miércoles, abril 29, 2009

The abominable case of the shrinking Colón

This is a horror story. It started in July 2007. A meeting between Jorge Telerman and Mauricio Macri after the latter won the election for Chief of Government of the Buenos Aires Autonomous City had as main purpose to establish a pact for the long six months of transition until Macri took over. It transpired among other things that Macri had asked Telerman to lower the city deficit drastically; it applied to all areas, of course, but it affected the Colón immediately.

But there had been another episode back in July 2007: somehow it was published in the front pages what Macri had said to Telerman: that 700 people were enough for the functioning of the Colón; Telerman disagreed and said that 1300 was alright. As public opinion was staggered by Macri´s position, he sent a letter disavowing that affirmation; but many didn´t believe him, me among them. However, although he was vague in his words, he did say in February 2008 that the personnel would be reduced.

The whole of 2008 was a period of stagnation. In January 2009 Horacio Sanguinetti resigned as Director General of the theatre; he gave no official reasons, but I explained them in my article of March 10, "Questions about the Colón Theatre". Briefly summarized as a reminder, they were the presence of Martín Boschet back at the Colón (he had been fired by Sanguinetti) and "strong hearsay about wholesale discharges of Colón employees…Sanguinetti would never agree to a shrinking Colón". About Pedro Pablo García Caffi, named Sanguinetti´s successor, I mused, "what are the conditions unknown to the public under which Macri has designated him?" And I pointed out the necessity of "clearing up all doubts concerning the rumors about restructuring" (at the time both Macri and García Caffi denied it!).

Now the cat´s out of the bag and the news are bad bad bad. García Caffi has eliminated ten whole sections of the Colón and the new magic number is 808! In fact, out of 450 about 40 to 50 are pensioned off, and the rest aren´t fired (they can´t be under the law of public employment unless very grave offenses are involved) but transferred…to jobs in completely irrelevant areas of the Government (Hernán Lombardi, the Minister of Culture, has already said that there are no places for them in his ministry). So we are going to have an assistant producer in a menial job at a hospital.

But can you imagine a Colón without an Administration, a Maintenance office, a Photograph and Video Section? Any Colón at all? And why those sections and not others? What criterions were used? Has this any common sense? In a nutshell, the decisions are arbitrary and nonsensical.

García Caffi was summoned to the City Legislature´s Committee on Culture to explain all this and the result was shameful. His words were preceded by those of Máximo Parpagnoli, the spokesman elected by the Colón Assembly of workers; he was asked to make his statements by the Committee presided by Inés Urdapilleta (Frente para la Victoria). He denounced the current situation with unassailable arguments. Some of them: since January 11 all workers are strictly forbidden to enter the theatre; workers pressured without notification to initiate pension procedures haven´t been paid since January; contracts at the Colón are discriminated against, ending not in December but in March or August; no labor negotiations have been opened; a good deal of the people that are being forcibly transferred will probably be replaced for they are necessary, so the city budget will be bigger, not smaller; the transferees will be assigned to Health, Security and Green Spaces; the Autarchy Law is being deliberately flouted in many points, even by Macri.

When García Caffi started to read, it was the same text he had read at the ceremony in which he was invested Director. He started by stating that the Colón´s structures are obsolete and that there had been a lot of irresponsibility and errors; a deep structural reorganisation is in order. And then he pronounced the phrase that was his undoing: "the Colón is a theatre of production, not an assurance of public employment that piles up people in corridors". As he was booed, he sprung to his feet and left swiftly, leaving in consternation the whole assembly, including the other directors of the Colón. Urdapilleta tried to keep the meeting alive, but what happened was that those legislators that had voted against the Autarchy Law put the blame on its laxity and wrongheadedness (and I agree). The ending was spectacular and lapidary, for Urdapilleta said: "García Caffi came to answer for something that Macri has asked from him: if you want to be the Colón´s Director, 400 people must go". García Caffi was summoned for the following week, but he refused to comply pleading that he had been offended. So things were left unexplained.

At a press conference some days later, the workers were backed by the presence of Gustavo López, Under Secretary General of the Nation and former Culture Secretary of the City; he promised his support. Matters are far from calm and anything can happen in the next few weeks. A final word: I deplore the lack of reaction from the citizens at large, as if the gradual destruction of the Colón doesn´t concern them; it does, and they should get involved.
For Buenos Aires Herald

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