Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So You Think You Want a Revolution...

First, this is not mine. Here’s the link from where I took it:

www.tangoandchaos.org (give proper credit if reposting)

This is an account of the riots of December 2001.

Notice that the actual revolution started with the “cacerolazo”, ordinary people, mostly middle class, taking the streets PEACEFULLY, banging pots, expressing their discontent.

Afterwards in the days that followed chaos erupted as describes here, and the leftist political groups joined in, protesters but mostly trouble makers, looters, etc.

Please do read. The account is very well written and there’s a couple things to learn from it that we could discuss.


So You Think You Want a Revolution...

Thu Dec 20, 2001 6:15 pm: I’m ashamed of what I did this afternoon. I’ve heard that when the Mexican Revolution began, a bunch of people in El Paso impulsively ran across the border and joined in. Several people have emailed and given support and good wishes, which is very kind, but I’m afraid it’s wasted on someone who puts himself at risk for no reason… which is exactly what I did this afternoon. Whether it was boredom, bravado, or just because it was too noisy and hot to take a nap in this old apartment, I went against everyone’s advice, and decided to walk around BA and find out what was happening. I was going to take the subway, pop up, and then escape back home if it was too dangerous. But, the subte was barricaded, so I ended up walking from Independencia up Entre Rios, to Congreso, then into the center of town past the Obelisco, and down Diagonal Saenz Pena to within one block of Plaza de Mayo. After that, I began running, became disoriented, and I ended up back on Av. de Mayo, which was a bad place to be. I then went west to Nueve de Julio thinking I was getting out of it, and it got worse. It is the stupidest thing I have ever done in my life. I thought for several hours before deciding to write this, but I did what I did... so here it is. I'll write about it in the present tense because it’s easier:

Everything seems normal on the street as I approach the Congress building at Hipolito Yrigoyen & Combate de los Pozos, but it changes fast. There is a police roadblock two blocks south of the Congreso, but I see a few other people are able to pass when the police aren’t looking, so I wait and I'm able to slip by also. People approaching me from the other direction look like they are crying. In my naiveté I think it’s because they are upset. Next I see something a little scary. Muscular men in civilian clothes are piling out of private cars along the curb where I walk, and they're putting on flack jackets, and taking shotguns and automatic rifles out of the trunks of their cars. They are obviously soldiers or police of some kind, and the fact that they are dressed in jeans and t-shirts somehow makes them even more intimidating. They ignore me as I walk by, and I walk right up to the corner across from the Congress.

The teargas is strong here and I realize why I thought people were crying. I turn right, which is upwind, to get away from the gas, and I head east along the south side of Plaza Congreso. I hang out here, but I’m in the open and very exposed, so I decide to move across into the plaza and sit on a bench facing the Congress a block away to see what happens. There are demonstrators in groups on the corners, and I am facing a very large contingent of riot police surrounding the building. Sidewalk tiles have been pulled up to make projectiles. Fires are burning in the streets, and they smell horrible—there is no wood here, just garbage and plastic garbage containers to burn. There are only a few benches in the park because people have put them in the street to use as barricades. I'm in a somewhat precarious spot, but I try to maintain a low profile and see what will happen, because there are a couple of other people sitting around in the plaza as well. There is the incongruous sight of some businessmen in suits and briefcases, and even a few families hurrying across the plaza with children. After a few minutes there are two explosions at the northeast corner of the building, and people begin to run along Rivadavia which borders the north side of the plaza, about 100 feet from me. Then, about five motorcycles, with two policemen in riot gear on each rush along Rivadavia past me chasing the people. The people scatter, and I think the cops riding shotgun on the back may be firing teargas or rubber bullets, but my head is down and I can’t see. I start to run south to get away, but I quickly change my mind when they stop chasing the people, and turn right, to pass behind me. I am now in the position of having a large army of riot police in front of me, and the motorcycle police behind me. I feel very cut off and exposed, but if I continue to run south, I’ll be running parallel to motorcycles, and then into them if they turn back to the Congress, (which is exactly what they do). So I casually return to my bench, and try to be invisible.

