The Protests in Argentina

For the past three nights I had the opportunity to witness the protests in Buenos Aires against the Argentine government’s decision to increase export taxes on soy from 35 to 44 percent. Although the government claims otherwise, it appears like the initial protest was a spontaneous, grass-roots reaction to president CFK’s speech, where she characterized the agricultural producers’ strike as the “piquete de la abundancia” (the picket-fence of plenty). The consensus is that it was the tone of that speech, with its class-warfare echoes, that sparked the reaction in BA, mostly among its middle and upper-middle class segments. The “class warfare” atmosphere was reinforced by the counter (pro-government) protests led by Luis D’Elia, one of the most renowned pro-government supporters, whose expletive-filled public statements added fuel to the fire. Thus, in BA, where CFK and all Peronist candidates before her lost the election, the conflict was framed in clear political terms: rich vs. poor, fair vs. dark, autocrats vs. democrats.

Last night, in a follow-on speech, CFK attempted to reframe the conflict in economic policy terms. Her argument was that, as president of all Argentines leading a process of wealth re-distribution, the protests were just the natural reaction of those whose interests were adversely affected in the shuffle. That statement was the core fallacy of her speech since, in fact, the protesting urban populations in general, and BA’s in particular, have been the great economic beneficiaries of a policy which takes from the countryside to give to the cities. Since BA would benefit even further from the increase on soy tax exports, the protesters have in fact taken to the streets against their economic interest.

The conflict is then wholly political. BA’s population, especially its middle and upper-middle classes feel despised by the Kirchners and took the opportunity to collectively voice their unease even when they were the beneficiaries of the policy in question. Therefore, the solution to the current impasse will need to address two separate tracks: on the one hand the government will need to reach some sort of accommodation with agricultural producers (CFK offered last night to negotiate if the producers lifted the strike); and, on the other hand, she will have to reach out to the population of Buenos Aires with a charm offensive. Given the personality involved, the latter would appear to be the more intractable of the two.