Through Idealist.org (the website of my heart) I recently discovered the organization, SalaamGarage. SalaamGarage promotes service projects in parts of the world that are normally not trekked by tourists. The organization has intimate in's with locals in their destinations, and they connect participants with these locals and help them to work together to create a service project that the community would benefit from.
I was really taken with SalaamGarage, with their initiatives and endeavors. But the thing that caught my attention most was what the organization calls, "citizen journalism." Citizen journalism is the name SalaamGarage gives to the way that their volunteers project their messages learned from their service projects. They urge all their volunteers to either write blogs, take videos, use Twitter or Facebook, or use any other chosen method of social media to get their unique & creative message out to the world about their project. They stress that everyone can be a journalist in their own unique way and every traveler and volunteer has their own unique message that the world can benefit from.
I really loved this message and I really want to try and use this blog at times as a platform for citizen journalism, as a place where I can talk about some things that strike us in Argentina. My ultimate goal is that readers will comment on these posts (i.e., tell me how much I don't know! lol!) and shed their light on the situation. I want to together create a dialogue that can analyze and interpret some of the complicated things happening in Argentina (and elsewhere when we get there!).
One thing that I would like to bring up is the topic of Argentina's upcoming elections. Like any country, Argentina's politics are a web of interwoven complications. In a country with very little history of democracy, their freely elected government seems somewhat fragile. Please, if anyone reading this knows more than I do, please correct me if I am wrong because I am certainly no expert. But, if I have done my homework right, I think that in the 20th century, Argentina had only 4 democratically elected leaders--Hippolito Yrigoyen in the early 1900's (who served close to 2 terms, before being overthrown); Juan Peron in the late 1940's (who again served close to 2 terms before being overthrown) and again after his exile in the 1970's (where he served part of 1 term before passing away, and was succeeded by his wife Isabel who was then overthrown); Raul Alfonsin in the 1980's who came after the infamous Dirty War; and Carlos Menem after Alfonsin. The rest of the years were characterized by military regimes.
What's more is that the democratic regimes that seem to show up as candle light through the darkness of dictatorships haven't always seemed to be very "for the people and by the people," so to speak. Pro-Peronists give Peron credit for accomplishing much for his country, but his opponents criticize him of being a Fascist and of using scare tactics to get what he wanted. However, Alfonsin does truly seem to be Argentina's honest Father of Democracy, and for that we can draw gratitude and aspirations for the future. But his successor, Menem, appears to have had some very un-democratic tendencies, with Mafia-like tendencies and connections coming out the ears.
No half-witted summary of mine can give can give due credit to the tragedies the Argentine people have suffered at the hands of their government. But I think even these few measly sentences can help to show that if Argentines appear cyncial of their government, they certainly have reason to feel so jaded.
The current administration under Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is wildly unpopular. The wife of the former president, Nestor Kirchner, came to office with high approval ratings on the heels of her husband's popular administration that was given credit for Argentina's rapid economic growth during the years of 2004-2007. However, it didn't take long for Cristina's popularity to plummet. By the time Nick and I arrived in late August, the President was coasting along on 23% approval ratings, and based on the buzz on the street, I don't think they've risen much in the past 9 months.
As I said before, I'm certainly no expert, but the tid-bits that I do catch about Cristina Kirchner seem infuriating. The poverty rate has been scarily creeping up-and-up in Argentina, as has the inflation rate. Despite this type of suffering plaguing her country, Cristina is often in the news for such expenditures as buying a pair of $15,000 earrings while visiting France. She pretends to be a champion of the poor, rallying behind political fights such as arguing in favor of allowing the slum in the center of Buenos Aires to exist, although she has done very little if anything at all to help its residents. Her tactics seem all talk, no walk, and the irresponsibility and irreverence shown to the actual people that suffer due to her negligence seems tragic.
But the good news is that Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner does not seem untouchable. Her seemingly frivolous behavior is not going unnoticed, as is reflected in opinion polls and in the splintering of her own party. Last summer, her own vice president cast the deciding vote against her attempts to further tax farmers' exports. Rising oppositionist voices, such as Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, are increasingly gaining attention and support. News circulates of slandering headlines, such as Spanish journalists calling her the "Botox Queen."
Of course, Cristina notices this shake-up in her hold over the country. As an attempt to salvage her power, she rescheduled congressional elections for June, moving them up three months from the previously planned October date. This finagling is an obvious attempt to cling to a last chance of retaining her party's power in the Congress. Her reasoning: economic projections don't look too good for the end of 2009; therefore, the sooner the elections are held in 2009, the better, as Cristina still has a chance to curry favor before the going gets too tough (which she fears it would be in October). So, rescheduling elections is an obvious ploy to gather votes when things are still good (enough).
Not only is this an obvious ploy to pull the bag over people's heads, but it's also quite ironic: the election date was officially set in October by her husband when he was president. Why? To keep politicians from doing exactly what his own wife is now doing: to finagle election dates to cash in on timely favor.
But the irony doesn't stop there--Nestor Kirchner himself appears on the ballot, as a senatorial candidate for Buenos Aires province. So not only has his wife dismantled an anti-corruption law he put in place, but he himself has waggled his way onto a powerful ticket. It seems to me as if the Kirchners are trying to establish themselves more firmly at the seat of power. And this may be their only chance, before inflation runs away and so do jobs as affects of the crisis trickle through the country (not to mention their massive loan payments due at the end of the year).
It makes me so sad to think of Argentina's leadership dooping the country. I can't bear to think about politicians going to slums and bribing residents with a coke and a hot-dog in exchange for a vote. It seems unbearably manipulative that leaders are deceiving, and intentionally hurting their constituents, under the guise of protecting them.
But here's where the hope comes in: Nestor Kirchner isn't doing as well as expected in the polls. He definitely has a shot at losing, which would prove to the leadership that the people are refusing to be swindled. What a wonderful message that would send: that despite the corruption, despite the military dictatorships, despite being cheated out of a democratic government again and again, the people are not giving up hope, are demading an honest system, honest representation. Until the end of the month with the moment of truth, let's all hope for that power to come from the people...
For a good and way more professional summary of the logic behind the elections read this Economist article.