After a massive demonstration on November 8, Argentines planned to take to the streets again Thursday night to protest the enforcement of a new media law scheduled to go into full effect today. In the end, a subway strike, torrential rains and a toxic gas cloud significantly reduced enthusiasm and left the streets of Buenos Aires mostly empty, save for some small scores of pot-banging citizens.
Nevertheless, the day ended largely as a victory for those opposing the Kirchner government's controversial 2009 media law. A court ruled in favor of Grupo Clarín, the largest media conglomerate in Argentina, effectively protecting it from the forcible sale of an important part of its licenses.
The court ruling last night established that Grupo Clarín’s licenses cannot be sold until the Supreme Court can rule on the constitutionality of articles 45 and 161, which limit the amount of licenses companies can hold and establish a divestment procedure for companies who hold more than 24 cable television licenses and 10 open frequency radio or television licenses. The Argentine government claims Grupo Clarín has over 200 licenses; Grupo Clarín says the number is 158.
The government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner today filed an appeal to last night's ruling before the Supreme Court, making use of a special per saltum procedure to bypass the lower courts. Depending on the Supreme Court's acceptance of the appeal and subsequent ruling, Grupo Clarín and other media groups may still have to comply with the new media law before the court can rule on the constitutionality of articles 45 and 161. That judgment would also be open to appeal. Since neither side in the current conflict is expected to back down, the current legal battle will likely continue.
Tens of thousands of Argentines took to the streets nationwide and in smaller groups around the globe last Thursday to protest the government of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. In the last several months, demonstrations like this have become increasingly common: a similar protest in September drew around 200,000 angry Buenos Aires residents out of their homes, armed with pots and pans in a so-called cacerolazo, clamoring and banging their utensils to express their dissatisfaction with the current administration.
Although Fernández de Kirchner was elected with 54 percent of the vote just a year ago, her approval ratings have since fallen to little over 31 percent. The issues moving people into the squares are numerous. The public’s concern over insecurity, inflation, government corruption, and rumors of constitutional reform to facilitate a third term for the president in 2015 are some of the most important grievances.
"We don't want a Chávez who is in power for thirty years. Cristina needs to respect the constitution," says German Levisman, a 29-year-old pharmacist who is worried about the prospect of a third term for Fernández de Kirchner and angered by the government’s policies. "Something that's worth five pesos will increase in price by one peso in a few months. I can't possibly save any money for a house of my own. Meanwhile, government officials buy themselves luxury apartments in the business district. And they have the audacity to call hardworking people 'oligarchs' and 'bad persons?' They are the real bad guys!"
The president has refrained from a direct response to Thursday’s mass protest, which was mobilized mostly via social networks. Fernández de Kirchner did allude to the protest indirectly, referring to participants as "provocative people" who “want to return to the ultra-conservative regime".