In Buenos Aires, we usually stay in the Microcentro, either close to the pedestrian streets of Florida and Lavalle, either close to the Avenida 9 de Julio. This time, we are next door to the Plaza de Mayo. This is not your usual boring plaza featuring a statue of a dude on a horse: Plaza de Mayo is a hub of political life. This is a square with a social conscience.
It starts with the fact that this is where Casa Rosada—the very unimpressive office of the President of Argentina—sits, at the eastern end. It’s pink and it’s not so tall. One window was open one night, I caught a glimpse of a Ming vase, but I didn’t see anything juicy worthy of a political scandal—no mistress parading naked at the window, for instance. I am very disappointed.
Mind you, I probably wouldn’t have been able to exploit the scandal. Argentina has a busy and complicated political and social history and life and reading the newspapers and the many graffiti on the walls feels like stepping on the set of a telenovela with dozens of characters, good guys, bad guys, traitors and heroes. I’m not quite sure who is who. It’s just too complicated. I don’t even always get Quino’s sarcastic humour when he (and Mafalda) make fun of local politics.
The Plaza de Mayo is currently occupied by supporters of Milagro Sala, someone I had never heard of. I chatted with one of the protesters to get the whole story. I learned that she is a leader of the Tupac Amaru neighborhood association and a leading figure in the Movimiento piquetero of Argentina. She was jailed following a protest against accusations of fraud. Her supporters have been occupying the Plaza de Mayo for a couple of weeks now.
The Plaza also have permanent signs highlighting two major chapters of Argentina’s contemporary history. Since 1977, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have been congregating with signs and pictures of desaparecidos, their children who were subject to forced disappearance by the military in the Dirty War, during the National Reorganization Process. Alleged dissents considered to be a political or ideological threat to the military junta were illegally detained, subject to abuse and torture and murdered in secret. Many of the captives were drugged and loaded onto aircraft, from which they were thrown alive while in flight over the Atlantic Ocean in the vuelos de la muerte. Without any dead bodies, the government could easily deny any knowledge of their whereabouts and any accusations that they had been killed. Between 1976 and 1983, up to 30,000 people were killed or disappeared.
Other signs back up the Argentinian’s claim to the Falkland Islands—Las Islas Malvinas—and commemorate the armed conflict in 1982. The rest of the world may not care so much about an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf with a population of barely 3,000 souls but do not EVER joke about Las Islas Malvinas in Argentina. This is about as offensive as it gets.
It’s still hard to understand, as outsiders, how Argentina is doing these days. When we first visited in 2002, the country was experiencing one of the worst economic crises of its history. Fourteen years later, it is still dealing with social and economic issues and it always feels like the country is on the verge of collapsing… yet it’s still standing, strong and proud.