I began to hear the cacelorazo (cah-sell-oh-rah-so) during my Thursday evening jog about town. Of course at the time I had no clue what it was. Protests are very common in Buenos Aires, and I’ve become accustomed to their sound. But I sensed this was different. The noise — which resembled cowbells — came from the balconies. An important football match?
When I got home, I expressed my curiosities to a journalist in the expat community, through Twitter. The sound grew louder outside my window. Within minutes I was being Twitter-scolded on Argentine politics by a stranger. He suggested I go back to the U.S. I made my way to #cacerolazo on Twitter, where I began to learn about this phenomenon, and its heated nature in Buenos Aires. I hopped on a bus, which took me down Av. Santa Fe (a main road in Buenos Aires), through various middle- and upper-class neighborhoods, where I saw hundreds of people banging pots with wooden spoons, draped in Argentine flags. People were taking part from their balconies. Well-dressed women were forcibly stopping traffic. That’s when I learned this was no “normal” protest.
The “cacerolazo” is a noisy protest where citizens bang casserole pots and honk horns to express anger. It’s popular in certain Spanish-speaking countries (in Spanish, cacerola = ”stew pot”. The -azo suffix denotes a hit or punch.) Argentina saw giant cacerolazos in 2001 when citizens marched in huge crowds as a response to the collapsing economy and even drove several presidents out of office. In 2008, cacerolazos sounded against the export tax policy of President Cristina Kirchner’s government. By then, the cacerolazo had transformed from a popular non-partisan protest to one used more by the upper class (who live mostly in the northern parts of the city).
In Buenos Aires, unbeknownst to me, the call had circulated last week in e-mails, over social networks and through text messages. Here, translated from Spanish:
For an Argentina that all of us want, we say ENOUGH. / Enough to a lack of medicine. / Enough to barriers to imports and exports. / Enough trapping the dollar. / Enough Ciccone / Enough verbal violence. / Enough expropriation. / Enough bullying. / Enough impunity. / Enough authoritarianism. / Enough to no dialogue. / Enough INSECURITY. / Enough corruption. / Cacerolazo and/or honk your horn on Thursday, May 31, 20:30. Spread the word … if you want to do something to change our Argentina!
The events repeated again on Friday night, in neighborhoods like Palermo, Recoleta, Belgrano and Villa Crespo. By all accounts, the number of protestors was just a small fraction of the Buenos Aires cacerolazos of day’s past. To be sure, there was close to no coverage in the local press. One of my Argentine friends legit laughed at me when I told him there was a cacerolazo at all. “That is nothing,” he said. But I found the lack of coverage curious, considering the local press seems to cover everything.
Government supporters may not be banging anything, but their opposition to the protestors’ demands is loud and clear (and posted all over the Internet). Personally, it’s an amazing way to witness the sharp divisions in Argentine society.
And it sure is a divergence from the norm. I can’t recall ever seeing an 80+ year old woman banging a pot with a wooden spoon, screaming. The noise was incredible. The energy was potent. Local expat and journalist Adrian Bono aptly commented on Twitter: “Funny how the collective anger of one segment of the population can be another segment’s (expats) socio-cultural experience.”
Socio-cultural experience it was. A sight to be seen. And another is said to be scheduled for next Thursday.
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You can get a feel for what it looks like with this video: