Argentina s Rebellion: Que Se Vayan Todos
by 06.05.2002 00:38-
Que Se Vayan Todos: Argentina s Popular Rebellion.
Que Se Vayan Todos: Argentina s Popular Rebellion.
An eyewitness account of the financial meltdown and ongoing grassroots rebellion.
Routines and Rebellions
15th Feb. 2002
"Your tickets are invalid," says the heavily lipsticked agent at the Varig airlines check-in counter in southern Brazil. Her eyes flick to the next person in line. We protest vehemently, as we've had no problem using the tickets. She is not impressed, and calls for her manager, who explains to us that Varig no longer recognizes the reciprocity of any tickets issued through Aerolineas Argentina. "They cannot be trusted now," she informs us gravely, showing us the memo
announcing the new policy. "We no longer do business with them." This is our first experience of the rippling effects of the Argentinean financial crisis.
At the Aerolineas Argentina ticket counter, the agent is friendly, and seems a bit embarrassed. He books us tickets on the next flight to Buenos Aires. His demeanor suggests that of a man who does not know if he will have a job tomorrow. We board the plane, hoping that the massive layoffs and budget cuts have not reached air traffic control, aerospace engineering, safety inspection, and other related sectors. We arrive safely, get ourselves a cheap hotel, and bleary-eyed, head out for a coffee.
In the corner of the cafe a television with the volume down is tuned into the Cronica channel - a uniquely Argentinean phenomenon - non-stop live trashy "news," seemingly unedited, with unbelievably bad and erratic camera work, and featuring the same lone reporter who seems to pop up all over town at random. Our introduction to Cronica is "live and direct" scenes from the beach, complete with close-up shots of thongs which zoom out and reveal beach volleyball games and languid sunbathers. There's a massive social rebellion going on in this country, and the news is live and direct from the beach!
After about 20 minutes of beach footage, it cuts to the news studio. Two "presenters" appear, in the form of shockingly pink-haired puppets! This is beyond ridiculous, here we are, desperate for news of the rebellion, and all we can get is puppet shows and thongs. After some "live and direct" from the local football team's practice, we finally are rewarded with images of people banging pots and pans while invading the lobby of a bank. We quickly drink up our coffee, ask the waiter how to get to the financial district, jump on a bus, and arrive there in minutes. Financial districts look much the same all over the world,
whether in the City of London, New York, or Frankfurt, but here in Buenos Aires there is one major difference - huge corrugated sheets of steel cover many of the bank headquarters, especially the foreign ones, like Citibank, HSBC, and Lloyds. Gone are the grand entrance halls; the prestigious shiny surfaces of glass and marble are hidden behind blank facades of grey steel, and the only access is through tiny doors cut into the sheet metal, through which suited figures pass, heads bowed, entering these fortresses as if banking has become a secretive, clandestine activity.
The strong smell of wet paint hangs in the air, fresh graffiti covers the steel shuttering and walls, saying "ladrones," or thieves. The action can't be far away. We split up and scout the area, listening for the clang of metal upon metal, the ineffable noise that has become the soundtrack to this rebellion, but hear nothing, find nothing. It seems that we are too late.
We've arrived on a Friday. Every Friday night since mid-December last
year, there has been a massive cacerolazo in Buenos Aires, when the
people converge in the political center of the city, the Plaza de
Mayo, and create an enormous racket by banging on cacerolas, or
saucepans. These huge cacerolazos developed spontaneously on the 19th
of December 2001, the day when the uprising exploded, after
smoldering in the provinces for several years, and now involving just
about every sector of Argentinean society.
Argentina suffered two and a half decades of International
Monetary Fund-(IMF) backed "free-market reforms," which meant
privatizing everything: water, telephone systems, postal services,
railways, electricity - you name it - even the zoo was privatized.
When the Asian and Russian markets crashed in 1998, foreign
investment dried up in the so-called "emerging markets." Argentina
was hit badly, a major recession struck, and foreign lenders asked
for their money back, on time.
According to the IMF, the only way the Argentinean government
could repay the $132 billion debt, some of which dated from the
military dictatorship, was by making more cuts in social spending,
especially as many people, sick of political corruption, had stopped
paying their taxes. Pensions, unemployment benefits, health care, and
education all were cut drastically, and all state employees had their
salaries slashed by 13%. It was the same old story repeated across
the world - as countries are forced into deeper and deeper debt, the
IMF strip mines their economies for the benefit of foreign banks and
In fact, it was the bond markets, unsatisfied with the pace
of the austerity plans, who proved to be even harsher task masters
than the IMF. Unlike the IMF, they never bothered to send delegations
to negotiate, they simply jacked up interest rates on debt issuances,
in some instances from 9% to 14% in a fortnight.
Now, after four years of recession, one out of every five
Argentineans is unemployed, and some economists say this could soon
double. 40% of the population is now living below the poverty line,
and another 2000 people fall below it every day. Hospitals are
running out of basic supplies like bandages and syringes, schools are
shutting down because teachers aren't being paid, child mortality and
hunger is on the rise, and this is all occurring in what once was one
of the wealthiest countries in the world, for decades considered the
great success story of neoliberal development in the "developing"
world, the star pupil of the "Washington Consensus," and the main
advocate for free trade in the region.
