During the first hours of December the 4th, the inhabitants of Córdoba (second biggest city in Argentina and famous for its local universities and large student population) found themselves in a state of utter chaos and impotence when the police went on strike. From its regular 600 officers or so, only about 60 were on duty.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “you never truly appreciate certain things until you no longer have them?” In this case, I feel it could perfectly be applied to the police. Because, in their absence, criminals en masse took over the city and broke into supermarkets and many local stores. I think it should be noted that these people weren’t hungry. They weren’t stealing rice or bread. Their main targets were electronics and alcoholic beverages.
We, menfolk of the middle and upper classes, started to get paranoid after we heard the criminals were also planning to break into our homes. Locked in my apartment, I was looking through a window, and I was witness to a group of people from the neighborhood brutally beating a criminal to death. I heard insults to the beated and cheers to the ones doing the beating coming from apartments nearby. Although, to be fair, I also heard people pleading the aggressors not to kill the criminal. Motorcycles were burnt: Darkly pigmented guys riding this kind of vehicle were the main targets of my neighbours. We were all really afraid. We couldn’t get out of our homes, and some people decided to tackle the feeling of powerlessness present in everyone’s hearts by resorting to violence.
“In these conditions, there’s going to be blood, and, I am sorry to say this, I prefer the blood to be a criminal’s blood, not an innocent person’s” wrote one of my Facebook friends, expressing a sentiment percolating the common psyche.
Córdoba’s governor, De la Sota, was away in Colombia at the time, but, by 12 pm, he had gotten back and negotiated a two thousand peso raise with the police force. Things started to calm down.
If we are to find people to blame, of course De la Sota shares part of the blame for neglecting the requests of the police for so long. The police, I think, should also take some of the blame. I am all for them having the salaries they deserve, but they should have at least notified their intentions to the government long before they protested, so all the right precautions would have been taken.
I also feel very strongly that the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is to blame. Not for the outbreak, but for refusing to help. The president completely washed her hands of the matter. Her intention was Córdoba’s governor being seen as the only “bad guy”, the only one to blame, in this situation. This is why she refused to send the military forces to help when she was asked to. Her justification for her refusal? It’s De la Sota’s responsibility, and De la Sota’s only, to singlehandedly quell the outbreak without any help from the nation. This nasty attitude can be explained by the fact that De la Sota openly opposes her rule, and they have been feuding for a long time. She wanted to stain his reputation, but she didn’t mind putting an entire city at risk to do so. This says a lot about her priorities as president.
And there’s somebody else to blame here, too: The whole of Córdoba’s society, including me. Or maybe not exactly to blame, but the truth is that a dark side of this society has been revealed during this incident.
People like to mock the United States because its citizens are (supposedly) mostly dumb and obese, but there’s something I admire of the United States: The fact that there were fights against racial inequality. The fact that people standing on the margins of society somehow found a voice with which to call out on the injustices they suffered on the grounds of race.
There was never such thing in Argentina.
Middle and upper classes in Córdoba reacted with insults such as negros de mierda* in social networks, and I was left thinking. It’s a lack of education and the presence of high degrees of frustration over a want for certain luxuries that drives people from the lower classes to do what they did in Córdoba, not how pigmented their skins are. And yet, the criminals were mostly darkly pigmented. Hell, the huge majority of Argentinian people living in poverty and lacking a proper education are darkly pigmented. Here, a bigot would jump in and say that the darkly pigmented are less smart, less ambitious, less hard-working than their counterparts with European ascendence and pale skin (who generally enjoy the perks of -at least- a middle class) because of their skin color. Obviously, I don’t agree with that way of thinking. Logically, it doesn’t hold water. Since when does the amount of melanin present in your skin determines how smart or hard-working you are? It would be more logical to say that, if darkly pigmented people populate the lower classes and the whites the upper-middle, it’s not because of a biological predisposition, but because of a bias that exists in this country in favor of white people. This is a great irony for the country, whose first denizens were precisely the people of color that are now getting the short end of the stick when it comes to opportunities and finances, and this also illustrates colonialist attitudes that have survived a few centuries (otherwise, why is European considered “better”?).
By this, I don’t mean to defend the criminals who cut short my sleep and filled me with undescribable fear. I share the sentiments of anger, of utter bronca**, shared by the businessmen that, in some cases, lost their only way of subsistence. The cruelty and lack of empathy of the burglars and their manifest disrespect for the law that calls for violent coercion in order to be kept at bay is alarming, and it speaks volumes about the state of the education in this country. But we are also letting people in the upper and middle classes get away with very racist attitudes, and we are letting them react to paranoia in very violent and uncalled for ways. This also says a lot about their way of thinking.
While I ponder about the gloomy state of our future as a nation, I am just crying. I cry for Córdoba. I cry for Argentina.
* I know the word negro is a huge minefield in the United States, but hear me out here. In Spanish, negro means simply black, as in the color (of a person, of a thing, etc.). The word itself is not necessarily used to insult. Although here it is used derisively, it’s not as culturally charged as it is in the United States. I will later talk about racist attitudes in Argentinian people. Also, the number of descendants of Africans in Argentina is rather low, the insults were targeted to people of color that would enter more of a latino category there in the US.
** Argentinian slang for anger/frustration.