February 28, 2002
Notes on Argentina

Some notes on what's going on in Argentina, from various sources.

posted by dru in activism

Americas.org - 1

On December 19, years of recession, unemployment and austerity finally brought the "social explosion" that critics of neoliberal policies had long predicted. Organized looting of supermarkets and other stores—which began with minor episodes in the city of Mendoza and in Rosario, Santa Fe Province on December 13–14—intensified in the Buenos Aires suburbs on the morning of December 18. By the end of December 19 massive looting had spread to many parts of the country, along with antigovernment protests. In Córdoba workers destroyed the municipal building, while in La Plata, capital of Buenos Aires Province, public employees tried to march on the provincial legislature to stop a vote on a law that would lead to massive layoffs. By the end of the day at least five people had been killed nationwide in the disturbances.

In a televised address on the night of December 19, de la Rúa announced a 30-day state of siege, which would allow him to suspend constitutional guarantees, including the freedom to travel, free speech, labor organizing rights and freedom from arbitrary arrests. At around midnight, Economy Minister Cavallo resigned. As economy minister in the early 1990s, Cavallo had introduced neoliberal policies of austerity, privatization and dollar convertibility that still remain in effect; de la Rúa brought him back into the government in March of this year in a desperate effort to avert an imminent default on debt payments.

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Indymedia - 1

El Treuque- Every Saturday and Wednesday at the Mutual de Sentimiento (which means "mutual sentiments" and is the name of the building where we've been staying in Buenos Aires) a few thousand people line up down the block to get in and participate in a barter fair. (article 1)

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Indymedia - 2

The most exciting thing is the largely spontaneous appearance of "popular assemblies" after the insurrection last year. These self-managed assemblies are neighbourhood based on and run by huge mass meetings of thousands. There are currently 30 assemblies in Buenos Aires and many others all over the country. In the French Revolution, the people of Paris formed the directly democratic community assemblies called "sections." Kropotkin pointed to these as examples of both the popular institutions required to make a revolution ("the districts of Paris laid the foundations of a new, free, social organisation") and "the principles of anarchism." It was by means of these popular assemblies that "the masses, accustoming themselves to act without receiving orders from the national representatives, were practising what was to be described later as Direct Self-Government." A similar process is at work in Argentina. As one assembly moderator put it, "here, no one is in charge, we are going to take turns."

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Indymedia - 3

Nearly 3000 people gathered on Sunday afternoon to listen to the desires of the local assemblies. The hours-long affair began with music and ended with votes on each of the proposals.

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Americas.org - 2

The government’s first response was violence; troops injured hundreds of sugar workers May 20 by firing rubber bullets and tear gas at a barricade. But when the protesters refused to back down, provincial officials agreed to create more than 12,500 jobs and increase unemployment aid.

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Monthly Review

So, fundamental to the success of the new organization of the unemployed was its rejection of the patron-client politics of the electoral party bosses and trade union bureaucrats and its reliance on self-organization and direct action. The Unemployed Workers Movement (MTD) began and continues as a grassroots movement organized and led by members of the barrio and the municipality. The MTD is organized with a very decentralized structure. Each municipality has its own organization based on the barrios within its frontiers. Within a barrio, multi-block areas have their informal leaders and activists. Each municipality is organized by its general assembly where all active members participate.

If the government decides to negotiate, the movement demands that negotiations take place with all the piqueteros at the blockage. Decisions are made at the site of the action by the collective assembly.

From experience, the piqueteros distrust sending delegates, even militant local people, to individually negotiate in government offices, because as one piquetero leader stated, "they buy them off with a job." Once the demands—usually a quota of state-funded temporary jobs— are secured, the distribution of jobs takes place by collective decision according to prior criteria of family needs and active participation in the blockades. Job allocation is on a rotating basis in cases where there are fewer jobs than unemployed. Once again, the piqueteros have learned by experience that when individual leaders negotiate and distribute jobs, they tend to favor family members, friends, and others, turning themselves into caudillos (personal leaders) with a patronage machine that corrupts the movement.

In General Mosconi, the leaders of the movement have formulated over three hundred projects—some of which are operating successfully—to provide food and employment, including a bakery, organic gardens, water purifying plants, first aid clinics in the barrios, and many other projects. The town is ruled de facto by the local unemployed committee, as the local municipal officials have been pushed aside. In some working-class suburbs, the unemployed movement has led to quasi-liberated zones, where the power of mobilization neutralizes or is superior to that of local officials and is capable of challenging the state and federal regimes on the particular issues being raised. The emergence of a "parallel economy," on a limited scale, in General Mosconi sustains popular support between struggles and offers a vision of the capabilities of the unemployed to take command of their lives, neighborhoods, and livelihoods.

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Business Week

The plight of Mosconi's residents contrasts sharply with the corporate compounds that have sprouted up like oases along Route 34 since YPF's de facto monopoly over Argentina's energy market was dismantled. These operations, many of them with big foreign partners such as BP Amoco, Royal Dutch/Shell, and Malaysia's Petronas, have invested heavily. Indeed, energy originating here is now exported to three neighboring countries--Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile--via costly pipelines and electrical grids built over the past few years.

But the investment hasn't translated into jobs--or not enough of them to put Fernandez and many others like him back to work. To understand why, you have to understand a little about YPF. As a state operation, it was distinguished as the world's only oil company to report losses year in, year out; in effect, Mosconi got fat on YPF's notorious inefficiency. And the new investors here operate in a far more competitive arena. Nobody refines in Mosconi anymore. And instead of training the city's unemployed to drill or build infrastructure, the multinationals fly experienced workers in for monthlong stints.

Pressed by lenders and the federal government, Salta finally passed a more austere budget this year. But instead of targeting inefficiencies in the province's bloated, corrupt bureaucracy, the cuts fall most heavily on social programs. So, while the provincial legislature spends a daily average of $1,422 on each of its 83 members, 56% of the province's 1 million inhabitants live below the poverty level. During the 10 days Mosconi simmered, Governor Juan Carlos Romero was lodged at a ritzy hotel in Tel Aviv, on an official visit he refused to postpone.

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The Militant.com

On July 14, hundreds of airline workers crashed the wedding of Cavallo's daughter, pelting the economy minister and the well-heeled wedding guests with eggs. Cavallo was virtually besieged inside the church for two hours The airline workers protested the consequences of the airline's privatization and demanded action.