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In Argentina, Friends, Families Torn Apart By Political Discord


It's political season in Argentina. There'll be a presidential election there in October. The government's in crisis, but politics is still not a subject you often hear discussed around the lunch table. NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro explains why.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Lorena Cascallana's garden in a leafy affluent suburb of Buenos Aires is different than the surrounding well-pruned yards. It's slightly overgrown, a bit wild you might say. She likes to sit there, especially on the weekend listening to her favorite radio show.

LORENA CASCALLANA: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Sometimes I put the music on pretty loud, reggae," she says, "and no one's ever said anything to me. But last Saturday it was around 11 a.m. and my neighbor peered over the wall," she tells me, "and asked me to turn down the radio. And it wasn't even on loudly. She couldn't tolerate that someone would speak well of the government," she says.

The radio show she was listening to was hosted by a well-known leftist journalist who supports President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Lorena Cascallana does too. She thinks Kirchner and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner, have done a lot of good things for the country - legalized gay marriage, promoted human rights, taken away power from the rich and given it to the poor. But it's not just her neighbor who disagrees with her. Her brothers aren't fans of the current administration either.

CASCALLANA: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Especially my younger brother," she says, "I feel sorry for him. He believes everything he reads in the right-wing media. He eats what they give him - rotten fish," she says. Adrian Bono is a journalist and blogger in Buenos Aires.

ADRIAN BONO: You've got two groups in this country - you've got the pro-Cristina groups and the anti-Cristina groups.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says political polarization has reached such a pitch in Argentina that people actually don't talk politics anymore because families have been torn apart and friendships ended over ideological differences.

BONO: Even when they get together for lunch on Sunday, and the entire family gets together because obviously this is a very Italian population, they've stopped talking about politics 'cause they know that it always ends in a fight. I try not to discuss politics with my mother. I have lost friends because we didn't see eye to eye politically. This is something that is affecting all of the Argentine population.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Especially now. The death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman has caused an unprecedented political crisis for President Kirchner. He was investigating a 1994 terror attack, which he blamed on Iran when he was found dead with a bullet to the head. He'd just accused the president of a cover-up. While the political polarization here predated his death, people are now also divided over whether or not he was killed, and if so, by whom? What regular people are experiencing on the street is just an echo, though, of the acrimony in the halls of power.

CONGRESSWOMAN LAURA ALONSO: My name is Laura Alonso. I am a member of the House of Representatives in Argentina.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alonso is an outspoken member of the opposition, who, in our interview, said President Kirchner was behaving like a monster. Alonzo, though, has been egregiously threatened on social media. And on one memorable occasion in Congress, she was called a tramp by a member of Kirchner's party, a confrontation which quickly escalated into a shouting match.

ALONSO: The rhetoric is full of violence, and when she speaks she says we are love, they are hate. We are joy, they are sadness and silence. And she's all the time dividing the country and polarizing the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Kirchner and members of her party, though, say it's the other way around, that the opposition is trying to overthrow her and has accused her of many crimes that have turned out to be unproven. This month the Argentine government took out full-page ads in local papers alleging that Nisman was trying to destabilize the government through his allegations. The response to all this acrimony for many regular people has become silence. As one Argentine told me it's better to keep your own council these days, so you can eat your family meal in peace and keep your friends. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.