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.

(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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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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