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Argentine Autonomist Movement And The Elections


The Argentine Autonomist Movement And The Elections

By Graciela Monteagudo

This is Graciela's first column for Scoop

The Argentine social movements are at once young and old. They were born in 1945 with the spontaneous mass mobilization that brought Peron to power. They were also born in 1959 in Cuba. The people of those movements were disappeared, tortured, and eventually killed from 1975 to 1982, first under a peronist government and then under a military dictatorship. Thirty thousand people were disappeared so that today the IMF could dictate its economic policies. We can say, with Cesar Vallejo, that those movements were killed but did not die. In December 2001, they took the streets with direct democracy and direct action.

The disenchantment and rage of those who participated on December 19th and 20th of 2001 and in the mobilizations that followed are symptomatic of the crash of neoliberalism.

Upper and middle class folks were fed up with an economy that devoured up their lifelong savings and rendered their streets unsafe with so many people roaming around homeless and jobless. These were the same folks who successfully ignored the brutal repression of the 1976 dictatorship.

They welcome the privatizations and the peso-pegged-to-the-dollar during the Menem government. They believed they were in the first world. They had always believed it. When all that came crashing down during the De la Rua government, it aroused their frustration and anger with the system. The insecurity of these times also provoked the rage of the young, who had been excluded from the market but had not been marked dir

As upper classes and youth began to turn against the system, those days brought the struggle of the unemployed families to the forefront. These people had been blockading major highways (piquetes) in the interior of the country since mid-nineties. They had been organizing direct actions with direct democracy. The popular assemblies were born out of that fresh anger and rage. They also grew from an older tradition of assemblies in the working place, in the school, and in the colleges. The tradition can be traced to the anarchists in the labor movement in the 20's. Their direct democracy methods also stem from the ‘œpiquetes’ in the interior of the country, such as Cutral-Co and Salta. In the cities, the activists met middle-class neighbors, as all banged on empty pots and pans, and passed the tradition along. Soon many people without any experience in organizing learned the ropes of direct democracy and used new tools to confront the economic and social crisis that they faced.

The process highlighted by December 19th and 20th shows us that masses of people disillusioned by a corrupt system, using methods of direct democracy and direct action, can put pressure on the government to produce certain changes, most notably the lack of payment on the debt. However, at no point in this process were the assemblies able to organize themselves as an alternative to the centralized power of the government. Political forces operating within the assemblies, such as the progressive peronists and leftist political parties, made that impossible. By the time some of the trotskyist organizations decided to destroy the assemblies, since they could not control them, the participation of the middle class had already declined. This occurred partly because of the brutal repression that met virtually every one of the protests, but also because many people had hoped to find imm

At that point, although the actions were huge, the movement did not recognize itself, nor was it conscious of its power. Although the actions of December 19th and 20th collectively opposed the representational political system, opposed neoliberalism, and advocated for civil liberties, most of the participants did not have a clear consciousness of the significance of their actions. Furthermore, these people failed to recognize themselves as a powerful movement that could build an alternative to the IMF/local-government model. This failure explains how Congress was able to appoint a candidate that had lost the presidential elections of 1999, even after two weeks of falling administrations. Duhalde had a meeting with G.W. Bush in which a potential succession to the presidency was discussed, in case the De La Rua government failed. The possibility of a coup is currently being investigated in the courts.

These massive mobilizations unleashed incredible forces and creative methods of struggle. It reinforced the struggle of the piqueteros and supported the recuperation of 200 factories under workers control, in which 10,000 people manage the production and commercialization of everything from bread to tractors throughout the country. It created the popular assemblies, neighborhood spaces for discussion of these new politics, community services and coordination of direct actions. Ezequiel Adamovsky, from the Cid Campeador Popular Assembly, points out that it is because of the struggle of this movement that the complete destruction of the Argentina economy and its working class was somewhat avoided. For example, through massive direct actions, the movements empowered the negotiations between the government and the IMF, defaulting on its payment for a whole year. The devaluation of the salaries was stopped through various protests.

Despite significant achievements, these movements were never close to running the country. Furthermore, a young movement is not likely to be able to contest a presidential election. It should, however, strive to establish new solidarity networks that will heal those broken by the dictatorship; it must continue to grow and learn from its mistakes. This is happening every day in Argentina and efforts are made internationally to support their struggle.

Patricio Mc Cabe, associated with the Encuentro de Pensamiento Autonomo, a space for reflection on social issues, suggests that the process that followed the mass actions of December 19th and 20th can be evaluated by looking at what the government has been forced to do in response: - Brutal repression of actions, evictions of community centers and state terrorism, as in the execution of activists like Dario Santillan of the piquetero organization Anibal Veron.

-Eviction of the worker-managed Brukman factory and brutal repression of the 7,000 people action lead by the workers, Madres de Plaza de Mayo, and national representatives to recuperate the factory.

-Even more effective, after the piquetes and the mass mobilizations, the government initiated a welfare program benefitting more people than any program in any other Latin American country.

-Savings were returned to the middle class, however devaluated. This really deepened the gap between the middle class and the unemployed workers and enjoyed propagandistic support from a virtually monolithic media that favored "democracy" and the elections while opposing the road blockades.

-Although the elections helped the government by bringing the focus back to representational democracy, as opposed to the ongoing direct democracy processes, it also exposed a marked weakness of the system.

The elections process demands further explanation and analysis. Appointed by Congress as an interim President, with the task to call for elections in the near future, Duhalde ignored his status and held onto power until June 2002. Responding to pressure from the Governors of the Interior and to hints from the IMF, the government ordered the repression of a massive road blockade that ended with hundreds of people injured by the police, some with lead bullets, and two piqueteros, Maxi Kosteki and Dario Santillan, dead. Dario, a 21 year old organizer, was executed pointblank by the police while helping Maxi, a 23 year old artist involved with the movements. In the social upheaval that proceeded the repression, with thousands of people protesting against state terrorism, the government called for elections-but just presidential elections. At that point the social movements felt str The electoral process reveals a a pathetic and fraudulent system, especially after Menem’s withdrawal from the electoral process.

When taking into account all of the people who refused to vote, the newly elected president, Nestor Kirchner, won thanks to a mere 16% of the electorate. Another symptom of this crisis is a highly fragmented society and with it, the end of bipartisanship. Perhaps more significantly, hardly anyone in Argentina has expressed any excitement or expectations for any of the candidates. Despite the fact that Argentine politicians now feel comfortable making public appearances and even get some votes, they are definitely not in the presence of people who have any illusions about the system.

However, people will not abstain from voting in under the threat of state terror without a strong alternative program to the corrupted democracy that the elections represent. Lacking such an alternative, some people conceptualized a vote for Kirchner as a vote against neoliberalism. This belief will most likely soon be exposed as the same kind of ilussion that motivated people to elect De la Rua as an alternative to Menem. De la Rua's administration resulted in high unemployment, confiscated savings,lootings, and murderous repression of massive spontaneous protests. People feel that Menem and his gang should be kept out of power and rightly so. However, the change they hope for will not come until they recognize an alternative to the system he represents.

Pablo, a piquetero of the Anibal Veron says, "The actions of December 19 and 20 were not the proclamation of a revolutionary change nor did they completely bury the old regime. As a counterbalance, the elections of April will not heal the regime, wounded by the actions of 2001/2002, nor will they have a long lasting effect on our hopes of social change."

The worker-controlled factories, the micro-enterprises and community services of the unemployed workers, the assemblies with their community-building programs, and the campesinos who reclaim their land, and the radical art collectives constitute the spaces where the new movements will find resources to grow and expand. Their success can be measured there and not in an election, least of all in this last one.

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