On November 30 and December 1, the rulers of the 20 most powerful nations will meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the fourth installment of our coverage of the 2018 G20 summit, our correspondents recount clashes over neoliberal assaults on the Argentine education system, the counter-summit of left politicians, and the football riots that forced Senator for Justice and Security of Buenos Aires to resign immediately ahead of the G20 meetings.
Friday, November 23
Police Attack Student Protests
All week long, there had been protests against a change in the lecturer-training system, which is now to be centralized and controlled by the government. Within this framework, 29 institutes are to be closed; in addition, the previous independence of the lecturer committees is to be virtually abolished. In the future, a government-appointed rector will govern the “UniCABA” (Universidad de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires). On top of that, dozens of allegedly “useless” professorships are to be cancelled without replacement.
The comparatively liberal, independent university system has long been a thorn in the side of the Macri government, which is why the state began to tackle the structural conversion of UniCABA a year ago. There have been massive protests in response—this is about nothing less than the independence of the universities. In June, the recalcitrant lecturers were at the front of the queue when state employees were deprived of their wages for months as a result of empty state treasuries. The closure of the Ministry of Education followed, together with six other ministries, including the Ministries of Culture and Health. There were strikes; the students showed solidarity with the lecturers, but Macri remained hard.
The final legislation passed on Thursday in the city parliament of Buenos Aires, in which Macri’s conservative electoral alliance currently holds a majority. In anticipation, the police had cleared some protest tents on the forecourt and sealed off the street in front of the city parliament with the usual steel barriers on both sides; they also mobilized a massive number of riot police and a water cannon. Clashes erupted, people knocked down barriers, police shot tear gas and attacked the demonstrators with their truncheons. Even the left-wing members of parliament who came out of the meeting on the street were physically harassed. Finally, about 1500 students marched through the city center in a loud demonstration.
The University City of Buenos Aires
With over 300,000 resident students, Buenos Aires has the most students of any city in Latin America. Since Peron’s time, the Argentine education system has been more accessible and affordable than any other on the continent. That is why so many people from poorer backgrounds have converged here to study. Yet in order to be able to afford accommodation and livelihood in this comparatively expensive city, the majority of students have to work to pay their way through school, often taking several badly paid jobs at once. This is why all the faculties also offer lectures and seminars in the evening hours. Often, the students simply fall asleep exhausted.
The university can pride itself on its academic past: five of its graduates have been awarded a Nobel Prize, including two Nobel Peace Prizes. In the 1960s and 1970s, the universities were hotbeds of revolution and upheaval; Che Guevara, among others, studied medicine here. In the 1980s, however, the military dictatorship brutally “cleaned up” the universities, murdering thousands of student activists. After that, in the 1990s and especially after the left-wing progressive Peronist Nestor Kirchner was elected president in 2003, things improved a bit again.
The “rollback” has come under Macri. Already today, there are dramatic disparities between the faculties. While, for example, the law faculty is well-funded behind its monstrous façade, the social sciences are falling apart—it is not easy to find a functioning toilet there, and most buildings are dilapidated or even ready for demolition.
Saturday, November 24
Popular Reformism or Permanent Revolution?
The so-called “World Forum of Critical Thinking” organized by CLACSO (Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales, Latin American Council for Social Sciences) lasted for one week. Many people, including well-known politicians, appeared at the forum, including ex-presidents Ernesto Samper (Colombia), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), and José Mujica (Uruguay), not to mention Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, former mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Pedro, and Pablo Iglesias of the Spanish party Podemos. Former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a Peronist, opened the event with her first major public appearance in almost a year. This took place in the big hall of the railway workers sports club. Her core statement was that, in view of the advance of neoliberalism and authoritarianism in large parts of Latin America, all those affected must now stand together; “old categories” from “left or right” will not help anymore. Her headline: “Splits are a luxury we can no longer afford.”
