Argentina in Danger of a New Repressive Wave
Buenos Aires. Two young demonstrators died the 27th of June in a blockade of a bridge in the south of Buenos Aires. They belonged to the Coordinadora Anibal VerÃ³n (CAV), one of the organizations of Piqueteros, Argentina's vast movement of unemployed workers. Being one of the most radical groups, the CAV had already been harassed by paramilitary forces before.
That day, several unions of Piqueteros had called for a day of national action, despite warnings of the government that blockades would not be tolerated any more. Whilst other groups were not troubled, the CAV was brutally attacked by the police; during the repression, DarÃo SantillÃ¡n (21) and Maximiliano Kosteki (22) were shot dead, and many more were seriously injured.
In the first hours after the repression, both the government and the police blamed the Piqueteros for the death of their own comrades. "Inter-factional disputes" was the official explanation, whilst the chief of the local police swore that his men had only used rubber bullets. However, a most shocking sequence of photos published the next day in Argentina's most important newspaper unveiled the masquerade. The sequence shows that the police executed at least one of the boys in front of the chief of the police, without any possible justification.
The deaths of Maximiliano and DarÃo increase the list of more than thirty victims of repression since last December. However, this is the first display of brutality against the growing anti-neoliberal movement since President Eduardo Duhalde took office in January. Independent journalists and some of the leading progressive politicians have warned that a new authoritarian phase may be starting, after governmental efforts to stop the protest by other means have failed.
In this scenario, prospects for Argentineans remain uncertain. In the last months, the leaders of the G7 and the IMF have been forcing the new government not only to keep unrestricted free trade and to reduce public expenditure, but also to change internal laws and to take other measures that are not related to the external debt at all, but directly benefit some individual bankers and foreign companies.
Argentineans have not failed to notice that IMF "suggests" measures that First World countries would never take in times of economic crisis. In this respect, the American decision to further subsidize agricultural production whilst preaching free trade infuriated public opinion some weeks ago.
Anti-IMF feelings amongst almost every single Argentinean are spreading rapidly, especially after John Thornton - the head of the IMF mission in Buenos Aires - openly said that the Argentinean Central Bank must stop selling dollars to keep inflation under control, for those dollars "are the property of the IMF".
Moreover, large portions of the population are beginning to see the close relationship between external debt, corruption, economic crisis, and repression. The fact that the IMF lent endless amounts of money precisely to Argentina's most repressive regime - the bloody dictatorship 1976-1983 - and to the most corrupt - Menem's presidency - which in turn implemented neo-liberal measures and privatization schemes that destroyed the economy, is no longer passing unnoticed. It is with the irrational plans that the IMF and the local establishment impose that the government is trying to ride Argentina's deepest economic, political and social crisis. In addition, at least part of the elites - notably lead by former president Carlos Menem, who has presented the idea to "dolarize" Argentina - are playing for chaos, in view that no neo-liberal candidate seems to have clear chances to win the next elections in September 2003.
In fact, it remains unclear whether last Wednesday's repression was ordered by the government or by that part of the elite, which still partially controls the secret service and gangs of corrupt policemen.
Fortunately, the whole variety of progressive groups in Argentina seems to be uniting against the new repressive tide. After the deaths of the two boys, meetings have been held between Piquetero groups, neighbors assemblies, left-wing political leaders, human rights organizations, trade unions, and progressive politicians such as Elisa Carrio, one of the candidates with more chances to win the next election.
A massive conjoint demonstration marched from the Congress to the governmental house the 3rd of July, and another one is being planned for the 9th of July. The latter date is Argentina's Independence Day, and the slogan of the meeting will be "For the second and definitive independence".
President Duhalde has just decided to anticipate the next elections, which will be held in March 2003 instead of September, as in the original schedule. This sudden decision was probably taken as a result of popular pressure, but surely following IMF "informal" suggestions that negotiations related to the external debt should not be carried out by provisional authorities.
The rescheduling of the elections, however, finds the left wing and progressive movement unprepared. Whilst the Piqueteros are growing in direct action strategies, they have no common electoral plans. Some of the groups are related to Trotskyst parties, which in turn have no inclination to built unity.
Other groups, such as the CAV, follow autonomist tactics, and seem not to be interested in electoral politics at all. On the other hand, the majority of the Piqueteros belong to the progressive trade union, the CTA, which in turn is divided with respects to the election. Indeed, factions of the CTA support at least three different progressive parties, whilst some of the members are discussing the possibility to create a Workers Party in the style of the Brazilian PT.
Finally, the Piqueteros of the powerful CCC, originally related to a Maoist party but now partially independent from it, have been working in alliance with the CTA.
The movement of neighbors' assemblies seems to be in a similar situation. Many of the neighbors who participate in the assemblies also belong to different political parties, be it progressive or radical; for the moment, this has prevented the emergence of a unified position regarding the elections.
The attempts to create a national network of assemblies have failed, and even the inter-neighborhood assembly of Buenos Aires has serious problems to make harmonize the heterogeneity of the phenomenon.
As for the existing political parties, the situation is not better. Although they have been growing rapidly, the Trotskyst and Communist parties remain trapped in sectarianism; none of them seems capable to offer an alternative to the social movement as a whole. On the other side, the existing progressive parties, such as Elisa CarriÃ³'s ARI, or the Frente para el Cambio, will probably do very well in the elections (CarriÃ³ has good chances to become President).
However, their moderate politics is not appealing enough for most of the people involved in street protest, assemblies, or blockades. On the contrary, the radical deputy Luis Zamora, who gained immense popularity in the last months, has the chance to gain the support of much of the movement. But, at the moment, he is only starting to organize his party AutodeterminaciÃ³n y Libertad. If he finally does so according to the principle of horizontality, as he has announced, the creation of the new party is likely to take a very long time.
In sum, even when the variety of the social movement is a sign of its vitality, the lack of a common strategy for the elections may pose a serious threat in the near future. If a right wing candidate manages to win, attempts to suppress social protest can be expected.
Meanwhile, the contagion of Argentina's economic crisis is seriously affecting Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil, whilst countries such as Venezuela, Paraguay and Peru have recently witnessed massive waves of protest against neo-liberal policies. The expected triumph of left-wing leader Lula in the next elections in Brazil may change the political landscape of the whole Latin America dramatically.
However, as was the case in the 1970s, the radicalization of the continent may increase the possibilities of authoritarian attempts -be it military of civilian-as the US-backed unsuccessful coup d'Ã©tat against Hugo Chavez proves.
After more that six months since President De la RÃºa was overthrown, Argentina's wide and surprisingly creative social movement faces new possibilities, but also greater dangers.