A debate dominates the end of my dinners at my parents’ house: how to get home? I live a mere seven blocks away, a brief walk across a park. Though I’m an independent urban type, in the labyrinth of subjective insecurity that is Buenos Aires these days, the answer is not as obvious as it seems.
When I walk to my bus stop in Buenos Aires, I zip my purse shut and clutch it tight to my body, like a football player running toward the end zone. When I play Candy Crush on the subway, I hold my phone in a two-handed death grip, lest it be snatched away. After a girls’ night out, I ask my friend to text me when she’s safely home. On warm spring days, my car windows remain shut because robberies have been known to happen at red lights.
And those deeper down the rabbit hole consider me foolhardily naïve in my lack of precaution. I know people who drive from their guarded apartment building garage to their office parking lot, and who avoid setting foot on the street even in broad daylight. Iron bars cover many ground floor windows on Buenos Aires streets, and increasingly the next floor up, too. Barbed wire wraps around some houses’ entrances like ivy. And then there are those who move to gated communities, where they can finally leave these quotidian safety measures behind—but instead end up living in a sort of custom-designed Truman Show of safety from “others.”
But the higher the walls, the more upper-middle-class porteños seem to be afraid. How necessary are these measures, and the correlated paranoia that seems to seep into every step we take?
As surging inflation takes a toll on Argentine consumers, the Argentine government affirmed on Tuesday that it would levy fines against supermarkets who fail to respect voluntary price controls that many stores and wholesalers agreed to in December.
On Tuesday, Chief of Cabinet Jorge Capitanich said that the details of the new sanctions would be made public by the Secretary of Commerce this week. Meanwhile, he encouraged Argentines to act “rationally and effectively” and to not purchase overpriced items that would validate “product price increases due to speculation from industrialists, traders and entrepreneurs."
Initiatives to freeze the costs of common goods at supermarkets, accompanied by ongoing criticism of business owners and banks, have increased as the Argentine government tries to confront rising inflation. The government has also encouraged citizens to report overpriced items to officials by using a free app for smartphones called “Precios OK” (Okay Prices).
Despite the measures, however, analysts have questioned whether attempts to tackle inflation without implementing tighter fiscal and monetary policies will be sufficient. “If the government decides to maintain the interest rate below the rates of inflation and devaluation, mechanisms will arise that increase the demand for dollars,” read a report published in late January by the Instituto Argentino de Analisis Fiscal (Argentine Institute of Fiscal Analysis—IARAF).
The Argentine government adopted new legislation limiting online buying on Tuesday in an effort to defend domestic production.
The resolution, adopted by Argentina’s tax agency, the Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos , and published in the Boletín Oficial, restricts Argentines to two tax-free purchases of up to $25 on foreign-based websites per year, with a 50 percent tax imposed on any additional amount spent.
Argentines will also no longer be able to have items purchased on foreign websites delivered directly to their residences, but will have to pick up their packages at a customs office. The new resolution changes the way the government gathers information on shipments, requiring the buyer to fill out paper work on their transaction before picking up their order. Prior to the resolution, increased online spending made it difficult for Argentine Customs to track online transactions, but with the newly imposed measures, the government expects easier application of the import tax.
While international online purchasing will have tax restrictions, national online spending will still be unlimited. With Argentine reserves at $30 billion—their lowest levels since 2006—and a 30 percent drop since last year, the resolution aims at decreasing dollars from leaving the country, which can occur when purchasing from foreign countries. According to Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich, Internet purchases in Argentina have doubled over the past year, and Argentines spent almost 30 million dollars during an organized Cyber Monday sale last month.
Argentine government officials formalized a $500 million plan to improve the distribution of electricity in Buenos Aires this week, but remained strongly opposed to raising utility rates in order to alleviate the city’s ongoing energy crisis.
The measure comes after the hottest heat wave on record prompted a series of power outages, leaving hundreds of thousands of Argentines without light and running water in December and January. According to the Argentine Ministry of Infrastructure, Julio De Vido, energy consumption reached unforeseen levels during those two months.
The new government plan will enable two privately-owned electric companies, Edesur and Edenor, to install new substations and upgrade low-voltage cables in neighborhoods affected by the recent blackouts. Edesur and Edenor serve 13 million residents of Buenos Aires and, according to De Vido, will have to increase work crews by 20 percent.
Many, however, accuse the government of sidestepping its own role in the energy crisis. “The outages are synonymous with failure,” said Sergio Massa a likely presidential candidate from the opposition party Frente Renovador (Renewal Front).
Likely top stories this week: Brazil will reduce lending by 20 percent next year; Argentina wins a stay on its $1.33 billion payment; Tropical Storm Sonia Hits Mexico; Honduras’ police chief denies abuses; Brazilian delegation opposes Uruguayan marijuana legalization.
