On Wednesday local police learned via Facebook of plans for looting in Bariloche. I’ve had a tough time understanding the details, but I think the supposed genesis was either the cancellation or change in size of special cash payments to welfare recipients.
In the middle of the day on Thursday there was looting at a La Anonima (like Wal-Mart) in the “periferico” or outskirts of Bariloche. The looters stormed the store and walked out with flat screen TVs, cases of beer and alcohol, food, and what looked like 25lb bags of dog food. Some of the looters wore bandanas to cover their faces and others didn’t bother. Some people loaded booty into their cars. For some, stealing wasn’t enough: they bashed in windows of cars in the parking lot.
By late Thursday afternoon stores in the center of town were boarding up their windows and closing or preparing to close at a moment’s notice. This was inconvenient for us since we were in the middle of moving to our new (final!) apartment and didn’t have any fresh food. Pete bought milk and crackers and juice at a kiosco and we ate spaghetti noodles with powdered parmesan cheese for dinner.
By order of the president, 400 military police flew to Bariloche Thursday night. Perhaps because of their presence, nothing happened in the center of town. However, Pete saw that windows were broken at the La Anonima where we shopped during our first week in Bariloche, probably by copycat vandals.
On Friday, midday looting took place in a similar-sized city in Buenos Aires province. From what we saw on TV, it looked like some young men were inspired by what happened in Bariloche and decided to trash a gas station and then storm a grocery store. We saw ordinary-looking people rushing up to the grocery store to get whatever they could, including jumbo packs of toilet paper.
According to an article today on BBC Mundo, looting also took place in Rosario, the third largest city in Argentina, and in Resistencia, in the north. Five hundred people have been arrested across the country, according to reports.
I thought I understood what was going on, at least when the looting first started in Bariloche. The looters were from the underclass, made up mostly of people with indigenous roots, many from Bolivia and Paraguay, who live on the margins of the successful, European-heritage part of Bariloche. For this population (speaking very broadly), educational achievement is lower, and rates of incarceration, unemployment, generational poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, and welfare dependency are higher than they are for “whites” (that should sound familiar to anyone living in a country with a history of slavery or colonialism). Looting solves nothing, and it’s an inexcusable action. But I can understand it as a sort of protest or outlet for anger.
BBC Mundo reports that the Argentine president—a Socialist who has instituted many programs aiding the poor—is accusing rightwing media and opposition leaders of inciting the looting. We’ll watch to see how this story develops.