Argentina: Que Se Vayan Todos! – They All Must Go!

May 9th, 2012

Published on ZNet (first on red pepper), by Francesca Fiorentini, May 07, 2012.

… Economic collapse and the piqueteros:

The backdrop to Argentina’s rebellion was grimmer and more extreme than even the situation in Greece today (see page 17). Years of neoliberal policies had taken their toll. The official unemployment rate reached 17 per cent in 1996; in reality, it was even higher, with entire communities out of work. The country had no social security net or unemployment centres to help the jobless subsist and find work.   

The poor suburbs of Buenos Aires were the hardest hit, along with rural provinces. Entire neighbourhoods were left to fend for themselves without paved roads, electricity, sewage or transport. The major unions were ineffective, striking deals with the neoliberal Menem government to remain docile and failing to organise the growing ranks of unemployed.

‘You saw people deteriorate very quickly,’ says Fabián Pierucci, economist and former piquetero with the Movement of Unemployed in the neighbourhood of Solano. ‘Because how long can people go without eating, without being able to buy their medicine? You saw friends get thin and die like flies.’

From these forgotten neighbourhoods the piquetero (road blockade) movement of the unemployed was born. Living on the outskirts of the city, residents regularly witnessed food and goods they sorely needed trucked past their precarious homes and into the city. Seeing no alternative, they began to blockade major roads with burning tyres to draw attention to their destitution and demand government assistance.

As the economic situation deteriorated in 2001, the piquetero movement began to gain legitimacy among the middle classes, who joined it in the streets in response to additional pension and salary cuts implemented by a government scrambling to avoid the oncoming economic collapse. When bank accounts were frozen at the end of November, the country was on the brink.

Rather than appeasing the unrest and alleviating the burden of a collapsing economy, President Fernando de la Rúa declared a state of siege on 19 December. It was a decision that would spell the end of his presidency. Cacerolazos (noisy street protests), blockades and organised looting broke out throughout the country. Police repression merely fanned the flames of popular resistance, and within 48 hours both the economic minister and president had resigned, the latter being helicoptered away from the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada. Political legitimacy was lost.

Creativity amid crisis: … //

… Tools for the future:

These movements have all left their mark on Argentina. Though they may not have achieved all they had hoped, they pushed the boundaries of political imagination and showed the creative capacity of ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Still, for many, specifically those on the independent left like Fabián Pierucci and Eva Sinchecay, the movements missed a historic opportunity for structural change. Despite Argentina’s economic growth, they say the economic model is still based on unstable and short-term factors such as the international price of soy and the exploitation of natural resources.

‘With a globalised economy, you can have all the reserves you want and have the foreign debt under control, but does that mean you are financially autonomous?’ asks Pierucci. ‘How long will the model last? One year, two years, five years?’

Sinchecay, who still helps cartoneros in her community collect cardboard, says the social programmes have been insufficient in combating poverty. ‘We have seen three generations of people without work,’ she laments.

Pierucci believes Argentina has not seen the last of economic crises, and that despite the relative calm another could be on the way. ‘We can’t lose perspective that crisis is cyclical in the economy, and that each time it will be deeper,’ he says.

Despite maybe missing a historical moment, the strength of Argentina’s social protest and its people-based solutions to economic collapse have inspired social movements around the world. Protesters in Greece even adopted the slogan Que se vayan todos! (‘They all must go!’ – referring to politicians), popularised on the streets of Buenos Aires in December 2001.

In many ways, what emerged from Argentina’s collapse could be (and, to a lesser extent, has been) replicated in countries worldwide – occupations, worker-run businesses, neighbourhood assemblies. The extremity of the economic bust and the vacuum of power in Argentina created unique conditions for social movements to prise the country from neoliberal government and give birth to a new politics. But the same spirit of solidarity and possibility can be seen across the world today – and there is much that it can learn from the Argentinian experience. (full long text).

Link: The World from Berlin: Hollande Could Be a Better Partner than Sarkozy, on Spiegel Online International, by Daryl Lindsey, May 7, 2012.

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