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CLARIN

In The Cafes Of Buenos Aires, Political Debate Is A Dying Art

What's on today's menu?
What's on today's menu?
Ricardo Carpena

BUENOS AIRES — There was a time when we resolved everything, absolutely everything, around a café table. Or at least, that was the feeling. A coffee bar provided the perfect backdrop and the necessary mutual understanding with friends that allowed you to talk about anything at all: the world, the country, sports, sex, television, you name it. And, obviously, about politics too.

That political era seems to be over, or at least it was nowhere to be seen on Argentina's most recent election day in the capital. Clarin did a thorough — though unscientific — survey of some of the best-known bars in Buenos Aires: People simply don’t talk about politics there anymore. Not even on Sunday, when the country was voting in mid-term elections that wound up giving a boost to the opposition.

“They talk about soccer more than politics,” says Matías from La Paz, a legendary bar where some of the most fiery political debates took place back in the 1970s. “Many intellectuals still come, but their criticisms are about the changes we’ve made to the physical space,” he adds, referring to a recent remodeling of the café.

For Matías, the most politicized thing that La Paz offers is a local like Jorge Altamira, who hardly cuts a very Trotsky-like pose, ordering a vegetable tart with mineral water. No coffee.

At a nearby table, three locals agree on the “depoliticization” of coffee shops. “We talk about sports here. We get enough problems at home talking about politics, and we always end up fighting,” says Monica.

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(photo: daverugby)

In a different bar, Callao, the picture is similar. Myrian Godoy, a waitress, says that before politics, customers prefer to talk about “soccer, violence, or rising prices,” even though it’s here that leftist leader Luis Zamora uses some of the tables as his own office.

In another bar called Las Violetas, the manager Juan Carlos Sanchez has an infallible way of telling how society has changed: He checks whether people pick up the free newspapers or not. Every morning, he sets out five copies of top national dailies Clarín and La Nación for the regulars to read — but there is no demand for them anymore. More and more families and conservative people come in now, Sanchez says. “During recent campaigns some candidates called into us,” he adds. “During past elections, people complained about them but this time nobody said anything.”

Says one patron: “These days, you only talk about political issues with trusted people: Some beliefs can cut relationships short.”

The only conversation about politics overheard on this election day is in a bar called Recoleta, from two local customers talking with some Spanish friends — all of them fed up with the leadership in their respective countries. “Everyone is a little tired of politics these days,” the manager concludes.

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