All Things Political| July 15, 2009
So after numerous people have told me to be careful down here and have asked me whether I feel unsafe with regard to the "political situation," I thought it would be interesting to post about some of the realities and intricacies of politics down here in Argentina.
Probably about my second week here, I was sitting in CEDHA's office when I started to hear the beat of drums. I didn't think any more of it until I realized that the sound was getting a lot closer, and was now accompanied by chanting voices, fireworks, and honking cars. I went over to the window that looks out onto the main street in Cordoba and I saw a group of about 200 people walking down the middle of the street setting off fireworks (without the lights) and someone with a bullhorn yelling. I asked my co-worker Joni what was going on, and he said that some union group was protesting. I asked him whether they were allowed to just walk through they streets like that, unplanned, stop traffic and set off powerful fireworks without permission. He look at me like I was crazy, laughed, and said "Kate, this is Argentina." Ever since then, there have been no less than about 3 protests a week, and the cars have to just sit there while the protesters slowly pass by. (On a side note, the same thing happened at the main intersection of Córdoba when one of the cities beloved soccer teams dropped down a division. The police were even redirecting traffic so that the fans could show their team support!) Still, from what I have seen, these are very peaceful protests, and they always relate to the Argentine government.
I also got the unique opportunity to witness elections here in Argentina. According to the Argentine constitution, elections are to take place on October 28. Apparently, however, with all the current discontent surrounding President Cristina Kirchner, elections were changed to June 28. I was talking with some of the Argentine law-student interns at CEDHA and I asked them how such a flagrant violation of the Constitution was being allowed--or rather, sanctioned--by the government. Their response: "well, it's either change the elections or risk an outbreak of violence in Buenos Aires." That was definitely a wake-up call to the fact that I am living in a third-world country that was under the rule of a military dictator until about 30 years ago. At the time, I still had no clue what the elections were actually for. With all the intense campaigining and bashing of Kirchner going on, I just assumed that the elections were presidential. I actually learned, however, that they were just for the new Senators and Representatives, but they were such a big deal because people really felt like new political blood needed to be added to the mix to dilute Kirchner's ability to make decisions. The whole campaign and actual election process were fascinating: There are no less than 4 major parties in Argentina, and each had it's own (often several) candidates (women included!! yay!). Almost every Argentine person you talk to hates all of the candidates, but hates one candidate just a little bit less than the others. ALSO, the Argentine constitution makes voting mandatory for every citizen (I believe over the age of 18), unless you are living more than 450 kilometers from your home. Those people who don't vote often come home to find a nice little multa (fine) waiting for them. How crazy is that!! No "Rock the Vote" campains necessary down here...
A lot of people talk about the corruption of the police force here. While it is a bit shady that you can become a police officer in 3 months, and that you get paid while doing so (talk about not working for the love of the job), it definitely does make me feel safer to see police on nearly every corner down here. Although, after seeing a police officer repeatedly shove up against a brick wall a suspicious-looking man who was jogging with a duffel bag in his hand, I did get the feeling that police brutality complaints are not so well-established as in the U.S. Nevertheless, I have never ONCE felt unsafe here in Argentina, though I continue to always be aware of my surroundings and walk with friends when I can (that's for you, Mom!).
Law down here, as in pretty much every other country in the world, is actually a six year undergraduate degree. Can you guys imagine studying law for six years? Good lord!! The students here are pretty serious about their studies. After meeting people in Spain who had been studying their 5-year law degree for about 8 or 9 years, I couldn't believe it when nearly every person I met here was 23 or 24 and finishing his degree! (Then again, "Hi, I'm ___, I'm 23 and I'll be your lawyer" is also a bit frightening").
Well, I hope you guys find some of these observations as interesting as I have! Look for my post about my trip to the north of Spain and an update regarding my work within the next few days!