Brazil to Reduce Lending Due to Budget Deficit: Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said Friday that Brazilian development bank BNDES will reduce lending by 20 percent next year, down to about 150 billion reais ($66.6 billion) from this year's estimated 190 billion reais. The announcement came after an Oct. 31 report showed Brazil’s budget deficit widened to 3.3 percent of gross domestic product, the most since November 2009. Some experts speculate that Brazil's credit rating could be cut.
U.S. Court Upholds Stay on Argentine Debt Payment: The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Argentina on Friday by denying a motion that would have forced the country to start paying $1.33 billion to holdout bondholders. Friday’s decision will permit Argentina to make a second appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court before it is forced to pay the $1.33 billion to NML Capital Ltd and other holdout bondholders who did not accept a debt swap in 2005 and 2010.
Tropical Storm Sonia Hits Mexican Coast: Tropical Storm Sonia hit Mexico's Pacific Coast on Monday morning near the city of El Dorado in Sinaloa. By the time the storm made landfall, it was downgraded to a tropical depression and winds had decreased to about 35 mph. Though the storm is weakening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it could still cause floods and landslides in the region. Mexican authorities issued storm warnings from Mazatlan north to Altata on Sunday, and the government of Sinaloa state canceled classes on Monday in five municipalities.
Honduran General Denies Role in Police Abuses: In an interview, Honduran general and police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla denied knowledge or involvement in a wave of police abuses this year in which at least seven detainees have gone missing or been killed in police custody. He also said that he was not involved in setting up death squads starting in 1998, as reported by the police department's internal affairs section in 2002.
Brazilian Delegation Concerned About Uruguayan Marijuana: Brazilian political leaders from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul will travel to neighboring Uruguay this Tuesday to oppose Uruguayan legislation that will legalize marijuana sale and consumption in the country. The Brazilian delegation will testify before the Uruguayan Senate's health committee in an attempt to prevent the country from moving ahead with legalization.
Barrick Gold Corporation, a Canadian mining company and the world’s largest gold producer, announced Thursday that it has temporarily halted operations at its Pascua-Lama gold mine in the Andean border region between Argentina and Chile. Production was scheduled to begin by early 2014, but environmental regulations, depreciating gold prices and declining company profits led to a decision to indefinitely suspend construction at the mine. Barrick said it has already spent over $5 billion of the total estimated project cost of $8.5 billion. The company told investors in a quarterly earnings statement that the postponement would provide capital savings of up to $1 billion in 2014.
Barrick’s stock prices fell 8.65 percent in April when a Chilean appeals court announced that it would block operations at Pascua-Lama due to “environmental irregularities.” The announcement came after members of Diaguita Indigenous communities filed a complaint that the mine had polluted glacial deposits and contaminated scarce water resources in the Atacama Desert. Chilean Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick welcomed the April announcement and said he hoped the company would be able to address the court’s concerns and conduct environmentally sound operations. The Chilean government has not announced plans to revise or lift the restrictions.
Officials voiced greater concern in Argentina, where operations were not discontinued until the company’s recent announcement. On the Argentine side of the mine, Barrick operations provide thousands of jobs and accounts for a third of San Juan province’s economy. Officials there have advocated repeatedly for the project, and it remains unclear how the closure will affect the region’s economy. Nevertheless, Guillermo Calo, Barrick’s top official in Argentina, said the company still plans to invest $400 million there next year.
Voters in Argentina’s October 27 midterm elections delivered a clear message to the country’s politicians on Sunday: they are ready for change. The incumbent, Peronist-affiliated Frente Para La Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), led by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, suffered key losses as the country voted on available seats in one-third of the Senate and half of the Chamber of Deputies.
The results may reflect voters’ concern with issues such as rising inflation, corruption, and crime, which have become increasingly severe in recent years under the Fernández de Kirchner government. They also suggest that the 2015 elections may feature a divided Peronist movement—as well as a plausible non-Peronist alternative for the first time in 12 years.
Though the FPV maintains a majority in both houses of Congress—40 of 72 seats in the Senate and 132 of 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies—their losses in 12 of 24 districts in Sunday’s elections indicate that the party’s popularity is slipping. Perhaps the most important loss took place in the province of Buenos Aires, a traditionally Peronist region with over 11 million registered voters.
As predicted in the August primaries, Sergio Massa, an ex-FPV candidate and mayor of the populous city of Tigre, secured a seat in the Chamber of Deputies. His new Peronist-inspired party, Frente Renovador (Renewing Front), provides traditional Peronist voters with an alternative to the FPV. On Sunday, Massa soundly defeated his FPV competitor, Martín Insaurralde, who trailed by over twelve points. Whereas the FPV considers itself a leftist party, Massa’s Frente Renovador appears to represent more centrist, business-friendly interests.
