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Letter From a Young Argentine -- We All Live in Paris Now

New America Media, Commentary, Martn Cuevas Posted: Nov 22, 2005

Editor's Note: A young man from Buenos Aires feels grateful to be working and studying, but knows he's in a precarious position in a country in flux. From his city, which has seen its middle class decimated, the violence that rocked Paris looks like a scream at the powerful for inclusion and stability.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina--In my country, nothing is certain, everything is in flux. Now I see that in France it is the same way. French authorities are scrambling to come up with an answer for weeks of violence and rage that shocked all of Europe, and I ask: Is there a nexus between what happened in France and the reality I live here in Argentina?

In the poor, formerly industrial suburbs around Buenos Aires, which have been gutted by globalization, there's a huge, growing urban underclass that is simmering with resentments and deferred aspirations. Only days before the French riots began, Argentine protestors burned banks, trashed businesses and threw rocks to express their rage at President Bush.

I'm proud of being Argentine, but the future here is cloudy. There's likely no end in sight to having to depend on the suspect charity of more powerful countries like the United States and organizations like the International Monetary Fund. It isn't surprising that so many Argentines blame President Bush and the United States for being complicit in their problems: Things have steadily gotten worse here with Wall Street and Washington, D.C., as de facto owners of our economy.

There are nearly 37 million Argentines; our government says officially that unemployment is at 12 percent. But this number is completely false because it does not take into account the over 2 million people who receive government payments, 150 pesos per month, or about $50. In Argentina, that money doesn't cover even basic expenses, much less the needs of an entire family.

In Buenos Aires, formerly solidly working- and middle-class, it's an everyday sight to see dull-eyed children between 8 and 15 years of age rummaging through trash cans, searching for cardboard that they might sell to recyclers for the equivalent of pennies. Official figures say 40 percent of Argentines are poor, and it's higher for young people and children. Bolivians, Paraguayans and some Peruvians are mixed into the underclass here. It's obvious that there are masses of people that need more than the government or the market provides.

In Buenos Aires, in Paris, in cities around the world where migrants and immigrants can find no work, people are protesting because they want to be included in the economic and social order. Those who are excluded, who live on the margins, they are the ones tempted to take to the streets when they see no other opportunity to be heard, to integrate, to be part of the system. Certain people insist on denying this reality, saying of poor Argentines or Parisians, "They don't want to work." This isn't true. They aren't given the option.

I am 27 years old; I've worked since I was 17 years old. I come from a humble family. My parents split in my adolescence and my father immigrated abroad. I don't get along with my mother, and so I've supported myself for the past 10 years. I share an apartment with two other young people. I feel blessed to have a job now in which I can earn a relatively decent living, and which even allows me the luxury of enough free time at night to complete my studies in economics at the public university, which is free.

But despite my current good fortune, there is no guarantee that I won't be marginalized in the future. That is how things work in Argentina: everything is provisional. That is why, as someone who lives in a marginal country and is at risk of being further marginalized and excluded, I feel a moral kinship with the protesters in France.

Just as I can't deny the harsh reality of my country, it would be narrow-minded and unjust of me to ignore the harsh day-to-day reality of lives in the rest of the world. Although I don't condone violence, neither here nor anywhere, it's clear to me the immigrants and other protesters in France are struggling only to be included and to live without the fear of exclusion, which is my everyday fight too. I'd like to see everyone able to live with a measure of dignity. I would like to live in a Buenos Aires in which children are not forced to dig through trash everyday.

Regardless of skin color or nationality, the Parisian protesters and I are on the same side of a line drawn in the sand by the minority of humanity that has benefited from globalization. It shouldn't surprise anyone that from time to time, those of us who have seen our futures postponed or corroded by uncertainty feel the need to cross that line.

Martn Cuevas is studying economics at the University of Buenos Aires.


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