A few minutes later there are two very loud explosions at the southeast corner of the building, where I had just passed about 15 minutes before. All of the thousands of pigeons in the park take off together in a huge flock. There is some smoke from the explosions, so I decide it’s time to leave. I move north on Montevideo (the street signs are torn down, but I looked it up on the map after), and I pass a very large guy standing in the middle of the intersection. There is debris everywhere, and for some reason he is holding the wheel of a car. He glares at me furiously, like he wants to heave it at me. Then things settle a little as I approach Corrientes. There are lots of working people here, and I think they're trapped because there are no taxis, and the subte is down, but there are some buses that are packed, and some private cars stalled in traffic. I see people going down into the subway entrances and pleading with the people behind the metal doors to let them in. I have to be careful because the always-dangerous BA traffic is even worse because everyone is so worked up.

I walk east on Corrientes to the Obelisco at the center of town. There are now more demonstrators than office workers trying escape. I cross Nueve de Julio and look down Diagonal Saenz Pena, towards the Casa Rosada. It is a sight I’ll never forget. The street disappears into dirty ugly gray smoke about three blocks down, and it is filled with people moving towards me like a retreating army. There are banners, and I remember seeing one from the Socialists, and a huge red Communist one. The subway stop at Suipacha by Confiteria Ideal has so much smoke and gas that I can hardly breathe, but I continue on anyway. I'm heading towards the Plaza de Mayo, and the Casa Rosada, the center of their government, but everyone else is walking past me in the opposite direction. I'm able to go three more blocks, but I'm coughing a lot. Now there are only hard-core demonstrators or desperate poor people. I don’t know who they are, but there are no middle class office-workers, just hard looking people, many without shirts. It’s hot and muggy, and most have shirts wrapped around their faces and over their heads. I see a shirtless guy with his face covered attacking the Banco Rio bank at Esmeralda, which has iron shutters. First he breaks the plastic sign over the sidewalk with a long board, setting off the alarms. As I move across the street to pass and avoid him, he picks up chunks of concrete, and begins throwing, breaking out the windows on the upper floors. As I walk I pass groups of people, and then there are places where there is no one. I’m completely alone on the wide debris strewn street- by myself, in the middle of one of the busiest, most densely populated places in the world on a weekday afternoon. It makes me nervous, and I keep thinking I need to turn back- but also it seems like history is being made, so I keep going, wanting to see what's happening in the Plaza de Mayo.

Then it gets even worse. A guy appears out of the smoke with a bowling ball sized chunk of concrete. He runs towards some glass windows in front of me, and smashes it against the strong glass. Incredibly, it bounces off- and I run into the street to avoid it. The smoke is terrible, and I hold my T-shirt up over my face. I’ve had enough, I’m less than a block from Plaza de Mayo, but I can go no further. The smoke is thick, and the only people are crazed looking guys with tattoos, either standing in groups, or smashing at the front of the buildings, their faces wrapped. Chunks of concrete are bouncing off the upper floors of the buildings as they aim for unprotected windows up high. I’m afraid I’m going to get hit as they ricochet around the street. The whole time I feel absolutely no fear from these people. I feel close to them, and they seem like brothers in a strange way. They are very angry, but not at me. There is a helicopter circling overhead (which is unusual, because you normally don't see them in BA). I turn south, wanting to get away. This moves me toward Ave. de Mayo again, but it is a mistake because I see more rocks flying there (I think I was on Maipu). The street here is narrower, and everything is torn up. There are barricades at each corner with fires smoldering. There are no vehicles of any kind, but then I see a truck pulled up on the sidewalk. I stupidly think the men must be working on something as I elbow my way through them- but after I pass I realize they are looters who have been able to break into the front of one of the buildings. But how will they ever be able to get the truck out of these streets after they load it?

