Train on fire – officials blame documentary film

Yesterday morning, passengers set fire to the carriages of a suburban train that was held up during peak hour in Buenos Aires.

The incident that sparked the frenzy

The incident that sparked the frenzy

At 8am, the first carriage of the train caught fire, and the passengers escaped. But other passengers became so enraged by the delay caused by the incident that they set the carriages of a separate train on fire, and hurled rocks at it.

Both the government and the private concession that runs the train blamed the Partido Obrero, or worker’s party, and filmmaker/would-be politician Pino Solanas, whose documentary about the lamentable state of Argentina’s railways premiered the same day. Officials claim some members of the crowd – which police dispersed with rubber bullets and tear gas – carried stones and flammables in their backpacks, along with pamphlets advocating that the state take over the running of the railways.

Teh second train, after furious commuters had finished with it

The second train, after furious commuters had finished with it

Argentina’s once-efficient railway network is run by a private company and heavily subsidised by the government. However, incessant delays, overcrowding, robbery and assault, half-busted seats and windows that won’t close in the winter and won’t open in the summer have commuters at their wits’ end.

Adding insult to injury, some say, is the fact that the government is planning a multi-billion dollar bullet train project while the railways thousands have to use to get from the outskirts of Buenos Aires to their jobs in the capital remain in a state of total disrepair and disarray.

One government official admitted: “Seeing what happened, its seems clear that the priority for this country can’t possibly be the bullet train, while we can’t even get people from Once to Moreno [two Buenos Aires neighborhoods].”

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Classroom warfare in Buenos Aires

High school students have taken over and occupied fourteen public high schools in the Argentine capital in protest to changes to the city’s scholarship system. Classes have stopped, teachers are locked out and students are spending the night in sleeping bags on classroom floors.

Some 30,000 students recently discovered that their applications for scholarships were rejected. The city government says students from families with reasonable incomes have been receiving scholarships that ought to be reserved for those with less, and have decided students from families that own their own homes shouldn’t receive scholarships.

But those fighting the changes say the fact that your family owns a home doesn’t ensure that the parents are employed, or earn enough money to pay for the education of their children. They claim that up to 31% of the students whose applications were rejected come from homes with a monthly income of less than 750 pesos (equal to around US$250 and well below the minimum wage). Among those denied scholarships are also some who attend schools that cater to pregnant girls and students in a variety of vulnerable situations.

In all but one of the 14 schools, lessons have been suspended – in that one school, students have taken control but teachers are still giving classes.

“It’s so that they don’t say we’re just kids using the protest about scholarships to get out of studying,” the students at the Nicolás Avellaneda high school in the barrio of Palermo told the newspaper La Critica.

La Critica.

Students march on the Buenos Aires city legislature building. Photo: La Critica.

While most parents and teachers are against the extreme form of protest the students have chosen, many support their arguments against the government’s measures. Yesterday some 1500 students marched on the city’s main square, Plaza de Mayo, and over the weekend protest leaders will decide whether they will continue to occupy the schools next week.