As the recession worsened, Argentinean stock plummeted, and
the unpopular austerity measures became increasingly vicious.
Protests spread further across the country. Things climaxed in
December 2001 when, grasping for straws, the government decided to
try a complicated re negotiation of its debt repayments. Fearful that
the entire economic house of cards was going to come tumbling down
and that the currency would be devalued, thus wiping out their life
savings, the middle classes panicked and withdrew about $135 billion
from their bank accounts.
Fearing that a run on the banks would sink the economy, the detested
finance minister, Domingo Cavallo, announced sweeping restrictions
limiting the amount of money Argentineans could withdraw from their
accounts. Known as the corralito, these measures included a monthly
limit of $1000 on cash withdrawals in addition to caps on off-shore
transfers. With all the facets of the crisis interlocking, the
economy was effectively paralyzed.
The IMF freaked out, due to the banking restrictions and the
debt repayment plan, which would severely impact foreign banks, as
they own 40% of Argentina's debt. They refused to lend any more
money, and within weeks Argentina defaulted on its loans, the first
time a country had done so in years. From this moment the economy was
in free fall. On the 13th of December, a general strike called by
major unions brought the country to a grinding halt for 24 hours. Six
days later the popular rebellion exploded into the streets, where it
The Tin Pot Insurection
December the 19th was the turning point, the day when the Argentinean
people said "enough!" The stage was set the day before, when people
began looting shops and supermarkets so they could feed their
families. The president, Fernando De La Rua, panicked. Twelve years
ago, major looting toppled the government, and now, within the
Argentinean collective memory, looting is linked to the collapse of
regimes. De La Rua declared a state of emergency, suspending all
constitutional rights, and banning meetings of more than three
people. That was the last straw. Not only did it bring back traumatic
memories of the seven year military dictatorship which killed over
30,000 people, but also it meant that the state was taking away the
last shred of dignity from a hungry and desperate population - their
On the evening of December 19th, our friend Ezequiel was on
the phone with his brother who lives on the other side of Buenos
Aires. They were casually chatting, when his brother suddenly said,
"Hang on, can you hear that noise?" Ezequiel strained to hear a kind
of clanging sound coming through the receiver." Yes, I can hear
something on your side of the city but nothing here." They continued
talking, and then Ezequiel paused, and said, "Wait, now I can hear
something in my neighborhood, the same sound...." He ran to the
People were standing on their balconies banging saucepans,
were coming out onto the sidewalks banging pots; like a virulent
virus of hope, the cacerolazo, which began as a response to the state
of emergency, had infected the entire city. Before the president's
televised announcement of the state of emergency was over, people
were in the streets disobeying it. Over a million people took part in
Buenos Aires alone, banging their pots and pans and demanding an end
to neoliberal policies and corrupt governments. That night the
finance minister resigned, and over the next 24 hours of street
protest, plainclothes policemen killed seven demonstrators in the
city, while 15 more were killed in the provinces. The president
resigned shortly thereafter, and was evacuated from the presidential
palace by helicopter.
Within a fortnight four more governments fell. Argentina was
now set on a major high-speed collision course, with the needs and
desires of its people on one side, and the demands of the IMF, the
inept government, and global capitalism on the other.
Rivers of Sound
15th Feb. 2002
Our friends tell us to meet them for tonight's cacerolazo in the cafe
of the Popular University of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. The place
is an enormous social centre, right opposite the national congress
building, and is run by the well-known mothers of the disappeared,
whose courageous actions brought to the attention of the world the
mass disappearances during the military dictatorship between 1976 and
Surrounded by shelves crammed with books, journals, and
newspapers documenting radical Latin American political struggles, we
drink the quintessential Argentinean drink of health and friendship,
yerba mate, an extraordinary herbal infusion that increases energy
and mental alertness and is believed to contain all of the vitamins
necessary to sustain life. The warm drink is served in a gourd with a
silver straw and is passed around and shared between friends. No
political meeting in Argentina is complete without mate, and some of
us wonder whether this seemingly innocuous green twiggy tea is the
secret ingredient behind this country's inspirational rebellion.
Night falls, and before long we begin to hear the repetitive
rhythm of pot-and-pan banging drift across the square. A small crowd
of around fifty people has congregated in the street - they are
young, old, rich, poor, smartly dressed, scruffy, but all are armed
with spoons, forks, and a whole variety of metal objects to hit:
cooking pots, lids, kettles, Coke cans, car parts, biscuit tins, iron
bars, baking trays, car keys. The rhythm is high pitched and
monotonous, and above it people sing catchy tunes instead of dull
political chanting; often they include the key slogan of this
movement: que se vayan todos, they all must go, meaning that the
ENTIRE political class goes, every politician from every party, the
supreme court, the IMF, the multinational corporations, the banks -
everyone out so the people can decide the fate of this economically
crippled country themselves.
