the Conservatives, which is that we all wish the damage to the environment could be reduced, but that we refuse to do anything that would be so much as a mild inconvenience. If we opt for the latter, one of the richest countries in the world (with one of the highest per-capita rates of pollution) will have said that it only care about its own comfort, and nothing else. If this happens, how can we ever expect poorer countries (pretty much every other country in the world) to do things any differently?