BUENOS AIRES BRIEFING
Back to the party
The city’s nightclubs are reopening, after a two-month closure. The city council had shut them down after 192 people died in a fire at the República Cromañón nightclub on December 31st. But at the end of February, after rigorous security checks, inspectors allowed two clubs to open and reckoned that around 40 would soon follow by the end of March.
The capital’s tourism and entertainment industries have suffered under the crackdown. Musicians have had to escape the city to find clubs to perform in, and the city’s formerly thriving alternative-theatre circuit has also been stymied by suddenly diligent safety inspectors. Even the Hotel Faena, one of the city’s most fashionable and exclusive hotels (which opened in October), had to turn guests away for a week during tiffs with zealous inspectors. Assailed for not doing enough to avert December’s disaster, the city has worked to demonstrate its toughness. The city council has beefed up controls on public venues, and the General Justice Inspectorate has decreed a ban on offshore companies operating in the capital. This is to mitigate one of the contributing factors in the República Cromañón case, in which the club’s ownership was obscured by arrangements with a series of Uruguay-based companies.
Security officials at Barajas airport in Madrid intercepted 60 kilos of cocaine that had been shipped from Buenos Aires’ main airport, Ezeiza, revealing serious breaches in security there. Though the packages were discovered in September, their existence was not made public until February. The government has blamed the air force for keeping the discovery quiet. The chief executive of Southern Winds, the airline responsible for the shipment, denounced the case in the Argentina courts in October, and blamed rogue employees. But the judge on the case suspects the incident points to larger problems in airport security, and has arrested several Southern Winds executives.
The packages had fake labels claiming they were the property of the Argentine embassy in Madrid, and were sent as unaccompanied luggage, which is prohibited. They also were not passed through the airport’s scanners. Shortly after the cocaine was found, security videos that could have identified the smugglers were erased. The government, under fire for its handling of the scandal and concerned about systemic security gaps, has acted with characteristic vigour. It has removed the senior command of the air force, previously responsible for security at airports; dissolved the force’s National Aeronautical Police, replacing it with a civilian force; and cancelled a joint venture between the state and Southern Winds.
Also in the
Buenos Aires guide
What better reprieve from high-pressure city life than an afternoon in the company of real-life gauchos?…
In the streets again
After a lull in activity at the beginning of the year, the capital’s piqueteros—unemployed protestors—returned to the streets in February. In the most serious incident, a 24-year-old piquetero was arrested after attacking a car that tried to pass through a column of marchers. Demonstrators smashed several of the car’s windows, covered it in dents and inflicted cuts and bruises on the occupants, including three young girls. The organisation responsible, which has ties to Quebracho, one of the city’s most radical left-wing groups, later apologised, calling it “an error”. But the family of those assaulted rejected the apology, and said they would sue the government for not guaranteeing the free passage of traffic.
The attack was another blow for the image of the piqueteros, who have drawn ire after repeated roadblocks and clashes (incited by some more extreme groups). In response, the city’s prosecutors have ordered a firmer crackdown, as opposed to the national government’s soft approach. In a first step, prosecutors have demanded that participants not cover their faces during protests, and banned the sticks carried by the demonstrators’ security forces. The piqueteros have, for now, obeyed the command.
Norberto “Pappo” Napolitano, an Argentine rock legend, was killed in a road accident at the end of February, shortly before his 55th birthday. He was hit by a car after falling from his Harley Davidson motorbike near the city of Luján, outside Buenos Aires. Before the accident he had been drinking heavily.
BB King, an American blues legend, called Pappo “Latin America’s greatest guitarist.” He was a pioneer of local rock music, briefly forming part of the legendary Abuelos de la Nada, before starting his own band, Pappo’s Blues, and later launching Argentina’s first heavy metal band, Riff, in 1980. During his career he recorded with virtually all the big Argentine rock bands and appeared with several American stars (including Mr King). Blunt and irascible, Napolitano had once been accused of fascism; just before he died he was being prosecuted for punching another musician. But there was a gentler side: he lived at home with his mother until her death in the 1990s. Thousands of fans turned out to salute his funeral cortege and participate in the services at the city’s Chacarita cemetery.
Raising the dead
Scientists recently found the long-lost body of Facundo Quiroga, a brutal provincial leader known as the “Tigre de Los Llanos” (Tiger of Los Llanos). His burial site had been a secret for 170 years. Quiroga and his mentor, the equally tyrannical Juan Manuel de Rosas, were denounced by Domingo Sarmiento, a revered 18th-century figure, for their bloody vision of federalism in Sarmiento’s tremendously influential book “Facundo”. His coffin was found entombed in the wall of his family’s crypt in the famous Recoleta cemetery. As local legend held, he had been buried standing upright and with a sword, so he could fight against Death. Historians think his burial site was kept secret to stop his many enemies from digging up and burning his remains.
Two centuries later, Quiroga continues to generate controversy. Politicians from La Rioja, his native province, demanded that his remains be sent there, alleging that the tomb where he was buried had been neglected. Burial rows are a regular topic in Buenos Aires. There were recently proposals to make a mausoleum in Buenos Aires province for General Juan Domingo Perón and his wife Evita, and to bring to Argentina the remains of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Catch if you can
Henri Cartier-Bresson retrospective
(c) Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Until April 10th 2005
With the support of the French embassy, the Borges Cultural Centre hosts an expansive retrospective of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, a Parisian photographer who championed a photojournalistic style. This show features 155 of his pictures. Born in 1908, Cartier-Bresson was trained to be a painter; by 1932 he became inseparable from his Leica camera, which he wielded with a painterly eye. After documenting the liberation of Paris in 1945 (he spent three years as a Nazi prisoner-of-war), he travelled the world, mostly India and China, where he captured iconic images of Gandhi and of Mao’s rise to power. Though he rejected photography for drawing in the last 25 years of his life, he has left an unrivalled body of work.
See obituary: Kingdoms of the world in a moment, August 5th 2004
Centro Cultural Borges, corner of Viamonte and San Martín, Centre. Tel: +54 (0)11 5555-5359. Open: Mon-Sat, 10am-9pm. For more information, visit the museum’s website.
More from the Buenos Aires cultural calendar