Que No Quede Ni Uno Solo
The city of Buenos Aires, Argentina was ablaze with protest December 19th and 20th of 2001. The demonstrators were enraged with the falling economy and called for the resignation of the economic minister and the president, expressing themselves through marches to the capital, the traditional Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, grocery store looting, and outright street fighting. Overwhelmingly the chant heard on the streets those days and one that continues among popular assemblies and street demonstrations is, “Que se vayan todos, que no quede ni uno solo,” which roughly translates to “They all must go. Don’t leave even one there”.
This cry calls for the resignation of all politicians and an end to the political corruption. To Argentines this was not an empty demand — they wanted every single politician to step down, but they did not plan to let their country fall into chaos. They hoped to form a very organized anarchy, facilitated through popular assemblies, resembling other historical examples such as the Paris communes, the Juntas in Spain, Popular Assemblies in Bolivia, and the Popular Parliament in Ecuador.
The protests in December were successful enough to cause both the economic minister, Domingo Cavallo, and the president, Fernando de la Rua, to step down, as well as three more successive presidents. This popular coup was one of the very first in Latin American history to be enacted by the people, as opposed to militaries or foreign governments. The movement that exploded on the 19th and 20th, which left up to thirty demonstrators dead, did not begin or end on those days. What have Argentine political organizers been doing since December? What is the significance of the situation in Argentina for organizers in the United States?
Many different elements of the Argentine society have been involved in social and political organizing. (See Sidebar.) Demonstrators continue to mobilize daily, criticizing the economic situation, the intervention of the International Monetary Fund, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and to work for real democracy, jobs, living wages, and simple electricity.
Popular Assembly Movement
Argentine communities have converged to help solve their problems together through self-organized popular assemblies. In every neighborhood, community members, students, workers, unemployed, middle class, and older folks, get together once a week. The meetings are held in the streets at night in order to be accessible to as many as possible. They shut down the road, put up a banner, and bring out a sound system with a microphone so that everyone has a chance to talk. People from other assemblies come to give updates and announcements and to discuss how to work together. The assemblea plans community events, solidarity marches, and discussions on the movement. The police, of course, make their presence known, but more importantly, so do the unemployed, the homeless, and the otherwise struggling. The assemblea has also become a soap box for the voices of those suffering the most at this moment of crisis.
There are several stories about the origins of the assemblea. By all accounts, the community meetings were inspired by the demonstrations of December 19th and 20th and started spontaneously, not by any specific organization or group. There are anywhere from 60 to 80 assemblies in Buenos Aires, in each of the five boroughs of the city, with more starting every day in and out of town. They function by having one weekly meeting and creating working groups such as women’s issues, health, education, solidarity, and protection. The interbarrio, where different assemblies get together and meet weekly, usually hosts three assemblies at a time, where each assemblea has the option to bring up their own proposals, and decisions are voted upon by a simple majoritarian basis.
The assemblies are an important and refreshingly new part of a long term effort, waged by many social groups including Poder Cuidadano (Citizen Power), to curb the profound corruption of Argentine politicians like Carlos Menem. The widespread lack of faith in politicians was demonstrated in June when over half of the Argentine population, in a poll by the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarin X, agreed that all Argentine politicians are thieves.
The assemblies are demanding an end to such corruption, but they are also consciously excluding any leftist party influence from the neighborhood meetings, so that the assemblies will not be co-opted by the similarly notoriously corrupt left. Many of the regular members of the assemblies are not long-term political actors, although some members do come from communist, Marxist, and even anarchist traditions. The critique of representative democracy coming from the assemblies does not come solely from an academic perspective, party line, or even an intellectual critique. The move towards direct democracy comes from an honest and urgent need for change that cannot and will not be met by representative democracy. They find no possibility for change within the current system, and see self community organizing as their last option.
Argentina and the Global Economy
Argentina is not the site of one small resistance movement. Argentines are fully aware of a long term worldwide movement against neoliberalism and their participation and connection to that movement. Demonstrators confront International Monetary Fund (IMF) representatives every time they come to Buenos Aires, such as during the first week in August when IMF reps were met by 10,000 people in the streets telling them to go home. An enormous demonstration on the border between Argentina and Brazil in July visualized a joint resistance to the impending Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) treaty.
Argentines blame their desperate economic situation on the IMF — and increasingly blame the United States as well, for their complicity and support of IMF regulations, neoliberal policies, and US corporations. Recent demonstrations against the IMF have brought out Argentines burning the American flag, and many demonstrators carry signs that read “Out Yankees!”
