by Andres Lopez, Tim Jack,
& Marie Trigona
Z magazine, July/August 2003
Before the April 27 elections in Argentina,
interim President Eduardo Duhalde, who served for 16 months, assured
the country that he had accomplished his objectives to "strengthen
political institutions and more importantly, preserve democracy.
Yet, the pre-election atmosphere had an
authoritarian feel, to say the least. Sunday, April 27, streets
in Buenos Aires were filled with thousands of police to ensure
a "democratic" electoral process. Lines of police, trucks,
and tear gas tanks patrolled the streets to impose Argentina's
constitutional law banning public acts during pre-election night
and on election day.
In the weeks before the elections the
national government had stepped up repression with a zero tolerance
for protests. A clear example was Brukman, a suit factory that
had been occupied and operated by its workers. On April 18, hundreds
of police evicted Brukman. "They sent 600 police to evict
the 4 workers guarding the factory. This was illegal and irrational,"
says Maria Zalamon, a lawyer defending the factory. Clouds of
tear gas and the unrelenting sounds of shots accompanied the retreat
of 7,000 protesters, who were being continually attacked. Police
pursued supporters as far as 30 blocks away, beating and detaining
people indiscriminately. There was an atmosphere of terror as
protesters defended themselves against repression.
"This looked like the military dictatorship.
Without the workers
in the factory there will be no negotiations,"
exclaimed Raul Godoy, a worker from Zanon, a reoccupied ceramics
factory. The night's events left 60 injured and 120 detained.
Miguel Bonasso, a well-known journalist, was one of those detained.
Before news cameras, Bonasso showed an empty red cartridge, signaling
that the police had used live ammunition. The human rights organization,
CELS (the Center of Legal and Social Studies), charged that such
use of force is illegal. This repression sends chilling reminders
of Argentina's dictatorship (1976-1983) in which 30,000 were disappeared.
In an attempt to criminalize sectors of
the unemployed workers movement, four piquetero activists from
the town of Mosconi in the Northern province of Salta were detained.
Jose "Pepino" Fernandez, still in custody, was arrested
on the steps of National Congress after negotiations with senators.
The arrests came with government worries that if negotiations
went bad, as they did, piqueteros would begin massive road blockades
in Salta. "They [politicians] don't ask us anything except
for our vote. The poor vote for politicians, but if we fight they
hit back hard with rubber bullets, tear gas, and sending the National
Guard out. Today we want to fight for dignified work and for the
future of our children and grandchildren, for those suffering
from starvation in Mosconi," reflects Rosa, piquetera from
Union de Trabajadores Desocupados (Unemployed Workers' Union)
The government also cracked down on the
anti-electoral campaign. Many sectors from Argentina's social
movements generated this campaign, arguing that the elections
were a fraudulent attempt for politicians to regain trust and
create an illusion of a nation without social conflict. The night
before the elections three popular neighborhood assemblies organized
a Carnival Against the Electoral Fraud. As the street party began,
police arrived, beating and detaining some participants. The carnival
continued in front of the police station where those detained
were being held until they were finally released.
The same night, during a spontaneous film
showing, 200 people watched documentaries in a plaza next to Brukman.
Sitting in a plaza together, citizens watched Brukman workers
in the struggle for dignified work and piqueteros' self-defense
against capitalism. "The intention of this film showing was
to break the law, there is a difference between law and legitimacy.
What's important for us is not the elections, which we consider
a farce, but manifestations of struggle that we deal with in our
films. Tonight is a small act of resistance," noted Fabian
Pierucci, activist from the film collective, Grupo Alavo.
The last presidential elections, held
in 1999, had a shaky start and a dive-bomb ending. The vice-president
stepped down just a few months after assuming office, and President
Fernando De la Rua did the same on December 20, 2001.
The popular rebellion of December 19 and
20, 2001 provoked an institutional crisis. The government was
unable to make a payment on its $128 billion debt and Argentina
defaulted on its IMF loan. IMF imposed austerity measures and
the speculation of a peso devaluation led to an economic paralysis.