Our friend Eva tells us that the movement has lost some of
its momentum over the last few weeks. We admit to being surprised by
how small this crowd is - having imagined the cacerolazos to be
enormous. But as we're thinking this, we reach a crossroads. To our
right we see another crowd, perhaps twice as big as ours, coming
towards us, waving and cheering. We continue for a few more blocks,
and on the next street corner another stream of people flows out from
the underground station, singing and jumping up and down as it merges
with our group, another junction and yet more people come towards us.
We began as 50, grew to a hundred or more, then we were two
hundred, then five, then a thousand, two thousand, perhaps more.
Rivers of people pouring into each other, growing bigger and bigger,
rising to a roaring, banging torrent as we near the final
destination, the Plaza de Mayo, where the presidential palace, the
Pink House, stands protected behind police lines and barricades.
The Neighbourhoods Rise
Every week people make this pilgrimage, from every corner of Buenos
Aires, some of them coming as far as seven kilometres. They walk with
their asembleas populares, the neighborhood meetings which have
spontaneously sprouted up over the last few months in over 200
different neighborhoods in the city, and throughout the surrounding
provinces. These assemblies are rapidly becoming autonomous centres
of community participation. Most meet weekly (the more ambitious,
twice a week!), and all meet outside - in squares, parks, and even on
Every Sunday there is an assembly of assemblies, an
inter-neighborhood plenary in a park, attended by over 4000 people
and often running for more than 4 hours. Spokespeople from rich,
poor, and middle class districts attend to report back on the work
and proposals of their local assemblies, share ideas, and debate
strategy for the following week's city-wide mobilizations.
The local assemblies are open to almost anyone, although one
assembly has banned bankers and party activists, and others have
banned the media. Some assemblies have as many as 200 people
participating, others are much smaller. One of the assemblies we
attended had about 40 people present, ranging from two mothers
sitting on the sidewalk while breast feeding, to a lawyer in a suit,
to a skinny hippie in batik flares, to an elderly taxi driver, to a
dreadlocked bike messenger, to a nursing student. It was a whole
slice of Argentinean society standing in a circle on a street corner
under the orange glow of sodium lights, passing around a brand new
megaphone and discussing how to take back control of their lives.
Every now and then a car would pass by and beep its horn in support,
and this was all happening between 8pm and midnight on a Wednesday
It all seemed so normal, and yet was perhaps the most
extraordinary radical political event I'd ever witnessed - ordinary
people seriously discussing self-management, spontaneously
understanding direct democracy and beginning to put it into practice
in their own neighborhoods. Multiply this by 200 in this city alone,
and you have the makings of an irresistible popular rebellion, a
grassroots uprising which is rejecting centralized political power.
As Roli, an accountant from the Almagro assembly said: "People reject
the political parties. To get out of this crisis requires real
politics. These meetings of common people on the street are the
fundamental form of doing politics."
Outside of the weekly meetings, the assemblies meet in
smaller committees, each one dedicated to a different local issue or
problem. Committees of health are common - with many local hospital
budgets slashed, there is an urgent need to develop alternatives to
the collapsing welfare system. Some are suggesting that people who
own their own homes withhold their property tax, and instead give
that money to the local hospitals. Many assemblies also have
alternative media committees, as there is a widespread critique of
the mainstream media's representation of the rebellion. It took a
large cacerolazo outside their head offices to get them to cover the
uprising more accurately. However, the spirit of distrust for any
enormous corporate entity remains at large, and local assemblies are
beginning to print their own news sheets, broadcast updates on local
radio stations, and put up web sites.
In addition to the innumerable meetings and the weekly
cacerolazo, the assemblies also organize local street parties and
actions. In one neighborhood, for example, the assembly organized
pickets to prevent the authorities from closing down a baker who
could not afford to pay his rent.
For many of the assembly participants, this is the first time
they have been involved in any form of grassroots mobilization in
their lives. By creating a space for people to listen to each other's
problems and desires for change, the assemblies have enabled people
to realize that their personal daily struggles are connected to other
people's problems, and that all roads eventually lead to a similar
source, whether it is the government, the banks, the IMF, or the
entire economic system itself. An elderly shopkeeper, whose
experience is representative of many participants, said "Never in my
whole life did I give a shit for anyone else in my neighborhood. I
was not interested in politics. But this time I realized that I have
had enough and I needed to do something about it."
For radical change to occur, transformation has to take place
in our minds as well as in social structures, and it is often on the
tongue through the tool of language that one can trace some of the
most radical shifts in consciousness. A beautiful illustration of
this is that out of the experience of the assemblies, a new form of
greeting has arisen. The traditional political leftist form of
greeting in Latin American culture, compañero, or comrade, has been
rejected in favor of a new form of address, vecino, or neighbor. It's
a simple trick of the tongue, but one which signifies a major shift
away from an authoritarian politics based on power and parties
towards a participatory politics made up of people and places.
15th Feb. 2002
The raging torrent of sound finally arrives at the packed Plaza de
Mayo. The mouth of each avenue feeding into the square is flooded
with thousands of people cheering the arrival of each assembly.
Banner after banner passes by, some roughly painted and others
carefully lettered , but each bearing the neighborhood's name and the
time and place of the meeting.