Now I'm in a place that is virtually deserted, and it feels very claustrophobic. There's no place to run, and it is still very difficult to breath. I start to panic a little, and on one narrow street a frightened woman runs past me (I think she has just escaped from one of the besieged buildings), and then a larger group runs by, looking back over their shoulders. A man runs into me, says "disculpe", and says something about "rompian todo" (“they break everything”). I look back. I can’t see anything, but suddenly I begin to run, turning corners, and becoming disoriented. Finally, I see Avenida 9 de Julio to the west and jog toward it because it’s open space, and it’s away from the Casa Rosada, where I think the worst is. I intersect it somewhere around Rivadavia, south of the Obelisco. The scene looks like some sort of medieval battlefield, with bands of people roaming and running on the far side of the avenue, and I seem to be almost alone on the east side. I think there are also groups of mounted police, and armored vehicles. They say Nueve de Julio is the widest avenue in the world, and I don’t want to cross that wide-open space alone- but suddenly I really want to get home, and there's no way I can go back into those narrow smoke filled streets to the east.

So I take a deep breath, and walk quickly across to the other side. I don’t like being out in the open exposed, and it seems to take forever, but I make it. Then, just as I arrive at what I feel is the safety of the crowd on the other side, there is a popping, hissing sound. The police must be very close, because a smoking missile goes up from a side street, and arcs overhead. Everyone tries to run north along the west side of 9 de Julio (Lima Cerrito), but people are tripping and falling. The thing lands very close and explodes, and we are in gas. There is burning deep into my lungs, and I can’t see. My face feels like it’s on fire, like a very bad sunburn. There is water squirting from a broken pipe on the grass of the wide avenue, and a those of us hit by the missile run to it and fall on our knees, taking turns splashing water into our eyes and faces. I am scrambling around with about ten or fifteen people. Our skin is on fire, and we are on our hands and knees, trying to get at the water. I can see legs running past us. When I can I splash water all over my head and face, but the gas is still very strong. A bunch of us begin to run again, struggling to the north, hardly able to see. I think police are moving somewhere, because the crowd is moving, but I can’t see them. I finally turn west onto a side street, and it is more or less over. I’m not the only one who’s had enough, because a lot of the people with me are young shirtless people, coughing and crying from the gas, and moving away to what appears to be a safer area—the streets to the west, away from Av. Julio and Casa Rosada. I walk the several miles back home shaken, giving the Congreso area a wide berth. I look down the toward the Congress building as I cross Av. Mayo, however, and I see a lot of smoke. It’s still not safe, but it’s much better than what I was in. I pass several large groups of police, but I don’t look at them.

I guess part of the reason I went out is to report what I saw, but now I feel very foolish about it. I’ve always made fun of Geraldo Rivera, but at least he gets paid to do what he does. When I got home, Renee was leaving for the airport. Malena was going to take her, but we decided to hire a car because it was too dangerous. Ricardo Vidort came by to check on us. He told me he was unable to get home in the taxi last night, and had to stay at a friend’s house. He said he would accompany her to the airport to protect her. After she left, Malena fell apart and couldn't stop crying. She hasn't been sleeping well for several weeks because of all this, and Renee was like her sister. She talks tough, but now that she feels her country falling apart it’s too much. I walked down the block to pick up the laundry, and told the man where I had been. He says, "You have seen a revolution."

How do I feel? Stupid for what I did, but very glad to be safe at home. I love Buenos Aires and the people down here. I feel very, very close to all of them. There has not been one mean thing said or done to me since I got here. They have only accepted us, and taken care of us. An Argentine read some of these reports and emailed to say they were ashamed about what I am seeing down here. My answer is that these are terrible problems you're dealing with. I can’t begin to understand them, but you have nothing to be ashamed of. I have been told that quite a few people died today. I don’t know if it’s true, but my heart is with Argentina. I don’t think there will be any more tango on this trip.


BulgarWheat said...

That was an incredible article and first hand account. The author is a remarkable witness to history.

History repeats itself.

Totalinvestor said...

Here is a link to an article about "survival school"


Don Williams said...