Clarín Group, Argentina’s largest media conglomerate, will have to sell off part of its holdings due to a Supreme Court ruling handed down on Tuesday. The high court declared constitutional the four articles of the Ley de Medios (Media Law), Argentina’s anti-monopoly broadcast law that congress passed four years ago but has stalled in the courts since.
The 2009 law reduces the number of radio and television licenses that a single owner could hold from 24 to 10, which the government has said is necessary to reduce market concentration. But Clarín Group sees it as an attempt by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to stifle opposition voices, saying in a statement that it “laments the ruling, which doesn't take into account the value of journalistic independence as a precursor for freedom of speech.” In its ruling, the Supreme Court found “no evidence in the case that there is a violation of freedom of expression derived from the law."
As a result, in addition to reducing the number of licenses it holds, the Clarín Group will likely have to break up its Cablevisión-Fibertel holding, the largest cable and internet operator in Argentina, and sell off its Canal 13 television network. The ruling was seen as a victory for the embattled administration of President Kirchner whose party suffered a setback in Sunday’s midterm elections. Clarín Group has not ruled out appealing the law in international courts.
With national legislative elections coming up on October 27, Argentina is abuzz with political activity. In addition to the high economic stakes—the country suffers from increasing inflation and faces the threat of a deep recession—many view this year’s elections as a harbinger of who will become Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s successor two years from now. The results of the August 11 primary races suggest a challenge to her influence, though perhaps not to Argentina’s political system.
Kirchner is serving her second and final term in office (though some debate whether she will attempt to run for a currently unconstitutional third term). The Peronist party, Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), has made several legal adjustments to the country’s electoral and judicial systems that could serve to boost its popularity. They have lowered the voting age to 16 in hopes of support from young voters, created bureaucratic obstacles that political parties must overcome to compete in elections, and reformed the Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación (Supreme National Court of Justice) so that two-thirds of its judicial magistrates must affiliate with a political party and run for election.
However, signs of popular dissent have hinted that a new leader might rise to power and bring ten years of Kirchnerismo to a close. First, the opposition has staged several massive protests, including those held in November of last year and this past April, each with larger turnouts than any popular protest since the 2001 economic crisis. Second, the primary elections held three weeks ago suggest that the president’s grip on power may be slipping. To the FPV’s surprise, the Frente Renovador (Renewing Front) candidate, Sergio Massa—the mayor of Tigre (a populous suburb just north of Buenos Aires) and a onetime-Peronist party member who has now distanced himself from the FPV—defeated Fernández de Kirchner’s pick, Martín Insaurralde, for representative of the province of Buenos Aires, a vital district for the president and a traditional Peronist stronghold.
Yet Fernández de Kirchner maintains a confident outlook on the October elections, and her supporters, organized into neighborhood groups, pledge their loyalty as strongly as ever. Yet Massa’s victory in the province of Buenos Aires and non-FPV victories in the provinces of Jujuy, San Juan, Chubut, and La Rioja—normally strong Peronist areas—indicate that many voters are ready for a change.
Though Massa has yet to secure a victory as representative of Buenos Aires province in October and the presidential elections remain two years away, it appears that he is gaining momentum on a potential run for the presidency. While some doubt he has the personal charisma to become a national Peronist leader, others—Peronists and anti-Peronists alike—are drawn to Massa. In recent interviews I conducted in Buenos Aires, a range of voters said that Massa focuses on “real issues” that affect Argentines and that he seems removed from the claims of corruption they perceive in the Fernández de Kirchner administration. His victory in the upcoming midterm elections would present a threat to the Fernádez de Kirchner legacy.
Ultimately, however, Massa may represent more continuity than change. In addition to cutting his teeth as a Peronist mayor, well versed in its politics, his intensely personalistic campaign does not diverge greatly from that of Peronist “super-presidents”—from Juan Domingo Perón himself to Carlos Menem and Fernández de Kirchner. Massa may stress “policy over politics,” but he also abruptly announced his candidacy less than two months before the primaries and relied largely on his own attractive image to garner support. His campaign posters, hung throughout Tigre and Buenos Aires province, display only a clever spelling of his name, “+a,” in bold letters, along with that of his newly formed political party, Frente Renovador (Renewing Front), against a black background.
The current political climate suggests that Fernández de Kirchner will likely be forced to step down in 2015, bringing the reign of Kirchnerismo to an end. However, it is not clear whether an opposition candidate would take the country in a new direction, despite some Argentines’ disillusionment with the politics of the Fernández de Kirchner administration. The leading possible contender has, at least as far as his campaign is concerned, continued the personalistic style of his predecessors.
¿Cómo se teje la democracia en red? Construyendo un puente entre el clic y el voto. Así de simple y ambiciosa es la propuesta de un grupo de jóvenes argentinos expertos en tecnología, que busca alcanzar una curul en la legislatura de Buenos Aires en las elecciones del próximo 27 de octubre, para representar la voz ciudadana en toda la extensión de la expresión.
