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Cablegate: Argentina: Profiles of Key Anti-Kirchner Piqueteros

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10 BUENOSAIRES 91, "Embassy Buenos Airres ,CONFIDENTIAL , 08BUENOSAIRES980|09BUENOSAIRES1084|10BUENOSAIRES13|10BUENOSAIRES526|10BUENOSAIRES794,"VZCZCXYZ0002
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC"C O N F I D E N T I A L BUENOS AIRES 000091 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/02/12
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON AR

SUBJECT: Argentina: Profiles of Key Anti-Kirchner Piqueteros REF: BUENOS AIRES 526; BUENOS AIRES 794; BUENOS AIRES 13 09 BUENOS AIRES 1084; 08 BUENOS AIRES 980 CLASSIFIED BY: VilmaSMartinez, Ambassador, DOS, Exec; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (SBU) Summary: In recent months, Argentina's social activist movements, known as piqueteros, have captured the media spotlight through frequent protests. While former President Nestor Kirchner's efforts to co-opt the movement have divided it, the hotly contested title for noisiest piqueteros goes (at least recently) to groups that oppose the Kirchners. Nicknamed by the press ""anti-K"" piqueteros, these activists have pushed the
government for greater inclusion in President Cristina Fernandez de
Kirchner's (CFK) new jobs program. This cable examines key anti-K
piquetero leaders, including: Raul Castells from the Movement of
Retired and Unemployed Workers (MIJD); Toty Flores from the
Movement of Unemployed Workers of La Matanza (MTD-La Matanza); Juan Carlos Alderete from the Classic and Combative Current (CCC); and Jorge Ceballos and Roberto Baigorria from the Foot Neighborhoods (Barrios de Pie).

2. (SBU) As part of the Embassy's ongoing efforts to reach out to a broad spectrum of Argentine society, Emboffs held a series of meetings with key piquetero leaders and an academic piquetero expert. This cable is the third in a series on this social movement. The first cable analyzed the history of the piqueteros (ref A), while the second assessment profiled the Kirchners' key piquetero allies (ref B). End Summary. Who are the Piqueteros? ------------------------------ 3. (SBU) Argentina has, for more than a decade, experienced organized protests and activism by social movements known as ""piqueteros,"" which literally means ""picketers."" These groups, representing the claims of unemployed citizens, distribute benefits from the national government (150-200 pesos a month) to their members, who in exchange must work 20 to 40 hours a week in workfare programs. According to 2007 national government statistics, the family aid plan reached 504,784 families, which includes 1,766,744 children. Local piquetero leaders believe the actual number of recipients dropped as Argentina's economy began to recuperate from its 2001 economic crisis. They estimate that only 800,000 Argentines are currently benefiting from these programs, while there are no government statistics on recipients after 2007. 4. (SBU) While most piquetero leaders initially distrusted former President Nestor Kirchner (NK) when he came to power in 2003, because they believed he would continue what they considered to be the market-oriented (""neo-liberal,"" in the local jargon) policies
of his predecessors, over fifty ended up joining his government and
his allies at the local and national levels. They aligned their groups with NK because he ordered government security forces to refrain from suppressing piquetero marches, and agreed to include
them in his government and to address their concerns. Several key
piquetero groups, however, never allied with the administrations of
NK and his wife/successor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK),
and instead opposed NK's congressional slate in the June 2009
mid-term elections. They also sided with farm leaders during the
government's extended conflict with the sector in 2008. 5. (SBU) In late 2009, ""anti-K"" piqueteros became particularly vociferous about CFK's new job creation plan ""Argentina Works."" They staged overnight protests outside the nation's Social Development Ministry calling for more jobs and direct participation in distributing the plan's jobs. (Under the new plan, jobs will be distributed via some Kirchner-allied mayors and neighborhood cooperatives, a plan that even ""pro-K"" piqueteros -- who wish to distribute the largesse themselves -- have begun to question.) In late January 2010, ""anti-K"" piqueteros held marches regarding this ame issue in at least 13 provinces, including in key cities in Buenos Aires province, and in Buenos Aires City. 6. (SBU) Piquetero protests are a frequent occurrence in Buenos Aires City, and some reports indicate they increased in 2009.