The repetitive metallic rhythm fills the night. Some people
grow bored of hitting their pots and start to bang on lamposts or
railings, others pound on the barricade which splits the square in
half, behind which stand a symbolic row of riot policemen protecting
the Pink House. Singing of the movement's anthem breaks out
periodically, rising above the sound of the saucepans, voices crying,
"They all must go, not a single one should remain, Duhalde must go
back up his mother's cunt," sung with equal ebullience by elderly
women, youthful punks, unemployed refinery workers, and middle class
Young kids are busy covering the walls with graffiti; hardly
a surface of this city remains that does not carry some phrase or
slogan of resistance. The outline of a coffin is drawn with the word
"politicians" inside; a ministry building proclaims "My saucepan is
not bullet proof;" the closed shutters of a shop declare "Popular
assemblies - go out into the streets and claim what is rightfully
In the Plaza de Mayo, people are incredibly open, happy to
talk with us, readily telling us stories, and repeatedly emphasizing
how important it is that we document their struggle and show it to
the world. The diversity of the crowd astonishes us - it seems that
every walk of life is represented, and while we struggle to grasp the
contradictions we perceive, we meet Pablo, a 30 year old employee of
Bank Boston, who tells us, "By day I must work as a capitalist, but
at night I'm a socialist. I've been a socialist for a long time,
since my father was disappeared when I was six years old." His father
was a university student of sociology, and was not particularly
political, but was dumped in the Río Plata all the same at age 22,
leaving behind an 18 year old wife and his six year old son.
It is this which is particularly poignant, the fact that
every one of these people who is over thirty is living with some
memory of the dictatorship, has lost some people from their immediate
family, (or at least knows someone who did), they know how bad things
can get, how disappearances serve to terrify a population in ways
that we, with only prisons and courts as official deterrence, can't
dream of. This popular collective memory seems to permeate every
aspect of this rebellion. Although the continuity of the lineage of
resistance has been severely damaged, people seem deeply committed to
doing the hard work of rebuilding a movement that was, until
recently, in shambles, a movement that was long lulled to sleep by
fearful memories not yet dulled by the passage of time, lulled to
sleep by neoliberal promises and privatized dreams, convinced that
without following the "rules of the market," the country was sure to
return to the dark days of dicatorship.
But not everyone is so sympathetic. "They had it coming," is
a constant refrain from their Uruguayan neighbors, "They thought that
they were European," and it's true that Buenos Aires feels much more
like Paris than like São Paolo. However, the seemingly first-world
status was propped up on credit and sustained by loans and a national
refusal to recognize the symptoms of imminent collapse. Upon
returning home, a Chicano activist tells us, "That's what's so
important about the uprising. It's Latin Americanizing Argentina.
Argentina is remembering where it is on the map."
Time after time when we asked people in their neighborhood
meetings, or during cacerolazos, "Do you think that people here have
participated in resistance movements in the past?" the answer was an
emphatic no, often with the postscript that the near-complete loss of
a generation through disappearance and exile meant that there were
few people in the country with any prior experience of organizing
much of anything.
Extraordinary to imagine, and contrary to everything we
thought we knew, to find that a people with so little foundation, so
little affinity for each other, coming from such a place of apathy
and individualism, followed by outrage and despair, could so rapidly
and intuitively develop forms of organization that are inherently
disobedient, inherently directly democratic, and inherently utopian.
Although this scene in the Plaza de Mayo is repeated every
Friday night, tonight's cacerolazo is special. For the first time,
the piqueteros, or literally, picketers, will be joining the
cacerolazo. The piqueteros are Argentina's militant movement of
unemployed workers, who launched this social rebellion five years ago.
The Power of the Piqueteros
Born out of frustration with the corruption and constant political
compromises of official unions and the failure of all political
parties to represent them, the piqueteros (the term refers to their
common tactic of road blockades) grew out of the excluded and
impoverished communities in the provinces. They are predominantly
unemployed workers who have been organizing autonomously in their
suburban barrios, the neighborhood districts which are key to many
Argentineans sense of place and identity.
Demanding jobs, food, education, and health care, they began
taking direct action in the mid 1990s, blocking highways across the
country. The action of blocking the flow of commodities was seen as
the key way to disrupt economic activity; as they were unemployed,
the option to strike was no longer available to them, but by blocking
roads they could still have an enormously disruptive effect on the
economic system. One of them explained, "We see that the way
capitalism operates is through the circulation of goods. Obstructing
the highways is the way to hurt the capitalist the most. Therefore,
we who have nothing - our way to make them pay the costs and show
that we will not give up and die for their ambitions, is to create
difficulties by obstructing the large routes of distribution."
"We block the streets. We make that part of the streets ours.
We use wood, tires, and petrol to burn," adds Alejandro
enthusiastically. He is a young piquetero who sports the red and
black bandanna of the MTD (Unemployed Worker's Movement) around his
neck and carries the three foot wooden club that has become one of
the symbols of this movement. "We do it like this because it is the
only way they acknowledge us. If we stood protesting on the sidewalk,
they would trample all over us."
