by Louise Belfrage
News Editor, The WIP
– Argentina –
Buenos Aires, April 10th – On April 4th, Argentine public school teachers in the provincial capital of Neuquén, the largest city in Patagonia, held a rally for higher salaries, demanding more than their current pay of 1000-1200 pesos (USD 300-360) a month. A raise of 24% had been offered by the federal government, which the workers had taken as an insult.
During police intervention of this non-peaceful protest, a chemistry teacher, Carlos Fuentealba, was killed when he was hit in the head by a tear gas cartridge.
The following day, approximately 30 thousand people were mobilized into the streets of Neuquén, surrounding the federal government building and demanding the resignation of Governor Jorge Sobisch, accusing him of murder.
Demonstrations and public protests are commonplace in Argentina. They are always noisy, often aggressive, and seldom successful. In an election year such as 2007, they are also of great political importance.
Governor Sobisch, a political opponent to President Néstor Kirchner in the upcoming October presidential elections, stands little chance after this drama.
On Monday April 9th, just as the Argentines were returning home from their Easter holidays, a national strike was called, organized by Confederación General de Trabajadores (Worker’s Union). Professional strikers, Piqueteros, from the poor suburbs of Buenos Aires, assembled together with thousands of workers in Plaza de Mayo to protest against the police violence and pressuring Governor Sobisch to resign.
The protests now stretched from the southern provinces of Patagonia to Salta in the north. Main public transportation in the capital Buenos Aires, such as the underground, stopped completely. Banks, hospitals, government offices and television channels all closed for one hour.
One does well to remember that the death of Carlos Fuentealba has yet to be investigated. But in Argentine politics, few are interested in justice. What is needed is a scapegoat and Sobisch fits the bill perfectly.
Hugo Yasky, president of the national teachers’ union, said at a rally of striking teachers in Buenos Aires, “Professor Carlos Fuentealba’s assassin has a name. His name is Sobisch, and he must pay. He must go. He must answer for his crimes.”
President Kirchner was not slow to benefit from the tragedy. “Fuentealba was an Argentinean that was doing what he thought was right and for that reason he was executed, something that should not happen and will never happen again in Argentina,” Kirchner said.
Jorge Sobisch now faces a political trial for his alleged responsibility in the police repression that killed Carlos Fuentealba.