Massive social cutbacks, frozen bank accounts (the famous corralito),
and lack of hard currency circulating generated a popular response,
uniting the demands of the middle class and poor. In the ensuing
days thousands went into the streets with the demand, "Que
Se Vayan Todos" (all the politicians out). Supermarkets were
looted and banks attacked. After two days of protests, a state
of siege, 33 deaths, and former President Fernando de la Rua's
flight from the presidential house, Argentina's political institutions
were left in a state of crisis.
What followed were three short-lived presidencies.
Then, on January 1, 2002, Eduardo Duhalde assumed office, installed
by a legislative assembly. Duhalde was forced to announce these
early elections just a week after police killed two piquetero
activists on June 26, 2002. The government repression led to the
deaths of Dario Santillan and Maximiliano Kosteki and injured
over 100. "Duhalde is truly responsible for our companeros'
deaths and his hands are stained with piquetero blood," reflects
Luis Salazar, piquetero from MTD.
In the weeks before the elections political
campaign posters were plastered throughout Buenos Aires's streets,
selling the same names and campaign slogans. After the first round
of elections, two candidates-Nestor Kirchner and Carlos Menem-emerged
to compete in a second round.
President Duhalde hand picked Kirchner
as the candidate for the official Peronist party. Kirchner, claiming
to be social democratic, called for negotiating with the IMF and
for installing economic policies well known to Argentina-among
them a floating currency.
Ex-president Carlos Menem, a champion
of privatization, maintains positions that go hand in hand with
corrupt politics and transnational corporations supporting his
campaign. He wanted to implement the Free Trade Agreement of the
Americas, a false convertibility to the dollar, and allow the
military to cooperate with the police in the repression of social
unrest. Along Buenos Aires's major avenues, posters with a photo
of Menem under the words, "Menem-President Bush in power,"
reflect the population's opinion of his interests.
This same system doesn't permit a democratic
decision making process. The only thing this election does is
reproduce a system that denies our participation," declares
Moia, an independent journalist. Politicians and the mass media
have dedicated immense energy to construct the illusion that these
elections mark a change. Under the guise of new projects and vision,
the same mechanisms of repression and economic exploitation continue.
"Candidates won't do anything more
than repeat the politics of hunger and misery," declares
an assembly flyer against the elections, reflecting deep questions
on the state of Argentina's democracy.
A few days after the April elections,
John Dornsworth, IMF representative, and his team, interviewed
both candidates, evaluating their positions. The IMF's interest
is to ensure continuing policies of free trade, austerity measures,
and flexible labor. Claudio Katz, Professor of Economics at the
University of Buenos Aires, suggests, "The Minister of Economy
in the next government is going to continue to be the same person,
Anoop Singh, representative from the IMF. He is the man that decides
how the government votes, which proposals are approved, and the
methods and decrees the government adopts. Continuing the negotiations
with the International Monetary Fund, there is no possibility
of instrumenting the emergency measures that the nation needs
to recover and reconstruct its economy. "
Kirchner expressed no intention to depart
from economic policies leading to levels of unemployment and poverty
never seen in Argentina before. Today 8 percent of the population
lives below the poverty line and 44 percent are either unemployed
Kirchner decided that Roberto Lavagna
was to continue as Minister of Economy. Lavagna was appointed
thanks to the advice of the
Inter-American Development Bank. "Argentina
has never paid so much in interests in respect to the foreign
debt as last year," says Claudio Katz. In August Argentina
is due to pay $30 billion towards the debt and Lavagna is prepared
to pay it by selling out the future of Argentina's poorest sectors,
now the majority of its citizens.
Kirchner assumed office with a somewhat
stabilized economy, but with more than half the population excluded
from society. Solutions for Argentina's poor are not what this
government is interested in. Kirchner is selling methods of social
control to keep the poor quiet with police sticks and instability,
not long-term solutions. These elections were an attempt by the
state to recover lost legitimacy and reflect only a superficial
Delia Garcilazo de Rios, whose son was
killed by prison guards 10 years ago, forms part of an association
of family members of victims of police violence. She reflects,
"I don't believe in democracy anymore. I think this system
isn't any use to us. It doesn't serve us at all because we don't
govern ourselves. My hope is that with our struggle someday we
can break the system. My hope is in our struggle. "