According to the think-tank ""New Majority,"" in September 2009 there
were over 102 blockades in Argentina, more than in any month since
the piquetero movement began in 1997. Paper-of-record ""La Nacion"" reported that there were 440 arrests for street blockades in Buenos Aires City from January to September 2009, compared to 265 in 2008. (Given the government largely assumes a hands-off approach with protests, these arrest figures do not paint an accurate picture of the number of protests.) A sociologist and piquetero expert
disagrees, saying he does not see Argentina as having experienced a ""peak of conflict"" in 2009. Moreover, he doubts the methodology
behind these statistics, which he believes is based on selective
press reports of protests. Raul Castells - Movement of Retired and Unemployed Workers --------------------------------------------- -----------------
7. (SBU) One of the most well-known piquetero leaders and a vocal
opponent of the Kirchners, Raul Castells founded the Movement of
Retired and Unemployed Workers (MIJD) in 1999. An active piquetero
leader for decades, Castells ran in the 2007 presidential race against CFK. He came in twelfth place, winning less than 50,000 votes (about one-quarter of one percent of all votes cast). Over the years, Castells has been jailed for his protests and conducted hunger strikes. In mid-January, he and his wife and fellow piquetero, Nina Pelozo, were detained (and released several hours later) for trying to storm the Central Bank in protest of CFK's presidential decree calling for Bank President Martin Redrado's resignation (ref C). 8. (C) Virulently anti-American, Castells began an April 2009 meeting with Emboffs by noting his incredulity at their interest in meeting him, describing himself as the ""Embassy's enemy."" He added that his past interactions with the Embassy had been outside protesting against what he described as the ""unsympathetic treatment"" by U.S. companies, such as McDonalds and Walmart, of him and his demands. Referencing an older Gallup poll, which he claimed indicated that 93% of Argentines are anti-American, Castells attributed Argentines' anti-Americanism to USG policies and the actions of large U.S. companies. (Over the past two years, and especially since President Obama took office, anti-Americanism
has decreased significantly in Argentina.) Castells blames NK and
the USG for his arrest in 2004, after the MIJD occupied nine McDonalds' branches and demanded 10,000 books and 20,000 boxes of milk powder from McDonalds. He also blames the USG for his poor health after he conducted a hunger strike while in jail for
occupying a casino in northern Argentina. Prior to concluding the
meeting with Emboffs, Castells insisted that he read officers a
petition of complaints against the USG. 9. (C) Castells espouses no clear ideology, but has flirted with both Maoism and Trotskyism. In 2004, then Minister of Interior Anibal Fernandez called him a ""Maoist-Trotskyite idiot,"" who ""sought conflict for conflict's sake."" A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, Castells advocates nationalizing gas, petroleum and mining industries, reclaiming lands held by foreigners, and stopping IMF debt payments. 10. (SBU) Under former President Eduardo Duhalde (2002-2003), the MIJD managed 20,000 benefit plans. (We do not have current statistics for benefit plans under the Kirchners.) Castells claimed to Emboffs that the MIJD assists 8% of Argentina's poor through its soup kitchens, which feed 40,000 people. Disputing the national statistical agency's (INDEC) poverty statistics, Castells asserted that poverty has increased in Argentina over the last ten years, and that current subsidies do not meet the poor's needs. He also expressed concern about the rising use of paco (cocaine residue) among Argentina's youth. He added that in a roundtable he held with youths, eight out of ten reported using paco with four out of ten stealing to obtain funds to buy it.