1) I am not very knowledgeable re Argentina, but my understanding is that it was the military junta of 1973-1983 (El Proceso) that really sunk Argentina deeply into foreign debt -- from which Raul Alfonsin was not able to recover.

Carlos Menem's "privatization" apparently added to the damage.

2) Anybody want to guess who taught the generals of El Proceso how to "spread democracy"? heh heh



FerFAL said...

those are nice skills but don't fool yourself, they are really of little practical use in areas of serious crime.
I know people that avoided being kidnapped, even escaped:
1) Drivings skills, just crashed their way through.Most often case.
2)A person I know jumped out of the kidnapers car, there's a couple more that did just that. Most got seriously wounded doing so.
3) One escaped through the roof, after bending a loose metal sheath. He was locked in a room but not tied.
Most cases you're going nowhere, they keep you chained to a bed with a lock, with a guard watching over you. And they only throw you in cars in movies, all kidnaps I heard of, they keep you at gunpoint inside the car where they can keep an eye on you.

I suppose a total sheep (like the reporter lady from the linked video) would feel " a little more paranoid". Other than that put your money in the following training:
1)Handgun fighting
2) Armed and unarmed fighting
3) Evasive driving
4) First Aid/Medical emergency

All of the above are MUCH better ways of spending your money.


Anonymous said...

After reading this post, and then reading FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH

I think our two countries are more alike than they are different. Many other countries too. Here's a bit from the Quinn article which discussed revolution, history and the generations that really made me think this, perhaps you'll agree?:

"Trust in our government, financial, corporate, media, and religious leaders have never been lower. We are entering Phase 2 of this Crisis period. When the foolish self-serving actions taken by the government in the last year fail to revive our economy and the inevitable stock market crash and deepening depression take hold, Americans will become more disillusioned, angry and looking for someone to hold responsible."

It's looking more and more like WWIII is the elite vs. the people. Isn't that what this fellow described how he felt when he experienced the revolution in BA?

Don Williams said...

1) In my opinion, political protests are a waste of time in repressive regimes --and divert the population from more effective measures which strike at the wealthy plutocrats who run things.

Strikes. Industrial sabotage. etc.

If the middle class wants a fairer deal from its overlords, then it needs to hit those overlords in their pocketbooks. A sniper does not spray the landscape at an undefined "THEY" -- he knows his targets.

2) However, a look at Argentina's wealthy show that they already took measures 8 years ago to insulate themselves from social unrest --although the Kirchners are making some of them uncomfortable.

Don Williams said...

3) Here is a partial list of Argentina's Wealthy that I have found at first glance:

a) Gregorio Perez Companc --age 74, $1.8 Bil
Sold oil/gas firm to Petrobas (Brazil) in 2002,
now invested in food processing. Reportedly has donated money to Catholic charities over the years.

b) Eduaro Eurnekian -age 76,less than $1 Bil
Tv, cable, radio, operates 33 of Argentina's main airports, regional airline LAPA
plus 2000 sq km of land in northern Argentina

Armenian immigrant, has been diversifying into Armenia agriculture and operation of
Armenian airports.

c) María Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat - age 88, est $2 Bil net worth

Owns roughly 1.7 million acres of land, many valuable Buenos Aires properties, Fortune built on concrete construction firm Loma Negra plus purchase of
65% in Ferrosur Roca, a state-owned freight and passenger
railway that became Loma Negra's in-house transport service when
Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo had it privatized in 1992.
Grandson Alejandro Bengolea --made director in 2002 --was a disaster, dismissed 2002,
Mrs Fortabat sold Loma Negra to Brazilian firm Camargo Correa in 2005 for about
$1 Bil

Note: Companc, Eurnekian, and Fortabat probably are involved in Argentina's soya production-- which is earning a lot of money in exports but which is causing large scale deforestation in northern Argentina and will likely
ruin the soil there.

