In Argentina, protesting teachers are being tortured for giving away free school meals.
A teacher at the Education Center (ECE) 801 located just outside of Buenos Aires, was kidnapped upon leaving her work to walk home on Wednesday afternoon.
Her three male attackers pulled Corina De Bonis into a vehicle, hooded the educator and then scrawled the words, in Spanish, ‘no more pots’ (olla no) on her stomach with a sharp object. The men threatened De Bonis’ life and told her to “remain loyal” before letting her go.
The United Workers Union of Education in Buenos Aires (Suteba), Argentina, denounced the kidnapping and torture of a teacher at ECE 801 where just two months ago a gas explosion caused the deaths of two people. "These cowardly actions … will not stop the legitimate claims for dignity from our people," said Suteba Secretary-general Roberto Baradel at a Wednesday press conference. He said what happened was “very serious."
De Bonis and other CEC teachers have organized free hot meals for kids a few blocks from school 801 for the past three months as government education cuts have left schools without heating gas or warm meals. To their surprise, community members who cannot afford food have also come to where the educators cook, as Argentina’s economy teeters on a recession.
The governor of provice of Buenos Aires, conservative Maria Eugenia Vidal, said her administration is opening up an investigation to get to the bottom of the attacks. "We are also assisting (De Bonis) with psychological help,” assured the official.
The Provincial Memory Commission of Buenos Aires released a statement saying the organization, "expresses extreme concern for the kidnapping and torture" suffered by the teacher.
"The kidnapping and torture of Corina is intolerable and is a consequence of official practices and discourses that discredit the education workers, delegitimize their claims, curtail the right to protests that promote, legitimize and encourage repressive actions and violence against them," read the commission’s communique.
Since taking office, President Mauricio Macri has slashed energy and water subsidies, and introduced a slew of other austerity measures including cutting retirement pensions, eliminating thousands of public sector jobs and freezing wages in order to cut the primary deficit, with the end goal of appeasing international investors and the IMF through which the government has a US$50 billion loan. Along the way, the peso has devalued to 40 to the dollar, and inflation has hovered between 25 and 30 percent for the past year.
Teachers decided to end the initiative last week after receiving a series of threats of death and violence against them. In late August they even received a phone warning them, "stop fucking with the pots," which they reported to the police.
The government was providing ham and cheese sandwiches and a piece of fruit, but that was not enough for the educators.
"The kids need to eat well. We started to make hot meals with donations from teachers, families, businesses and the unions Suteba and the Association of State Workers (ATE)," said Leila Mendel Revilla, director of the CEC 801. She said that in addition to gas cuts, schools have extensive water and infrastructural issues.
According to Revilla other schools in the area have also been threatened, telling educators to "Go back to teaching" and "Do not do politics."
A mother who helps prepare the food told local media, "These threats are political. They do not want to know the hunger we have.”
Earlier this month the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) released a report saying that that 40 percent of Argentine youth are currently living in poverty, compared to just over 25 percent of the general public. UNICEF officials urged the government to "prioritize and strengthen the financing of social protection and redouble efforts in favor of children (or face) enormous consequences for children and adolescents."
Even before the Argentine school year began last March teachers unions have been demanding a wage increase and a trigger clause in their contracts that ensures salaries keep pace with inflation.
Teachers are striking Thursday and Friday against the attacks and low wages, bringing their number work of stoppage days to just under 20 for this school year.