Argentina: irate passengers torch commuter train

Infuriated by a delay in service, hundreds of Argentines attacked trains and facilities of the TCB company in two stations outside Buenos Aires on Sept. 4. Protests started when a commuter train broke down near the Castelar station west of the capital, stopping service to Buenos Aires. Hundreds of people trying to get to work threw stones at train company offices, blocked trains headed in the other direction, and set a conductor’s cabin on fire. In the neighboring station of Merlo, passengers set an entire eight-car train on fire, along with a ticket machine. About 100 helmeted riot police arrived after an hour, dispersing the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets; about 20 people were arrested.

Federal justice minister Anibal Fernandez and Buenos Aires province police chief Daniel Salcedo were quick to attribute the attacks to sabotage by militant groups, including two Trotskyist organiztions, the Workers Party (PO) and the Socialist Workers Movement (MST); and Quebracho (“ax breaker”), a militant group named for a South American tree with exceptionally hard wood. Government officials said they had videos of infiltrators, including Jose Maria Escobar, a PO member who was in the Castelar station passing out fliers against the “bullet train,” a planned high-speed train strongly promoted by the center-left government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Government officials even implicated Project South, which is headed by renowned filmmaker Fernando “Pino” Solanas; his latest film, The Next Station, is a documentary on the deterioration of the railroad system.

Some sources implied the incidents were connected to the reported sabotage of two high-voltage towers in Buenos Aires province and to forest fires in Cordoba province which the authorities said were set intentionally during the week.

The militants denied any responsibility. “It’s a real disgrace that the national government is inventing a conspiracy against us,” Solanas said. The MST announced it was planning a defamation suit against Justice Minister Fernandez. While Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo suggested that PO and Quebracho were both involved, observers noted that the two groups have little in common. The PO is a national party which runs in elections; Quebracho, which describes itself as a “patriotic revolutionary movement” rather than leftist, rejects elections. This wasn’t the first violent protest since the railroad lines were privatized in the 1990s under President Carlos Menem (1989-1999). In 2005, the cancellation of service in Haedo, near Castelar on the western outskirts of Buenos Aires, provoked incidents in which 21 people were injured and 87 arrested; the station and 15 train cars were set on fire. (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 5 from AFP, Reuters, Sept. 6 from correspondent; Clarin, Buenos Aires, Sept. 4, 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 7

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