The end of a four month national struggle comes to an end, by one vote! Since March when President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner increased export taxes on all major Argentine food exports without Congressional consent, the country has been in major unrest. Weekly protests and demonstrations from both sides, the farmers and the government, had become a regularity slowly boiling with rising tensions. I was truly beginning to question whether all of the farmers' protesting would change anything or have a major affect on whether this law change would materialize.
When President Cristina finally sent the decision to congress, most thought it was a small victory for the farmers. However, speculators like myself thought this was just continuing an inevitably long conflict that would end in misery for the farmers. Judgement day in the congressional building was last Wednesday, the 16th of July, which would end up being a 20 hour day from 8am to 4am the next morning. Rallies began on Tuesday from both sides, so much so that I was sent home from work because we couldn´t even hear ourselves think from our downtown office building amidst the shooting cannons, whistles and chants. One distinguishing difference between the farmers´supporters and the government supporters is the incentive behind their demonstrations. Some of the government supporters who gathered in front of the Congress building were paid by the government for their support. The supporters of the farmers gathered in Palermo, a neighborhood to the north of the Congress building, many of whom were holding signs saying ¨We weren´t even paid to be here.¨
The clock struck 4:22 am on Thursday in the Congressional building as the country desperately awaited the vote of one man. The vote count up to this point; 36 in favor of the tax increase and 36 opposed to the tax increase. This is a true representation of how divided this country really is but like any good democracy, it came down to a deciding vote, that of the Vice President Julio Cobos. He is head of the Senate and Cristina´s right hand man... or was. He then went on to give one of the best speeches before casting his vote, so powerful that I youtubed his speech several times which nearly provoked me to watch some of William Wallace´s freedom speeches in the movie Braveheart. Cobos delivered his vote against the tax following a sincere, heartfelt speech on why he must follow his heart and go against his government. Perhaps, he summed it up best by saying ¨I agree with the distribution of wealth, I also know that one has to see a reasonable profit. To redistribute wealth, one has to create it.¨
Well done and well said in my opinion. Now the country sits in surprise that all of the farmers´cries actually made it through to the government, this democracy actually works, wow. Even so, this was a microcosmic illustration of how divided this country remains politically and economically. At least, for time being, Argentina can do its part in providing even some relief to a world very much in need of its resources. Should the vote had been cast in favor, this country may be remembered as the one country who missed on seizing an opportunity to improve its own economy by helping the global food crisis, due to its own internal conflict.
Was this victory or defeat? The jury is still out. We shall see if the country can actually rebound from this crisis and put the economy on a long-term upward swing. However if you ask the people who have lived here their whole life and if history is any indication, don´t count on it.