Despite the fact that the collective voice in Argentina is against the IMF, IMF-required free-market regulations and austerity measures continue to be pushed right through the Argentine Congress. The resistance movement is strong and visible, yet everyone in Argentina knows that the IMF has the real power. The IMF forces Argentina to enact laws — against its people’s will — as a condition for obtaining further IMF loans, many of which are only required to pay interest on existing international debts.
Meanwhile, the economic crisis is expanding across South America through Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay and Paraguay. Argentina, once the model for IMF free market reforms, now suffers from 25% unemployment, a 75% devaluation of the peso, and hyperinflation, with no relief in sight. In Brazil, South America’s largest economy, the value of its currency the real has dropped more than 20% and government bonds have fallen to half their face value because of fears of government default. Paraguay and Uruguay fear a banking collapse and deepening recession, trying to hold off on debt by getting more loans from the IMF. These countries fear the collapse of their economies, but are already drowning in debt. Ecuador’s debt amounts to 16 billion dollars, which is equivalent to 95% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
US activists must even more urgently denounce IMF intervention abroad. South Americans have made the connections obvious, by very clearly condemning U.S. support of IMF backed structural adjustments and free market reforms which have only further strangled South American economies. These policies transfer vast amounts of South American money and resources north in the form of debt payments, with nothing for the regular people in return. They are our era’s form of colonialism.
In the United States, we must make it clear that we deplore our government’s interventionalist push for neoliberal reforms. Demonstrations against the IMF and World Bank in Washington DC and around the world must denounce the IMF involvement in Argentina. Perhaps we should burn tires in the streets, learn Argentine union songs and bring hammers and tin sheets to demonstrations. In every way possible, we must use our access to international attention to support the demands of the Argentines. We must all insist, “IMF out of Argentina!”.
Who are the organizations and social groups that have made this kind of success possible?
The piqueteros are working class demonstrators who come from the poorer sections and outskirts of the city. They have been using street blocking tactics for over a decade to call attention to their lack of jobs, food, and access to water and electricity. They are most well known for blocking streets through the burning of tires. In addition to the recent demands for food and housing, they have long been involved in take-overs of oil refineries, factories, and businesses such as real estate and construction that have refused to pay their workers. Perhaps the most militant and strongest of the piqueteros are the Corriente Classista Combativa (CCC), the Bloque Nacional Piquetero, and Anibel Veron. An increase in state repression has undermined the successes of these groups. In July, two piqueteros, Maximiliano Kosteki and Dario Santillan, from Anibel Veron, were murdered by Argentine police.
This middle class movement is fueled by the loss of money in their savings accounts, and a monthly limit on how much money can be taken out. Most of the middle class has lost more than a third of their savings, because the value of the peso has fallen in reference to the US dollar. The ahorristas, or those who have their savings in the banks, began demonstrating this December by taking to the banking district with ferocity, smashing sticks and hammers against the walls of the banks. They are also called cacerolistas (well known for banging pots and pans together) and have turned the banking district from a commercial zone into a political forum. Thousands of flyers about protests litter the streets and wheatpastes cover the walls of former banks announcing their demands. Tin protects all of the foreign banks and the ones that are still functioning must be accessed through a tiny door with a guard.
The actors in this movement include mothers clanking their pots, grandfathers smashing glass bottles together, bank workers, men in suits, and middle aged women in overcoats who bring hammers to smash the walls of their targets: Bank of Boston, Citibank, Banelco, and Banco Frances. The middle class uniquely suffers from the devaluation of the peso, because the rich have most of their money safely hidden in foreign banks, and the poor have never had enough money to store in savings. There is working class resentment towards the ahorrista movement because they are merely demanding their money back, and are not calling for a revolutionary change in politics. After all, it is the working class who truly suffers when middle class business owners cannot take enough money out of the banks to pay their employees.
The two largest union organizations are the CGT (General Workers Center) and the CTA (Center of Argentine Workers). The unions had little to no input in the demonstrations that took place in December, but have since been mobilizing steadily, calling strikes monthly. Both organizations are a mixture of thousands of different unions and tend to represent the voice of the workers, albeit often a coerced and even unrealistic voice. Hugo Moyano, who presides over the CGT, originally came out against the IMF, but he has since changed his opinion. Most consider Moyano a politician, well known in Argentina to be exceedingly corrupt, and it seems likely that his hands are very deep within the politician’s pockets.
Movements such as the Mothers of the May Plaza and the MTD (Unemployed Workers Movement) have also played a crucial role in mobilizing Argentine society since December. The MTD had been organizing workers for at least the five years preceding 2002. The mothers who have continued to march weekly since the 70’s, call for the return of their dissappeared children.