Argentina Sketches: Steal Spike

Corina, a forty-seven year old teacher, was walking home when a beaten-up burgundy car pulled up beside her. Two men got out, grabbed Corina, forced her inside and put a bag over her head. Corina, fearing the worst, struggled wildly as her shirt was pulled up, then she felt her stomach burning. Her kidnappers used an awl to scratch the words “ollas no” into her belly as well as giving her a good beating. An awl is a tool that looks like a screwdriver and is used for scratching marks on wood. Basically it’s a small steel spike with a handle.

The two men threw Corina out of the car two blocks up the road. In a traumatised state, she walked to her house and called the director of her school.

It took sometime to unravel this case — partially unravel. The first thing was the “ollas no”. The awl did its work well, the words were easy to make out in the scratches on her stomach. “Ollas no” means “no (cooking) pots”. Why would you etch those words into a teacher’s tummy? The day she was kidnapped, Corina hadn’t been teaching but cooking for needy kids who went to CEC (Complementary Education Centre) 801 not for classes but for food. The government was sending out food for the kids too, but it was cold and insufficient. Corina and other teachers had previously received threats that they should stop cooking and get back to teaching or else.

Corina’s school had been shut for over a month because of a gas explosion in another school in the same district of the conurbano: Moreno. The “conurbano” is a term used for the urban sprawl of Buenos Aires beyond the city proper. The conurbano is administered by the Provincial Government of the massive Buenos Aires Province and various municipal governments.

The school where the explosion took place was off the gas network (as are the majority of school in Moreno) and was using gas bottles to fuel heaters. The incident happened in 2018 — in August, which can be freezing in Buenos Aires. Teachers at the school had reported a smell of gas to the education council and a technician had eventually been sent out — but nothing was done. The gas bottle exploded in the staffroom at about 7:30 in the morning. The Vice Director and one other staff member were killed.

In reaction to the explosion, the teachers union, SUTEBA, announced a province-wide strike and that schools in Moreno would remain on strike until all buildings were made safe. The head of the SUTEBA Union, Roberto Baradel, a chubby Rasputin, told the press that the explosion had happened as the President and Governor, as well as other government functionaries, sent their kids to private schools.

In Argentina there have been multiple strikes in recent times by teachers seeking better pay. The government has offered them nineteen percent in the Province of BA, but this has been refused — if nineteen percent seems like a lot, keep in mind there is hyperinflation in Argentina. All these strikes make the government look bad. And of course there is the issue of many kids not getting educated.

The government since 2015 has been led by the somewhat right-wing Mauricio Macri, and before that by the left-wing Kirchners, Cristina and husband Nestor. To define these two governments only as left and right is an oversimplification, but serves to differentiate them here. Macri and Cristina continue to be the two major political forces in Argentina and increasingly bitter enemies.

During the fallout from the explosion, the Macrista Governor of Buenos Aires, María Eugenia Vidal, blamed the municipal chief of Moreno, Kirchnerista, Walter Festa, of spending none of his education budget on upgrading schools. Festa said that the education council of the provincial government was responsible for maintenance in schools…they blamed each other basically.

Governor Vidal repudiated the kidnapping and sent a patrol car to guard Corina’s house and also a psychologist to help her deal with her trauma.

Who kidnapped Corina? It could have been narcos or punteros according to the press. Punteros? These are political party agents living and working in the poorer neighbourhoods — a link between politicians and the community. They distribute resources the party gives them. Often they work for the party that’ll provide them with the most resources. They are called on to do the politicians’ dirty work. (The fund punteros politicians in Argentina need to collect money through illegal means.)

One friend told me it was Kirchnerista punteros who perpetrated the crime against Corina. I didn’t discount this, but found it hard to understand. The Kirchneristas would want the strikes to continue as they made the government look bad — that’s my simplistic reading of it. My friend said that the Kirchnerista plan was merely to induce chaos.

Was it punteros of the Macri government? That makes more sense to me. Perhaps it was rogue punteros that went further than the government wanted them to in their mission to get the teachers back teaching?

Another theory was that it was narcos/drug dealers. The idea being that a lot of people gathering together around to provide the ollas for the kids was a social organisation that threatened narco hegemony in the neighbourhoods.

When it comes to TV, I’ve been watching channel C5N that is pro Kirchnerista and the more right wing A24. I occasionally tune into Channel 9 and Cronica. There are two major newspapers in Buenos Aires, Clarin, which is centrist but hates Cristina and La Nacion which is conservative and so inherently more for Macri. It’s hard not to confuse yourself taking in a selection of this media.

Again, who were the kidnappers? Will investigators get any joy from security camera footage? We’ll either never know the real story — or it’ll take a long time to come out in the wash. The problem being that a new sensational crime or scandal will be out in the papers tomorrow and have the press running around like headless chickens… so they’ll all but forget about this case.


Well chuck all that out the window. The latest news on this changes things. Corina’s version of events have not been backed up by investigation. No old burgundy car was spotted on camera in the area at the time she claimed to be kidnapped. Also, cameras show her walking calmly after apparently being kidnapped. The evenness of the letters etched on her stomach do not coincide with the idea that she was struggling. The hypothesis now is that she has been a victim of domestic violence (?!?!).

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