These tactics have proved extraordinarily successful. Whole
families take part in the blockades, setting up collective kitchens
and tents in the middle of the street. Many of the participants are
young, and over 60% are women. Over the years this loosely federated
autonomous movement has managed to secure thousands of temporary
minimum wage jobs, food allowances, and other concessions from the
state. The police are often unable to clear the pickets because of
the popular support they receive. The highways often run beside
shantytowns on the edges of the cities, and there is always a threat
that any repression against the piqueteros would bring thousands of
people streaming out of these areas onto the road in support,
provoking much more serious confrontations.
In August 2001, a nation-wide mobilization of piqueteros
managed to shut down over 300 highways across the country. Over
100,000 unemployed workers participated and the economy was
effectively paralyzed. Thousands were arrested and five killed, but
the movement continued building momentum and has broken new ground in
its use of non-hierarchical grassroots forms of organizing.
The spirit of autonomy and direct democracy that exists in
the urban neighborhood assemblies, was practiced by the piqueteros
years before, as they share a similar healthy distrust of all
executive power. Each municipality has its own organization centered
around the neighborhoods, and all decision of policy and strategy are
decided at piquetero assemblies. If the government decides to
negotiate during an action, the piqueteros do not delegate leaders to
go off and meet with government officials, but instead, demand that
the officials come to the blockades so the people can all discuss
their demands, and collectively decide whether to accept or decline
any forthcoming offers. Too often they have seen leaders and
delegates contaminated, bought off, corrupted, or otherwise tainted
by power, and they have decided that the way around this is to
develop radical horizontal structures.
The primary demands are usually the creation of some
temporary state-funded jobs, and once these are secured, the
piqueteros decide collectively who gets these jobs, based on need and
time spent helping with blockades. If there are not enough to go
around, they rotate the jobs and share the wages. Other demands
normally follow: distribution of food parcels, liberation of some of
the hundreds of jailed piqueteros, public investment in local
infrastructure such as roads, health, education.
A friend shows us video footage of a passionate woman on last
week's piquetero blockade of an oil refinery. She sits behind a
barricade of burning tires, teeth missing beneath bright piercing
eyes, and declares, "Yes this is dangerous, of course it is
dangerous, but we need to fight, we cannot go home because no one is
going to bring anything to our doorstep...jobs, food for our
children, the schools that are now disappearing, the hospitals...you
see, if I get hurt now and I go to hospital, they don't even have the
bandages to help me. So if we stop the struggle, all the things will
disappear....we have to keep struggling."
In some parts of Argentina, the piqueteros have created
quasi-liberated zones, where their ability to mobilize is far more
influential than anything the local government is able to do. In
General Mosconi, formerly a rich oil town in the far north, which now
suffers with a more than 40% unemployment rate, the movement has
taken things into its own hands and is running over 300 different
projects, including bakeries, organic gardens, clinics, and water
What is extraordinary is that these radical actions,
practiced by some of the most excluded and impoverished people in
Argentina and using extremely militant tactics and imagery - burning
barricades, blocked roads, masked-up demonstrators wielding clubs -
have not alienated other sections of society. In fact, support comes
from all across the movement.
"When people get angry, they rule with blood, fire, and sweat,"
explains a young piquetero, wearing a "Punk's Not Dead" t-shirt
across his face as a mask. "We lost seven comrades in Plaza de Mayo.
They had no political banner or ideology, they were only young
Argentineans and wanted freedom. Then the government understood that
people wanted to kick them out.... Those that are up there in power
are very worried that they can no longer order us around as before.
Now people say 'enough.' We got together all social classes, from
workers to unemployed, to say 'enough is enough,' together with
people that have $100,000 and that can't take it out of the bank,
people that broke their backs working to save up, together with us
that maybe don't even have any food to eat. We are all Argentineans,
all under the same banner, and don't want this to happen again.." A
young piquetera named Rosa puts it more succinctly: "When women no
longer have the resources to feed their children, the government is
coming down, no matter what type of government it is."
La Lucha es una Sola
15th Feb. 2002
Tonight, we are privileged to watch the different currents of this
struggle as they converge in the Plaza de Mayo. Suddenly there is a
commotion in the corner of the square, which ripples through the
crowd as all eyes turn to witness the arrival of the piqueteros,
heroic, like a liberating army entering the city. Masked-up,
tattooed, and fierce, each carries a stick of iron or of wood, which
they hold together to form a cordon around themselves. They are
greeted with an enormous cheer as they flow into the square with an
energy and attitude which is forceful, raw, and urgent. Fireworks
explode over the crowd as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo come
forward to greet them, their small elderly faces framed in the white
head scarf bearing the name of their disappeared children. Rising
above the crowd are the royal blue and white flags of the Mothers on
one side and the wooden clubs of the piqueteros on the other. Framed
by their trademark symbols, they embrace, and the night resonates
with the chant from the entire plaza, "Piquete y cacerolazo, la lucha
es una sola," picket and cacerolazo, the struggle is the same.
What we are seeing tonight is an incredible coming together
of differences, a convergence that crosses so many boundaries of
class and culture. It seems that every social sector involved in this
rebellion is beginning to work together, and support each other.
