The Young for Unity in Cordoba, Argentina, go to the streets, to help restore order and melt tensions following serious social uprisings that began with police strikes
Cordoba is a city of 1.2 million inhabitants in the heart of Argentina. Provincial police began protesting for higher wages, leading to strikes that left the streets without police protection. Two people died and more than a thousand commercial centres, private homes and a Caritas warehouse were assaulted by groups of organized criminal delinquents on December 13th and 14th. A curfew was enforced on the citizens who remain locked in their homes, public offices, schools and universities. Public transportation was no longer in service.
The mediation carried out by Comipaz (interreligious committee), through the intervention of Auxiliary Bishop Pedro Javier Torres, Rabbi Marcelo Polakoff and religious leaders from several other confessional groups helped to re-establish calm.
By noontime on December 4th they reached an agreement between the parties, following which the police slowly regained control of the city.
Once this agreement was announced the Young for Unity stepped into action, as Anna Maria Martinez recounts: “We were watching all the violence and sacking with a sense of fear, keeping hidden in our homes. But we didn’t want to remain passive in front of what was happening in our city. We felt a strong desire to show the people that something good could emerge from all this anger, madness and institutionalized corruption.”
“Through the social networks we agreed to meet in one of the city’s squares. At 16:00 the first young people began to arrive and there were already thirty of us. Some journalists and television channels were also on hand. As time went by other groups of young people began arriving, who had also been advised of the meeting. In the end there were a hundred of us, plus many others who joined us in cleaning up the square, their buildings and the surrounding streets.”
The previous night had been awful: gunshots, sirens, alarms, sacking of shops and homes, many shop-owners left to fend for themselves. There was much work to be done to clean up after the burnings and remove the ruined barricades . . . “But beyond the physical work, the basic idea was to talk with the people, to offer them a moment for dialogue and listening. The response was immediate: some brought food for the Caritas warehouse; others brought water to us workers, along with gloves, brooms and mops. So many joined in the work with us, so touched to see us who didn’t even live in the area arriving to help in the cleaning of their quarter.”
We never foresaw the repercussions this would have in the news where they reported on the actions of us young people. “We feel that we’ve done more than just clean streets; we’ve realized that it depends on each one of us if we want to do something out of the ordinary. Just yesterday there was a spreading of delinquency and opportunism; today there is a spreading of good will, strength and working together to begin a change.”
The situation in Argentina is not yet resolved. Protests and clashes continue to spread in other provinces, but the desire remains of not being overcome by violence, but finding peaceful paths.
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