- January, 2002
- Cazerolazo With Rain
- Friday night I participated in the Argentine national cacerolazo,
an experience which was just as moving as the one which ousted
Cavallo and de La Rua. This one was far more organized, as it
had been scheduled by the neighborhood assemblies and was not
a spontaneous outburst as others had been. At eight o'clock in
the evening, I began to hear the clanging of pots and pans from
the street below. I looked outside and saw a mass of several
hundred people congregated on the street, complete with flags
and banners waving. This was the Belgrano Neighborhood Assembly,
one of the largest and most organized in Buenos Aires.
- When I went down to join them, I was impressed to find that
this group even had their own security force to prevent violence
and infiltration, wearing white arm bands. As in previous cazerolazos,
there were young people, old people, children sitting on their
parents shoulders, dogs, and lots of Argentine flags waving in
the warm evening breeze. The rhythm of the clanging of pots filled
the streets; people shouted chants against the corrupt current
government and supreme court, and sang the Argentine national
- Eventually, the Belgrano crowd, facilitated by the white
armband wearing crowd control, began to march determinedly down
the street, still chanting and banging on pots and pans. It had
by now swelled to four or five hundred people. One woman, in
green surgical clothes, wore a sign that said: doctor, offers
her services as maid, dramatizing the plight of many professionals
in Buenos Aires, 50% of whom are unemployed. Other signs called
for the ousting of the Supreme Court, an end to hunger, unemployment,
injustice and the "coralito" which first froze and
then "disappeared" large portions of the bank savings
of the middle class.
- I marched with the Belgrano Assembly about a mile and a half
to the intersection in Colegiales where my own neighborhood assembly,
composed of another two or three hundred people, were also chanting
and banging on pots. Small fires blazed at several different
intersections along the way. There was a feeling of celebration
and power which crackled in the air as the two contingents greeted
each other with shouts and smiles.
- The decision about whether to march to the central Plaza
de Mayo had been left to the individual neighborhood assemblies.
Belgrano had decided to march, Colegiales to stay in the neighborhood.
I stayed for awhile with the Colegiales group and then took the
subway down to Plaza de Mayo. What I found was astonishing. Some
twenty thousand people filled the plaza, with banners, flags,
drums, placards, and the ubiquitous pots and pans, with more
neighborhood contingents continuing to arrive. The rhythmic potbanging
was hypnotic, the clanging filled the plaza, the streets, and
got into your very bones, an incessant metallic clanging ringing
out into a sky, seeming to challenge the staid government buildings
around the plaza with a noise that said loud and clear "We
are here, and we´re not going anywhere." I caught
the eyes of several women, older women, housewives and grandmothers
with wrinkles in their faces, and in their eyes I saw a look
of pride and accomplishment.
- In the center of the crowd, people were shouting the one
chant that I continually hear in these demonstrations, and the
number one "demand" that was voted on by the last general
Assembly: que se vayan todos. Everybody out. Get rid of all the
current politicians. To a non-Argentine, and in fact to some
Argentines, this chant is understandably suspect: does it mean
get rid of government, is it an invitation to a country without
government,to anarchy,to another dictatorship, what? And if everyone
leaves, who is there to replace them? But this is the chant that
continues to swell from every assembly and demonstration that
I attend, with no explanations, embellishments, or amendments:
que se vayan todos. Everybody out. Basta. Enough. Years of corruption,
swindling, theft, seeing the same old politicians clinging to
their power and refusing to let go. One neighbor in my assembly
came up with a new phrase "Que se vayan todos, que queda
la democracia, que venga la justicia. Get rid of them all, keep
democracy, bring on justice. "I like this slogan. But the
single mindedness of que se vayan todos, get rid of them all,
to me reflects the crowd´s absolute frustration with the
old way of doing things, not a desire for anarchy or authoritarianism
but a desire to create something new.
- Other chants spontaneously arose from the crowd: "the
people united will never be defeated," and "Argentina!
AArgentina!" Some people carried signs protesting the the
supreme court, the politicians, the banks. One man, who seemed
to have stumbled into the crowd from a different revolution on
another continent, carried a sign that said "politicians
to the guillotine". Another was wearing a pot on his head.
Vendors moved in and out of the crowd offering drinks. Colored
banners and flags fluttered in the breeze. Then, suddenly, it
began to rain. Hard. A subtropical downpour that created ankle
deep floods in the street and immediately soaked through people´s
clothes. I expected the crowd to disperse. But they didn´t.
Twenty thousand people in the rain chanting "Let the rain
come, we´re gonna stay!
- The rush of water seemed to make the people even more exuberant...whole
groups were jumping up and down like pogo sticks, and neighborhood
contingents were continuing to pour into the plaza. Just before
midnight, Belgrano, the group I had started with, arrived at
the plaza, marching and chanting behind their banner, water streaming
down their faces. Finally, people began to seek refuge from the
rain, pressing themselves up against the walls of buildings,
jumping onto buses. I caught a bus that was headed towards Palermo,
which quickly filled with demonstrators who continued to chant
and bang pots along the way.
- Afterwards, I heard on the radio there were sixty some arrests
and some violence. The information was confused. One radio station
said something about molotov cocktails, rocks, ten policemen
injured, demonstrators taking over the Congressional building.
Another said the police were indiscriminately arresting people
and throwing them into vehicles. Someone else said something
about policemen in civilian clothes and unmarked cars, driving
down the street with bloody demonstrators inside.
- A retired policeman called in to the radio station saying
he thought the people causing the violence were police agents,
that the government wanted to make the citizens of Buenos Aires
afraid to demonstrate in the plaza. "I was a policeman for
many years," he said, "I know the games they play."
Another woman said on my neighborhood assembly web site that
the police had started the violence by spraying tear gas into
the crowd without reason. What was generally agreed upon was
that although the police presence was minimal during most of
the demonstration, it was massive at the end, and backed up by
members of the infantry.
- The government has announced it will conduct an investigation
of possible police misbehavior. A local paper, Pagina 12, said
today that police had also harassed photographers and videographers
to prevent them from documenting what was going on. Generally,
despite the arrests and scattered violence at the end of the
demonstration, the overwhelming feeling among the demonstrators
in Buenos Aires was one of success: they had non-violently and
in an organized fashion taken to the streets, once again, to
vent their frustration and protest the difficult situation in
Argentina. Similar demonstrations took place all over the country.