""Toty"" Flores--Movement of Unemployed Workers of La Matanza
--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- -----------------
11. (SBU) National Deputy for Buenos Aires province Hector ""Toty""
Flores founded the Movement of Unemployed Workers of La Matanza
(MTD-La Matanza) in 1996. (La Matanza, with a population of 1.3
million in the 2001 census, is one of Buenos Aires province's
largest and poorest municipalities, and a longtime Peronist
stronghold.) Unlike many piquetero groups, MTD-La Matanza rejects
government subsidies. Instead, the group actively campaigns for
jobs as a means to better integrate their members into Argentine
society. In 2001, Flores opened a community center in La Matanza,
which provides work opportunities to locals through a number of
small enterprises, including a bakery and a printing press. Flores
said he entered politics as an ally of Elisa Carrio's Civic Coalition because he hoped to expand his La Matanza model to other parts of the country. Juan Carlos Alderete - Classic and Combative Current
--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- 12. (SBU) The Classic and Combative Current (CCC) formed in 1994, and while originally part of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist and Maoist ideology), is now a diverse front which includes Communists, Socialists, Peronists, Civic Radical party members, evangelicals, and members of the nation's second largest (but not officially recognized) trade federation - the Central of Argentine Workers (CTA). The CCC is divided into three groups representing workers, unemployed workers, and retired workers. Alderete is the national coordinator for unemployed workers. Located primarily in Argentina's northern provinces and in La Matanza in Buenos Aires province, the CCC has built over 4,000 lower-income housing units and constructed a water treatment facility which provides potable water to 500,000 La Matanza residents. The personable Alderete has addressed conferences in Mexico, South Africa, and a UN conference on world poverty in Nairobi, Kenya. 13. (SBU) The CCC participated in one pro-Kirchner rally, but
quickly distanced itself, refusing to join NK's government because
it doubted Kirchner would integrate its principles into government
policies. The CCC has since further distanced itself from the
Kirchner Administration citing governmental corruption. At the end
of December 2009, the CCC, accompanied by Barrios de Pie and Polo Obrero, threatened to ""create a major mess in the entire country on January 15"" if the government did not respond favorably to their
demands for greater participation in CFK's Argentina Works program.
(The CCC, Barrios de Pie, and Polo Obrero participated in the
previously mentioned national protests in late January.) Alderete
openly supports the smaller farmers of the agriculture sector against the GOA and appeared at several rallies during the government's conflict with the sector in 2008. The CCC has also participated in violent September 2009 marches directed against the U.S. firm Kraft Foods (ref D). While Alderete toyed with allying with the Civic Coalition in the June 2009 midterm elections, he withdrew his name from the candidate lists and instead mobilized volunteers to monitor the elections for fraud. Jorge Ceballos and Roberto Baigorria, Barrios de Pie --------------------------------------------- -------------------
14. (SBU) Jorge Ceballos and Roberto Baigorria direct Barrios de
Pie, a grassroots neighborhood movement of the larger, umbrella
political party, Libres del Sur. Libres del Sur, which is comprised of Peronists, non-Peronists and local groups against big business, has two national deputies (Victoria Donda Perez from Buenos Aires province and Paula Cecilia Merchan from Cordoba). Barrios de Pie was formed in 2001 in Buenos Aires and is now active in 16 provinces and in the city of Buenos Aires. 15. (C) Barrios leaders worked in both Kirchner governments until December 2008, when they left, claiming that CFK had distanced herself from the people. Both Ceballos and Baigorria worked for the national Social Development Ministry in the Office of Organization and Capacity Building, where Ceballos was subsecretary. Ceballos said he had planned to leave the government when NK ""sold out"" and assumed the presidency of the Peronist Party in 2007, but stayed longer because he supported the GOA during its}2008 conflict with the farm sector (ref E). In 2009, Ceballos decided to run in the June midterm elections, but lost his bid. Nonetheless, during the election, by campaigning alongside Martin Sabatella, a popular mayor in a poor town in the Buenos Aires suburbs, Ceballos gained greater name recognition. The previously mentioned sociologist and piquetero expert believes that during the election campaign Barrios de Pie sought to soften its media image o broaden its electoral appeal.
16. (C) While Ceballos accepts the government's claim that
conditions for the poor have improved since 2003, he believes that
NK seeks to limit the political involvement of social organizations. Baigorria told Emboffs that NK initially included lower income and unemployed Argentines in political debate and rovided them with adequate retirement pensions. For Baigorria, the Kirchners lost Barrios' support because they stopped listening to other viewpoints, overestimated their power, and underestimated their enemies. He also feels that they ceased to integrate piquetero goals in the GOA.
17. (C) Comment: The government's relations with social activist
movements will continue to be a delicate balancing act with
important implications for its political prospects. With the GoA
budget under pressure and with authority over the public works
program being redirected from piquetero groups to provincial
mayors, the ""anti-K"" piqueteros are not likely to change their
stance. While most pro-Kirchner piqueteros are likely to stay
affiliated with the government, their enthusiasm could diminish,
depending on the Kirchners' political fortunes and whether benefits
decline as a result of budgetary pressures and accelerating
inflation. Finding financing for the jobs program will therefore
remain a central component of the Kirchner government's strategy
for the 2011 presidential election. MARTINEZ

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