BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentine President Mauricio Macri will now travel in an armored van to public events after he and a group of allies were insulted and had rocks thrown at them (and later, his car) at an event in the seaside city of Mar del Plata last week.
Patricia Bullrich, Macri’s Security Minister, claimed that “there is a group linked to the former president,” referring to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), “that follows Macri to public events so that he cannot carry out said events.”
Last Friday, protesters gathered at an event in the northern neighborhood of Belisario Roldán in Mar del Plata, a seaside resort city some 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Buenos Aires, where Macri was holding a public event.
As Macri arrived, groups of people whistled, jeered and chanted messages against him. Minutes later, he took the podium and began to speak but he was drowned out by the protesters who chanted “Macri, basura, vos sos la dictadura!” (“Macri, trash, you are the dictatorship!”) in reference to the nation’s violent right-wing military dictatorship (1976-1983).
Due to the noise that drowned out Macri and his greatly outnumbered supporters, the event was canceled less than five minutes after it began.
Macri began to walk toward his service car along with María Eugenia Vidal, the Governor of Buenos Aires Province and member of Macri’s center-right Republican Proposal (PRO) party, and local authorities when the insults began to rain down once again.
Several meters away, the situation intensified as Macri’s supporters began a heated shouting match with protesters. The police then became involved and escorted several supporters away forcefully and then cracked down heavily on the protesters.
Meanwhile, Macri and Vidal were being driven out of the situation when several stones hit the car.
In the distance, black smoke could be seen rising from the main road that leads from the suburb into the center of Mar del Plata.
The group responsible for stacking and lighting rubber tires in the middle of the road was We Vote to Fight, a left-leaning group that said they took the action after police blocked them from nearing the site of Macri’s speech where they wanted to protest the steep rise in the costs of basic services. The group said their caravan was pushed back and their members, some of whom were women holding children, were pelted with rubber bullets.
The activists Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice Against Forgetfulness and Silence (HIJOS), a group formed by the children of those that disappeared during the military dictatorship, was accused of pelting Macri’s car but they denied involvement.
Just days before the event, Macri attracted the ire of HIJOS and other human rights groups when he said he did not know how many people lost their lives from 1976 to 1983 and referred to the period as a “Dirty War” whereas the groups refer to it as state-sponsored terrorism.
Macri, who broke tradition with former leaders by not meeting with human rights groups early in his mandate and only acquiesced to meeting them after public backlash, referred to the numerical difference in the tally of dictatorship victims.
Darío Lopérfido, the Minister of Culture of Buenos Aires and one of Macri’s closest political allies, said earlier this year that “there were not 30,000 people disappeared in Argentina, this number was arranged on a closed table in exchange for subsidies.”
He said he was referring to the “Never Again” report produced by the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) in 1984 that claimed that the figure of the disappeared was at 9,000 people, and while the document was hailed for its contribution to human rights accountabiliy, many claim that military figures also had a figure in amending certain figures within.
Estela De Carlotto, whose Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights organization was founded in 1977 with the intention of finding the true identities of babies stolen and illegally adopted out to families with ties to the military during the Dirty War, was understandably upset.
“We constantly go with the figure of 30,000 due to the diligent work of various human rights groups here and abroad, and even the genocidal criminals have referred to a figure of 45,000 in the past. We are still receiving reports of grandchildren who were born in captivity because there are people just now encouraging the nation’s people to tell the truth. What ridiculousness and evil to now start changing numbers! He should give us that list that he is citing, if he even has it,” de Carlotto said earlier this year.
Macri, as mentioned, brought up the issue again last week when he said that he “does not know whether the number is 9,000 or 30,000 or something else” and that arguing about the number is “pointless.” In addition, he referred to the period as the “Dirty War,” a phrase disliked by the human rights groups as it suggests that the government was involved in a conflict with the opposition instead of having carried out a campaign of state-sponsored terrorism.
The period in question began on March 24, 1976 when members of the military carried out a coup d’état that deposed María Estela Martínez Cartas de Perón, better known simply as Isabel Perón, who became leader of the Republic of Argentina in July of 1974 following the death of her democratically elected husband, Juan Domingo Perón.
From then until December 10 of 1983, the military junta oversaw a period they called “the National Reorganization Process.” During this era, some 30,000 people were killed and “disappeared” by the de-facto government while tens of thousands of others were the victims of other heinous human rights abuses like assault, torture, rape and baby theft as part of a state-sponsored terrorism campaign.
This was part of Operation Condor, a period of systematic political repression and state-sponsored terror involving cooperating international intelligence organizations conducted by the right-wing dictatorships of South America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. This was all done with the staunch financial, logistical and political support from the United States. The program’s purpose was to “eradicate communist or Soviet influence and ideas,” and to suppress and eliminate any opposition, real or imagined, against those dictatorships.
Indeed, Macri has a very negative image among human rights advocates: in addition to his political distancing from human rights groups, he has a personal history with the period.
Macri, a wealthy businessman, was born to an Italian-born billionaire construction tycoon (and Mussolini supporter) who arrived in Argentina in 1949 that benefited from lucrative deals made with the junta during the dictatorship. In fact, Macri’s PRO Party voted against investigating the murky economic transactions that took place during the dictatorship and he has even closed certain human rights organizations’ offices and de-funded several others during his time as Buenos Aires mayor (and now President of the Republic).
Beside these issues, however, many have found other reasons to criticize and jeer at Macri during his public events. Macri has removed the subsidies instituted by his predecessor and went a step further by adding higher taxes on vital services like public transport fares, electricity and water. The costs of these services increased between 200 percent and 700 percent and Macri has warned of even higher prices and more layoffs.
Last month, Macri’s government sought to raise the price of gas by 1,000 percent in the middle of a cold snap but a series of protests against this measure was halted by a federal court.
Just before his vehicle was stoned in Mar del Plata, Macri responded to the jeers by telling the protesters to “use their energy to build toward the future” as his Argentina is one that is “looking to develop and reach zero-level poverty.”
Statistics, however, would prove him wrong as all economic indicators (including GDP growth, inflation and unemployment) have worsened significantly since he assumed power in December of 2015. The Observatory on Social Debt at the Catholic University Argentina outlined last week that 1.4 million Argentines have slipped under the poverty level since Macri took office.
Macri has repeatedly said that the measures he has taken would be painful initially, but the situation would improve. He said foreign investment should start flowing in, inflation and unemployment would go down and salaries would rise by April. Then, he said that these positive developments would happen in June and then July, and now, his government has said that the situation will improve in 2017.
With no end in sight to the worsening economic conditions, more and more of his public events have drawn a much larger number of opponents than supporters. Macri has even been threatened by individuals on social networks and websites.
For this reason, Security Minister Bullrich was forced to admit that the armored vehicle measure is not in response to the “isolated incident in Mar del Plata” but as part of a needed plan to “protect Macri with everything at the Security Ministry’s disposal.”
Bullrich said Macri’s new vehicle would be ready for use in the coming days, ensuring that any stoning of his vehicle would not put him or any other passengers in danger before or after a public event. The vehicle, of course, would still do nothing to prevent the cancellation of said public events once they begin as it cannot drown out the noise of Macri’s growing number of protesters.