The numerous workshops, lectures, films, and cultural events throughout the week were characterized by diversity and internationalism. A total of 25,000 people were said to have attended this “World Forum,” which was also open, including many attendees from neighboring countries, many of whom were representatives from various political parties, universities, and social organizations. By and large, it appears that at least the majority of them left after the Forum rather than remaining in Buenos Aires until the G20. The organizers emphasized that this was not, as the press often claimed, a kind of “counter summit,” but rather a “forward-looking think tank for solutions to the urgent questions about the future.” Similarly, the Forum’s spokespersons avoided publicly calling for decisive protest against the upcoming summit, while often sharply criticizing the policies of the G20 and above all the IMF.
On Friday, the Trotskyist MST (Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores, Socialist Workers’ Movement) organized a rally with about 800 participants in front of the Congress, the whole thing already within the frame of the anti-G20 protests. Speakers sharply criticized the protagonists of CLACSO: “Bolsonaro, Macri, and the right did not come out of nowhere… the right won because people were disappointed with the kind of left who presented themselves as an alternative at the ‘Forum of Critical Thinking.’” They also took aim at the Peronists, who do not call for protests against the G20 “because of electoral calculations” or, in the view of the MST speakers, only inconsistently. The same is also true of the FTI (Frente de la Izquierda y Trabajadores, Left Workers’ Front), a competing party from the Trotskyist camp, according to an MST spokesman.
It is not particularly surprising that the MST are on their own at their event and the rally is not even mentioned in the media. At the same time, they take a clear position regarding the impending G20 summit:
“In a few days, the members of the G20 summit will arrive. This meeting does not bring any advantages for the people here—instead, they try to intimidate the population. There will be no planes, no trains, no subways, and no buses. They will do everything they can to prevent the protests, but there will be protests anyway.”
And further, to great applause:
“Macri has asked us to leave the city. But they are the ones who should disappear from the city: the G20, the IMF, Macri, Bullrich, and the whole police apparatus.” (see also 20.11.)
Nothing like this was heard at CLACSO.
Sunday, November 25
A Football Match Gets Out of Control
It is the “mother of all battles” in the Argentine football, the city match between River Plate and Boca Juniors—shortened to “River – Boca.” This time, the “Superclasico” is even a “historic” one, namely the first time the bitter city rivals meet in the finals of the “Copa Libertadores,” the South American counterpart of the Champions League in Europe. Unlike in Europe, the final will be played with both legs. Both matches sold out immediately at the opening of the advance sale; only a few especially expensive tickets reached the market, because the members of both clubs exercised their right to first dibs.
Stadium visits for away fans have been generally prohibited in Argentina since 2013. In the last 91 (!) years, statisticians counted 279 deaths due to violence with a “football background.” This is certainly bad, but rather low in comparison to the much greater number of femicides in the country. Macri, who as president of Boca Juniors became a public figure and then later a politician, wanted to propose something popular for a change, so he talked about allowing away fans this time: “We and our football are adult enough for that now and should show it to the world.” Both clubs, the associations, and the police rejected the proposal on account of security concerns. On the contrary, even post-game victory celebrations in the street were banned.
The complications with the current Clásico started at the end of October, when both matches were pushed forward one week so that the return match would not take place on December 1 as originally planned—i.e., during the G20—a comprehensible albeit rather late decision. The first round at Boca was rescheduled for Saturday, November 10. The Boca fans entered their stadium despite heavy rain, which had already lasted for two days. When the fans had already filled up the stadium, the game was postponed after heated discussions—first for one hour, and finally to the following day. The pitch had become a huge lake, simply unplayable. Now it was covered with a tarpaulin—an idea that could have been implemented before. The match took place on Sunday, November 11, ending in a 2:2 draw. Achieving a draw in an away game means a small advantage for River, especially as they played a bit better. (In Europe, goals scored away from home are counted twice in the case of a draw in the addition after two matches, but that rule does not exist here.)
A week before the return match, tension continued to mount in the city, with the media fanning the flames. None of the numerous Argentine football legends missed the opportunity to comment., including one “analysis” to the effect that “the loser will need 20 years afterwards to recover.” Two days before the return match, Boca fans managed to earn an entry in the Guinness Book of Records: over 50,000 people come to the public final training in the Bombonera Stadium of Boca. Many fans cried; some stormed onto the pitch at the end to embrace the players, who were touched. The security service kept to the background—after all, “a real emotion is always associated with some transgression of the rules.”