Estos jóvenes crearon el Partido de la Red, un partido político que tiene como objetivo rescatar el concepto griego de democracia pero en la era digital: dándole poder al pueblo a través de un software. El partido ha recogido más de 6000 firmas (esas sí de manera personal, pues constitucionalmente solo el puño y letra es legal en Argentina) y la Justicia Electoral Argentina les validó 4244 adhesiones a comienzos de septiembre.
Así se convirtieron legalmente en una opción política alternativa, y es un hecho que a la hora de ejercer su voto los bonaerenses encontrarán una boleta con su logo: una figura de una red tejida por nodos, que simboliza los pares y cuyo diseño fue escogido mediante un proceso de crowdsourcing.
En las urnas, los ciudadanos podrán elegir una lista cerrada, con la promesa de que si el partido llega a alcanzar una curul, el diputado electo votará los proyectos de ley tal y como lo decida la mayoría de quienes usen su plataforma (de código abierto y libre).
¿El fin? Votar por ideas en lugar de personas para implementar un modelo de rendición de cuentas participativo. En vez del “que se vayan todos” de la caótica argentina del 2001, el partido propone un nuevo paradigma: “entremos todos a tomarnos la legislatura.”
“Sentimos que el sistema no nos representa y queremos construir esta nueva sociedad en red. ¿De dónde partimos? de la legislatura,” afirma Pía Mancini, politóloga, quien figura como número dos de la lista de candidatos del Partido para las elecciones legislativas. La antecede el licenciado en sociología Agustín Frizzera, y la componen 28 jóvenes más entre 20 y 40 años, más 30 suplentes. “Con que solo alcancemos una banca, vamos a demostrar que la herramienta es efectiva,” Mancini agregó.
Una red de 200 voluntarios entre los que hay al menos 50 programadores comenzó a tejer esta idea desde mayo de 2012. Ahora hilvana cómo hacer para que el software—el cual simulará una botonera como la de los diputados para marcar “Sí,” “No” o “Abstención”— permita además a los ciudadanos argumentar su voto y debatir con otros.
“No creemos en las estructuras verticales. Al contrario, apelamos a la inteligencia colectiva, incorporar al otro, crear nudos de conocimiento y confianza. Hay un sistema viejo que no quiere oír, mientras la tecnología se ha convertido en la válvula de conexión entre el Estado y la ciudadanía,” explicó Mancini.
El partido está inspirado en el Partido Pirata de Suecia que fue pionero en difundir el modelo de la llamada “democracia líquida,” la cual no es otra cosa que la posibilidad de cualquiera de participar con un voto virtual, directo o delegado en las decisiones de los parlamentos de este país escandinavo. En suma, el objetivo es brindar a los ciudadanos la posibilidad de ocupar escaños. Actualmente existen cerca de 20 partidos piratas en el mundo pero, como explica Mancini, estos usan el sistema de la red para tomar decisiones internas de los partidos, donde solamente votan los afiliados.
En las elecciones de abril pasado en Paraguay, el Movimiento Despertar Ciudadano intentó implementar una propuesta de software similar, pero no alcanzó la curul en los comicios. Los jóvenes de este partido siguen reforzando su propuesta con charlas por todo el país con miras a las próximas elecciones.
“La idea es llegar a una co-creación de proyectos de ley, que los ciudadanos también propongan. Incluso que otros partidos usen el software que es libre. Hace falta mucha transparencia en la política y la agenda del diputado debe ser pública,” agregó por su parte Don Powa, otro de los pares de esta red quien figura como el número 22 en la lista.
Argentina aprobó este año el voto a partir de los 16 años y los partidos más poderosos afinaron su artillería para seducir a esos novatos. El Frente para la Victoria de la presidente Cristina Fernández de Kirchner y Propuesta Republicana (PRO) de Mauricio Macri, que gobierna en capital, tienen las agrupaciones militantes más emblemáticas: La Cámpora (peronista) y Jóvenes Pro. Siendo los jóvenes quienes más consumen contenido en Internet, es un riesgo que inunden la plataforma para tergiversar los votos a favor de una corriente política.
“Como los proyectos son públicos y también el sistema, los usuarios deben registrarse con nombre, DNI y domicilio de la ciudad de Buenos Aires, para poder votar. Estamos trabajando para evitar que la plataforma sea cooptada por usuarios falsos”, explicó Powa.
Como una red que se va tejiendo de a poco, lo que ha logrado el Partido de la Red hasta ahora es una personería transitoria de 12 meses, que les permitirá ser partido nacional solo cuando tengan presencia en cinco distritos. Pero como bien explican los pares, cuando se habla de red, “la aspiración de poder es distinta,” y es allí donde, por ahora, una banca es suficiente para arañar la democracia.