Revolutionary epochs are always periods of convergence - they are
moments when seemingly separate processes gather to form a socially
explosive crisis. Argentina is explosive right now - anything could
happen - it's an enormous social experiment that could well prove to
be the first great popular rebellion against capitalism of the 21st
By four in the morning the square has emptied. The crowd has
slowly melted away, returning to their neighborhoods, and the city is
silent again. Clusters of young people sit around on the grass
talking, drinking, smoking - it could have been any Friday night out,
in any city, but for the people painting the plaza with the names of
those killed in December, or the small group huddled over a mobile
silk-screen printing press, taking turns printing dozens of t-shirts
with the simple slogan yo decido, I decide.
Politics Without Parties
16th Feb. 2002
We wake up the next morning to hear that the Pope has declared
Argentina to be in a "pre-anarchic" situation. He seems to be
following in the footsteps of President Duhalde, who in the first
week of February said, "Argentina is on the brink of anarchy." Weeks
later, the finance minister chimes in, telling a meeting of
international bankers, "Either we have continuity or anarchy." Funny
how that word gets thrown around whenever power begins to feel
It seems that they are using "anarchy" to conjure up the
spectre of chaos, destruction, disobedience, nihilism, the collapse
of law and order. It is doubtful they are using it to describe the
authentic spirit of anarchism, which has spontaneously arisen on the
street corners, and in the parks and squares of Argentina: the simple
desire of people to live without rulers, remaining free to govern
What is so refreshing is that this spirit has developed so
spontaneously, and that no one, except a few tired old politicos (and
the state of course), is using the word anarchism. This is perhaps
surprising, given that Argentina had the world's largest anarchist
movement at the dawn of the twentieth century. But no one needs
another "ism" from the 19th century, another word which imprisons and
fixes meaning, another word that seduces some people into the clarity
and comfort of a sectarian box, and leads others in front of a firing
squad or a show trial. Labels lead so easily to fundamentalism,
brands inevitably breed intolerance, delineating doctrines, defining
dogma, limiting the possibility of change.
From Rebellion to Reconstruction
There has been a clear pattern of rebellion against the IMF across
the world over the last decades. From Indonesia to Nigeria, and
Ecuador to Morocco, people have vented their desperation and anger
against austerity measures which have destroyed their livelihoods.
Riots have erupted, sometimes the military is sent in, occasionally
governments fall, but inevitably the IMF remains and austerity
programs continue. Nothing changes, except for the growth of poverty
In the Buenos Aires Herald, we read a timely article about a
new computer game called "Playing Minister" in which you replace the
Brazilian economic minister, and are charged with keeping the country
on an even keel in the face of emerging market crises, domestic bank
collapses and currency devaluation. The game, according to its
creator, is designed to "test your skills at juggling interest rates,
controlling inflation, balancing budgets and managing debts."
Apparently managing the accompanying health care crises and the food
riots are not a part of the challenge when "Playing Minister."
During a recent interview, investigative journalist Greg
Palast revealed how useful these riots are to the IMF. Palast relayed
a conversation he had with Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of
the World Bank: "'...everywhere we go, every country we end up
meddling in, we destroy their economy and they end up in flames,'
said Stiglitz. And he was saying that he questioned this and he got
fired for it. But he was saying that they even kind of plan in the
riots. They know that when they squeeze a country and destroy its
economy, you are going to get riots in the streets. And they say,
'well that's the "IMF riot."' In other words, because you have
riots, you lose. All the capital runs away from your country, and
that gives the opportunity for the IMF to then add more conditions."
What the IMF doesn't expect and certainly doesn't want, is
for people to take things into their own hands, for them to shift
from resistance to reconstruction, from the desperation and rage of
rioting to the joy of creating alternatives. As the economic crisis
tears into the social fabric of Argentina, pushing more and more
people to the edge, the tension between hope and despair becomes a
conducive and creative space for change. Between laughter and tears
exists the space of optimism, the space of radical social
For the workers of the Zanón ceramics factory in Neuque, it
is this spirit of optimism that has enabled them to occupy their
factory, one of Latin America's largest ceramics producers, for the
last six months, running it with astounding results. The company
stopped production last year, claiming that it was no longer
profitable and that they could no longer pay the workers' salaries.
Rather than join the growing ranks of Argentina's unemployed, the
workers decided to occupy the factory and keep the production lines
"We showed that with two days' worth of production, we were
able to pay the wages of all the workers for that month," explained
Godoy, one of the 326 workers involved in the occupation, thus
exposing the realities of where the company profits were really
going. The workers market the tiles at 60% of the previous prices and
have organized a network of young vendors who sell them in the city.
José Romero, a maintenance worker at the factory, adds, "This fight
has opened our eyes to a lot of things."
Like so many in this movement, they are critical of
hierarchical forms of organization. Godoy continues, "Now we have no
full-time officials. The officials work eight hours like everyone
else and we do our union activity after hours. The decisions are all
made at general assemblies of workers, not behind closed doors."
