Thousands took out to the streets in Argentina's capital Buenos Aires and the country's main cities with flags on Thursday, July 9th, Independence Day to protest pandemic restrictions for businesses, corruption, and magistrates decision to send under house arrest one of the most notorious characters of the country's corrupt practices in the awarding of public works contracts.
The massive spontaneous turn out with face masks, but ignoring the quarantine, on its 113th day, probably the longest in the world, and taking advantage on the independence national holiday, cried out for freedom, freedom of expression, freedom to reopen businesses, to re-launch the economy and stop promoting misery, to protect private property, and combating corruption.
Since the quarantine was first established last March, president Alberto Fernandez has ruled with special urgent necessity decrees, while congress remained closed most of the time and similarly with the Judiciary. However this did not prevent some magistrates, loyal to government and allegedly fearful of the pandemic impact, to release notorious characters of the Kirchnerite twelve years, such as ex vice president Amado Boudou, imprisoned for corruption, and now Lazaro Baez.
Mr. Baez has spent four years in jail waiting for a trial and finally is to benefit of house arrest. A former bank cashier in Rio Gallegos in 2003, under the umbrella of then president Nestor Kirchner, Baez rapidly became the main contractor of public works in the Santa Cruz province, later of Patagonia and finally of Argentina. He was believed to be a straw man for president Kirchner.
By the time he was jailed, prosecution discovered he had some 400 properties, distributed in different Argentine provinces, 1,833 vehicles, many vintage, others belonging to his construction companies, and several estancias totaling some 472,000 hectares. His family was also accused of laundering money, at least 60 million dollars to overseas accounts. His assets are estimated in 250 million dollars, and investigators believe there are more to be discovered.
However Baez has now been benefitted with house arrest on bail, but since all his assets are embargoed, his lawyers are trying to negotiate a lower sum, instead of the six million dollars demanded.
Protestors in Buenos Aires marched with flags and sounding horns to the Obelisk and Government House (Pink House), demanding for justice and freedom, and sang the national anthem calling for a true republic. In other cities in the soybean belt protestors demanded respect for private property after one of Argentina's main bean crushers, currently under administration, president Fernandez sponsored by his vice president Cristina Kirchner argued that the best solution was to expropriate the 90-year old complex.
Meanwhile president Fernandez from the presidential residence in Olivos headed the official Independence Day ceremony, standing next to him were provincial governors, leaders from business, industry, finance, agriculture and trade unions.
In a message to the nation Fernandez again underlined that the main purpose of his administration and policies was to preserve the health and life of Argentines above all, even above the economy, and called for the unity of all Argentines.
We've already started to rebuild the Argentina of tomorrow, which we are all building jointly, men and women of industry, agriculture, commerce and finance, said Fernandez, but immediately warned that hate and division, delays and paralyzes us
Finally he underlined that no society can be built or achieve its destiny in the midst of insults, divisions and above all in an atmosphere of hate. I've come here to end with all the serial haters, insisted the Argentine president in what seemed a reply to the thousands that turned out to protest.
The current pandemic extension in Argentina is expected to end next July 17, particularly in metropolitan Buenos Aires, which includes the capital and the neighboring urban rings in the province of Buenos Aires, but given the sustained number of virus contagion cases, there are insistent rumors that a further extension is under consideration. Argentina with a population of 45 million, has reported 90,700 contagion cases and 3,363 deaths.