Argentina's Independence Day on Thursday was marked by various demonstrations against the Alberto Fernández presidency and its prolonged coronavirus quarantine, in defiance of the presidential message calling for national unity against Covid-19.
With its epicentre at the capital's famous Obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires, the protest convoked by opposition supporters on social networks in defence of "individual freedoms" was repeated in various cities across the country. Many of the demonstrators called for an end to the lockdown imposed to tackle the spread of Covid-19.
"You can’t halt justice, it’s one of the most important powers, nor can we stop working. Health matters but the economy too – you can’t have one without the other. The state is there to look after us, not leave us paralysed," demonstrator José Carlos Vélez, 49, told the AFP news agency as he demonstrated.
Taxi-driver Rubén Aguirre, 51, argued that 1,500 deaths did not justify over 110 days of lockdown when people were also dying from other illnesses.
Waving huge Argentine flags and honking their car-horns, the opposition demonstrators, many of them shunning face-masks, vented a broad range of grievances, including pro-life posters against the legalisation of abortion. Vice-President Cristina Fernández Kirchner came in for at least as much criticism as the president with one woman screaming that the ex-head of state was a “thief and murderer.”
A large balloon featuring a caricature of Fernández Kirchner, dressed up like a prison inmate with Alberto Fernández shown as a puppet, was on display during the event.
In his own Independence Day message President Fernández again insisted that his compulsory social isolation had "saved lives" in Argentina by buying time since March 20 to improve the infrastructure and avoid a collapse of the health system until now. He also repeated his economic diagnosis that Argentina’s problems (with most forecasts pointing to a double-digit contraction this year) were the fault of the pandemic rather than lockdown.
The call for a demonstration was backed by many opposition politicians, who in recent weeks have become increasingly vocal in their criticism of the Peronist government and its handling of the pandemic. Former president Mauricio Macri, while not citing the protest specifically, posted a tweet in favour of the demonstrators' demand for liberty and freedom.
The march was not without controversy. A van of the pro-government television news channel C5N, which was covering the main protest around the Obelisk was attacked by demonstrators, who broke a window and shouted insults and threats, acts of aggression earning the prompt repudiation of Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero, Interior Minister Eduardo “Wado” de Pedro and Legal and Technical Secretary Vilma Ibarra among others while President Fernández tweeted against “serial haters,” repeating a phrase used in his speech marking the 9 de Julio anniversary.
Government sources attributed this radicalised opposition to anti-Peronist and anti-democratic sectors whipped up by certain media but also admitted that the relaxation of quarantine would be hard to resist, given that residents in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA) have been locked up since March 20.
It is also thought that some of the news in the last month – the government's bid to expropriate the bankrupt Vicentin grain conglomerate, the murder of Fernández de Kirchner's former presidential secretary Fabián Gutiérrez last weekend and the granting house arrest on bail to Lázaro Báez (accused of being one of the main beneficiaries of Kirchnerite corruption) this week – may have contributed to the heated feelings at the demonstrations.
Last week the anti-quarantine marches lost one of their main organisers to coronavirus – Angel Spotorno, 75 – but this did not reduce their zeal.