Photographs of the occupied factory show workers laughing and joking
as they pull tiles out of the kilns. In Ursula Le Guin's
extraordinary novel, The Dispossessed, which is perhaps the most
tangible and touching description of an anti-authoritarian society in
the English language, the word for work and play are the same. It
seems the workers of Zanón have begun to make this dream a reality.
Meanwhile, a mine in Río Turbío has been occupied, as well as
a textile factory in Buenos Aires, which recently opened its doors
for an International Women's Day festival. These worker-run endeavors
are setting examples for Argentinean factories everywhere, and
perhaps setting precedents on ways of doing business in the "new"
Argentina. One manufacturer, who was on the verge of bankruptcy,
called together his workers and told them that since he could no
longer pay their salaries he would instead turn over blankets
produced in the factory which the workers could either sell or take
to the local barter markets, to exchange for other commodities.
Perhaps he was worried by the example set at Zanón, or perhaps he is
beginning to recognize the futility of continuing business as usual
in such unusual times.
16th Feb. 2002
It is in the barter markets where another extraordinary example of
necessity breeding ingenuity is enabling Argentineans to survive the
crisis. We visit the Trueque La Estación, or The Station Exchange,
that takes place twice a week in a four story community centre on the
outskirts of the city, where we are shown around by Ana, a shy
engineer wearing thick glasses. "The politicians have stolen
everything from the people, they want to control everybody," she
explains. "People come here because they don't want to be in the
The place is bustling; we can hardly move through the jovial
throngs of people perusing the rows of tables offering goods and
services. You can buy anything here, or rather, you can exchange
anything here, from eggs to bumper stickers, miniskirts to spices,
cucumbers to crocheted toilet roll holders, as long as you use the
barter's own currency - small brightly colored notes which look a bit
like Monopoly money.
The system is simple: people take their products to the
market and sell them for barter credit. The vendor is then able to
use this to purchase products they need in return. If you have
nothing to exchange and want to participate, you must buy credits
from a bank with cash. But most people have something to trade, if
they are imaginative enough, and though these people are deeply
lacking in cash, they have a surplus of imagination.
Piles of bric-a-brac cover some tables, while others have
neat and ordered displays. A young woman sits behind a pile of
underwear reading Nietzsche while a mother carrying her child in a
sling does a swift trade in home baked pies. On one table Frederick
Forsyth novels jostle for space with the Argentinean equivalent of
Hello magazine and books about the Spanish Civil War. Huddled beside
the stairs, an indigenous Bolivian family chat over wooden boxes of
fresh vegetables. On the top floor a doctor in a pristine white coat
offers to take our blood pressure, while a dentist demonstrates some
procedure using a lurid pair of false teeth. People are having their
haircut in one room while manicures and tarot readings are offered in
another. There are classes in technical drawing as well as
immigration advisement. Occasionally the trueque radio station (which
"broadcasts" through a crackly PA system) announces new services
These barter clubs began in 1995, when the recession began to
be felt. Since then they developed into a whole network and are now
known as nodos, meaning nodes, or points of concentration. Currently
there are several thousand nodos in existence throughout the country,
with well over two million people taking part. For many of them it
has become the only way of surviving the economic crisis.
As we leave the building we pass a stall holder with whom we
spoke during the afternoon, a strikingly tall, elegantly dressed
woman in her mid-forties. She waves good-bye, her dark eyes filled
with resigned sadness, in sharp contrast to the overall conviviality
of the place, and her lips silently form the words, "We are hungry."
Beware the Bourgeois Block
18th Fe. 2002
It's noon on a Monday, and we are on Florida Avenue, the main
pedestrian shopping street of Buenos Aires, no different from
London's Oxford Street, with its numerous McDonald's, Tower Records
and Benettons. This busy street, normally full of bankers and
business people making quick lunch time purchases, runs along the
edge of the financial district. But today something is not quite
normal. The rustle of shopping bags is drowned out by a deafening
A crowd of about 200 people are beating the steel sheet metal
that protects the entrance of a bank. They bang with hammers, ladles,
monkey wrenches, one woman even removes her shoe to use as a tool.
The entire facade of the building shudders under the fury of the
raining vibration of the blows. The force of some of the tools
manages to punch gaping holes straight through the metal, agile
gloved hands prise the sheets apart. Suddenly the armor falls away
and the crowd cheers.
A handful of people split off and invade a bank lobby across
the street. Within a fraction of a second all six ATM machines are
systematically smashed, shattered glass flies, and a woman sprays the
word "chorros," or crooks, in huge letters on the marble wall.
Nervous bank employees watch the scene from behind a glass doo;, an
egg sails through the air and breaks against it. The bankers flinch,
then turn away.
The crowd repeats the accusatory chant, "Ladrones, ladrones,"
or thieves, and then join in a longer chant, while jumping
ecstatically up and down, waving portfolios and briefcases around.
The chant translates loosely as "Whoever is not jumping is a banker,
whoever is not jumping is a thief...." When this dies down, everyone
casually exits the lobby and moves on to the next bank, less than
fifty yards up the street.