Fan clubs in Argentina are often extremely violent and organized in a mafioso manner, and some of them have strong political connections. The leader of the “Borrachos del Tablón” (“drunks in a frenzy”), the most notorious of the “Barra Brava” grouping around River Plate, received a visit from the authorities the day before the game. Police accompanied by a public prosecutor searched an apartment belonging to Héctor Godoy, also called Caverna (“the Grotto“), which is located close to the stadium. During the search, they confiscated 300 tickets and 7 million pesos (approximately 160,000 €) in cash; Caverna remains at large. The tickets are said to have been issued individually to members, but there is speculation about possible forgery. Black market tickets are a “core business” of the Barras Bravas.
The Boca team spent the night before the historic Superclasico in a 5-star hotel in the new noble district of Puerto Madero. As they set off by bus in the direction of the “Monumental” (the 67,000-seat stadium of the River Plate), several thousand fans bid them farewell. The bus left with some delay, escorted through the city by a large motorcycle squadron, just like during a state visit. At the same time, the River fans were already let into the stadium. However, about 20,000 were ticketless, waiting in front of the stadium in hopes of an opportunity to get in somehow. There were black market deals and numerous robberies; in addition, groups of 100 to 200 attempted to overcome the entrance controls by force. The 2000 police officers deployed had their hands full dealing with the situation.
Meanwhile, the Boca bus and its escort were approaching. Shortly before the stadium, they drove towards a bend where about 1500 River fans waited behind a loose police chain. When the bus turned into the curve and slowed down, the crowd threw bottles and stones, breaking several windows of the bus. The police deployed tear gas grenades, but the River fans threw some of them back toward the bus. The driver and several Boca players were seriously injured by shards of glass. Their captain, Pablo Perez, had to go to the hospital with cuts close to his eye; other players, like star Carlos Tévez, breathed a lot of tear gas and then were running dazed past the cameras and through the stadium aisles.
The stadium was fully occupied and the game was scheduled to begin in half an hour, at 5 pm. But the chaos continued in front of the stadium, while one tumultuous crisis meeting in the catacombs followed another. FIFA President Infantino was directly involved. The game was initially postponed by an hour and a quarter to 6:15 pm. The players warmed up on the field and the fans celebrated their stadium-wide choreography. Then Boca captain Perez returned back from the hospital with his eyes bandaged and Tévez told the press that the team was unable to play under those circumstances. In the end, the game was postponed to the next day, Sunday at 5 pm. The River fans left the stadium and went home frustrated.
Sunday, at 1 pm, the game was postponed for an indefinite period. Rivers President Rodolfo D’Onofrio stressed that the match will definitely take place in his own stadium and with an audience. Boca’s president, Daniel Angelici—a friend of Macri and Mayor Larreta—demanded a thorough investigation of the incident and later requested that the match and the Copa should be scored for Boca at the green table. The South American football association “Commebol” has now moved the match to December 8 or 9, to take place abroad, in another country.
The Senator for Justice and Security of Buenos Aires, Martín Ocampo, was forced to resign because of the incidents—just a few days before the G20. In any case, he was only in the second row of summit security; Patricia Bullrich holds the scepter. She explained dryly that everything will go better than it would have if the match were still scheduled to take place during the summit.
In the subsequent discussions, there were many rumors about how the chaos at the football match could happen. But first and foremost, the domestic and foreign media have raised the concern: “If they can’t even manage a football match, what will happen at the G20?” One can vividly imagine, for example, that the US security sector has lost trust in the transfer convoys organized by the Argentine police—if that trust ever existed at all. The Argentine security forces are now under enormous additional pressure not to allow anything comparable during the summit. In this respect, the riots at the Clásico will presumably serve as a “green card” for violent aggression involving a total of 27,000 security forces.
The Barra Brava boss Caverna, on the other hand, is still at large, making public statements in audio messages via WhatsApp.