The Argentinian protests against the Kirchner's proposed tax
on soya exports may have been "Astroturf" -- American political slang for political protests that claim to be the voice of the common citizens
(the "grassroots") but which are really a false front funded by
wealthy plutocrats (hence, the false plastic grass "Astroturf" used in football stadiums)

Don Williams said...

d) Ernestina Herrera de Noble, age 84, net worth unknown

d.1) Her fortune is based on ownership of Grupo Clarín, Argentina's largest news media
conglomate. (TV, Radio, Newspapers)

HOW she acquired Grupo Clarin is interesting:
"Ernestina Laura Herrera was born in Argentina, in 1925. She became a
Flamenco dancer and met Clarín publisher Roberto Noble, around 1950.
[1] The two maintained a sporadic relationship until Noble and his
wife, Guadalupe Zapata, were divorced in the early 1960s.[2] She and the publisher were married in 1967, and on January 12, 1969,
he lost his battle with cancer.

As his widow, she inherited a controlling stake in Clarín,
Argentina's most-widely circulated newspaper since 1965[1] "
Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernestina_Herrera_de_Noble

d.2) According to this Wiki article,
Ernestina and Mrs Kirchner don't seem to get along very well:

"Mrs. Noble was detained in December 2002 by order of Judge Roberto
Marquevich following a lawsuit filed by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo alleging that the two infants she adopted in 1976, Felipe and Marcela, should submit DNA samples on the possibility that their biological parents may have been abducted by the last dictatorship during their "Dirty War" against dissidents.[6][7] Her request to deny the samples was ruled in her favor in June 2008, though the case remains in litigation. [8] On October 17, 2009, President Cristina Kirchner proposed the compulsory submission of DNA samples in cases related to crimes against humanity, in a move lauded by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, but excoriated by opposition figures as a political move against Mrs. Noble.[9]"

"Similar motives are alleged by the opposition against the president's Media Law, which would restrict the number of media licenses per proprietor and allocate a greater share of these to state and NGOs, thereby limiting the influence of the Clarín Group, with which
Kirchnerism had recently had a souring of hitherto cordial relations.[10]"

e) Paolo Rocca -- age 57, net worth unknown

Paolo is the third generation of an Italian family that was close to Mussolini and who immigrated to Argentina in 1946 (hee hee.)

Fortune is based on Techint (Massive steel fabricating conglomerate) melded with huge
steel manufacturing firm Siderar (Formerly State-owned Somisa , purchased by the Roccas in 1992 during President Carlos Menem's privatization drive.
Siderar had about 79 percent of Argentina's steel industry circa 1996)
Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roberto_Rocca
and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paolo_Rocca

NOTE: The second link notes that Christina Kirchner has also annoyed
Paolo, by letting Hugo Chavez seize a Venezuela firm in which Paolo had an interest.

"The decision of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to nationalize Sidor came on the heels of a series of industrial disputes over the previous
year.[9] [10] Compensation of around US$1.65 billion was agreed for the nationalisation of Ternium's 60% stake in Sidor, with the former keeping a 10% stake in the company,[11] but frictions emerged with the Kirchner administration in Argentina over their reported refusal to raise objections to the nationalization with President Chávez.[12]

The Techint Group, which from 2003 to 2008 had invested US$2.3 billion
in its Argentine operations,[12] responded with Rocca's announcement
that the conglomerate's trade finance operations would be transferrd
to neighboring Uruguay.[13]

Rocca was named president of the World Steel Association on October 13, 2009.[14] "

NOTE: Rocca has evidently moved
the financial management of his firms to Luxembourg -- a notorious supporter of tax evasion -- or , as the Rich call it, "privacy".

Anonymous said...

In the english language, the situation described would be defined as a 'revolt'. Revolutions are an organized effort to take control of a current government either by force or by political means. Revolts are not effective. a

Anonymous said...

Historically, slave revolts in the Caribbean Islands happened quite often and were often successful. Just to name one area as an example.

I wonder what would protect someone from the effects of tear gas other than gas masks?

This guys story reminded me of the movie The Ultimate Warrior with Yul Brenner, especially the part about the crowds throwing concrete blocks to get inside the buildings.

J Brown said...

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

- Robert Heinlein