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Buenos Aires | The Piqueteros and the Cartoneros

The piqueteros ("picketers")

PicketerOn the eve of December 20th 2001, a social outburst provoked the end of the government of Fernando de la Rúa. Everything appeared to fall apart as the country entered into absolute political and economic crisis: the exchange rate of one peso to one dollar ended, the currency was devalued, private savings were not allowed to be withdrawn (“corralito”), which caused bread riots in the supermarket and the “cacerozalos”. This was a type of spontaneous protest in which the middle class en masse banged on pots and pans in the streets and from their balconies, in all parts of the city. This was a way to loudly protest the “corralito”.

These protests were most violently manifested by the runs on the supermarkets, but at this moment the piqueteros also loudly entered the political scene. Victims of political and social marginalization, organizations of unemployed people began to use a new form of protest, the blocking of highways and urban streets.

Today they are grouped into two sectors with different stances: one more rebellious, and the other closer to the government. The more extreme groups fight for various groups, from protesting past repressions to the closure of factories to student causes. The stand for justice and equality. They are proud of their independence and always proclaim “Against the International Monetary Fund and the local politicians” who they hold responsible for all problems. They are disliked by the rest of the population who holds their protests responsible for the traffic chaos they create.

blocking of a streetWe recommend that all visitors of the city stay abreast of piquetero activity by paying attention to the reports in the local media, because if you are caught unaware your day might be spent tied up in traffic.

In addition to the piqueteros, the crisis was also the origin of a new social group that plays an important role in the daily life of the city. They are called cartoneros (people who collect cardboard, “carton” in Spanish) and are motivated by the same situation of extreme poverty.

The "cartoneros" (people who collect cardboard)

The cartoneros don’t protest. The don’t block the routes Cartonero boyor the streets, but fill the city after 7pm with their supermarket carts and go through the garbage, looking for cardboard and paper, which they sell by the kilo.

This activity gave birth to a resolution by the city government which urged neighbours to deposit garbage by separating cardboard and paper in differents rubbish bags. These distinct each other by a different colour in order to avoid the spillage of waste all over the city.

They work in groups and are organized. They arrive from the province by a special train that makes various stops in the city, where they perform their work. This train is a stripped train in which more than 30,000 men, women and children use to transport themselves and their carts. Even though these trains lack any sanitary services, lights or security, the cartoneros have to pay to use them.

The government of the City of Buenos Aires has legalized the work of these people, even though there was opposition from the garbage collection companies, who claim that the materials that the cartoneros collect belong to them, and that what they are doing is actually robbing.


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