ARGENTINA – Argentina is not an easy country to manage, particularly when institutions are weak and governments lack credibility. Such was the experience of president Alberto Fernandez during a visit to Patagonia to announce support for residents that suffered the devastation caused by forest fires in the region.
In effect, dozens of protesters kicked and threw rocks at a minibus carrying the president, TV footage showed.
Government officials and members of the opposition strongly condemned the attack and the violence displayed by protestors.
As Fernandez left a community center in the town of Lago Puelo in the province of Chubut, he had to take refuge behind a wall of people as a crowd of demonstrators pushed toward him and his delegation.
The protesters later stopped the bus carrying the president, punching and kicking it and throwing stones that broke windows in the vehicle, according to footage broadcast by the TN network and the newspaper Clarin.
Fernandez sought to downplay the violence, saying it was the work of a small number of people.
“I am sure that this violence was not taken part in by the people of Chubut nor by those who inhabit our beloved Argentina,” he wrote, referring to the province.
With few police on hand, and less intelligence, the crowd managed to halt the president’s bus and other vehicles in his entourage for several minutes, with some protesters throwing themselves against the hood of Fernandez’s vehicle.
Once it was freed, several other vehicles snaked their way through the crowd and sped away with the presidential bus.
Clarin reported that the demonstrators were angry over mining projects and the use of water in Chubut province, and with the provincial governor.
The fires that have blazed through Patagonia for days have claimed two lives, while 11 other people are reported missing, officials.
Dozens of people have been evacuated from the path of the advancing flames, and around 200 houses have been destroyed.
The government said some towns were left without water or power.
The fires, which authorities suspect some were started deliberately early this week, have reached several towns near the foothills of the Andes mountains, and have consumed at least 15,000 hectares of forest, media reported Saturday.
The charred body of a rural worker, reported missing since Tuesday, was found near the town of El Maiten, they added. Next to him was his charred horse and a couple of dogs.
Deliberately started fires and the grabbing of land in Patagonia has been ongoing for years, claim residents, but with little or no reply from government. This is because a group called RAM, of self proclaimed indigenous tribes in the area, are demanding the return of their ancestral lands, and have been terrorizing the area according to farmers and small land owners in the area.
The problem is that the most radical wing of the Kirchnerite grouping La Campora which is headed by Maximo Kirchner, son of vice president Cristina Kirchner, support the RAM movement, and its ancestral lands claims. La Campora and RAM have intimidated members of the Judiciary and security forces in Patagonian provinces, and also count with the complacency of a couple of cabinet ministers who have described the ongoing conflict as a local “habitat” controversy.