These kind of tactics have become archetypes of contemporary
protest: the shattered glass, graffiti smeared across bank walls, the
corporate symbols of capital destroyed. Images like these have been
imbedded in our imagination over the past few years, placed there by
the mega-machine of mainstream media in its attempt to divide,
discredit, and attack the growing anticapitalist movement, which is
increasingly referred to as "terrorist thugs", "violent anarchists,"
and "mindless mob." From London to Genoa, via Seattle, Prague, and
Québec City, it has been the same story, the same images, the same
rituals of symbolic destruction, played out over and over again; a
high drama which effectively sells newspapers when splashed across
the front page, and which serves to distract from the real issues at
hand. However, here in Buenos Aires, things are very, very, different.
For one thing, it was impossible to tell the demonstrators
from the passersby. Men in suits and ties with briefcases in one hand
and hammers in the other, women with gold bracelets, hand bags, and
high heels sharing cans of spray paint, anonymous suits on their
lunch break joining the fracas and then melting back into the crowd.
Walking through the pedestrian zone was astonishing - not only was it
impossible to tell who was who, but also, businesses remained open,
leaving their doors and windows open, fearless of looting or damage,
as it was perfectly clear that the targets were the banks and nothing
but the banks. Even McDonald's, usually having the honor of being the
first to lose its windows, left their door open, solely guarded by
the customary single private security guard.
Another major difference is that this is not the black bloc -
in fact there are no hooded sweatshirts to be seen. No one is masked,
although one woman covers her face with a newspaper and large
sunglasses, understandable if you've survived the disappearance of
30,000 of your fellow citizens. The spirit of "militant" (and often,
macho) clandestinity is completely absent. It is broad daylight -
while the bank is being trashed, shoppers are buying tennis shoes
next door, and the handful of police, unable to do anything, stand
idly, watching sheepishly. This is the most open, accountable, and
disciplined property damage (one can hardly call it a riot when the
police don't fight back) that we've ever witnessed. It's also
probably the most surreal. If one must call these people a bloc, and
why not, as they move and act as one, maybe "bourgeois bloc" would
suit them best.
The ahorristas, or savers, hold their demonstrations three
times a week. On the day we followed them, 17 banks were "visited."
Before meeting them, it was difficult to imagine women with shopping
bags and high heels kicking at corporate windows, huge lipstick grins
spreading as they watched the glass shatter into thousands of pieces.
That day they also surrounded every armored security van transporting
cash from bank to bank that they came upon and covered each one in
graffiti, while men in pin striped suits proceeded to unscrew the
wheel nuts and others pried open the hood, tearing out wires from the
running engines. Soccer moms jumped up and down on top of the vans,
smashing anything that could be broken, side mirrors, headlights,
license plates, windshield wipers and antennae. For three hours on a
Monday afternoon, our understanding of the world was turned on its
head, all our preconceptions and stereotypes melted away. "This could
be my mom," we kept thinking.
The ahorristas are the upper to lower middle class who have
had their life savings frozen by the government-imposed corralito.
Dressed in shirts and ties, pumps and designer sunglasses, they just
don't seem the sort who would be smashing up corporate property. They
are architects, computer programmers, doctors, housewives,
accountants, and even bank employees, one of whom, dressed in a
business suit and holding a wrench and a metal bowl, explained, "It's
not just the banks who are thieves, it's the government with the
corporations. They confiscated the money we had in the bank. They
stole it." She pauses, and then shakes her fist. "I am very angry!"
And yet the ahorristas are not simply the selfish petit
bourgeoisie, worried only about their own money. Their struggle has
broken out of the enclosure of self-interest, and has begun to
encompass a critique of much of the social system. They have publicly
allied themselves to the piqueteros and many take part in the
assemblies . "A lot more than just the government must change here,"
says Carlos, a computer programmer, who has painted slogans all over
his suit. His words echo those of the piquetero, Alejandro: "Us, the
piqueteros, and all the people who are fighting, are struggling for
social change. We do not believe in the capitalist neoliberal system
Predicting the Unpredictable
The repudiation of the politicians and the economic elites is
complete," says José Luis Coraggio, the rector of a university in
Buenos Aires who is active in the movement. "None of them who are
recognized can walk the streets without being insulted or spat upon.
It is impossible to predict what will happen. Next month, or next
week, Duhalde could be deposed, we could be in a state of chaos, or
we could be building a new country that breaks with neoliberal and
Breaking with capitalist orthodoxy is what the IMF and the
supporters of global capitalism most fear. Last year Fidel Castro
caused a diplomatic storm when he accused Argentina of "licking the
Yankee boot." Currently that boot is held over Argentina's face and
will undoubtedly start kicking if the government does not find a way
to please the demands of global capital, and get back to the business
of licking again.
However, the government is between a rock and a hard place -
even if it had an iota of legitimacy within Argentinean society,
which it clearly doesn't, it could not possibly please both the hopes
of the citizens and the demands of capital as enforced by the IMF. So
what can it do?
Traditional remedies seem worthless, as the country's
currency is steadily plummeting in value on the foreign exchange
markets. People are queuing outside money changing shops for hours,
desperate to change their pesos into dollars, before their cash
becomes worthless. The government, in yet another desperate attempt
to appear in control, put restrictions on the exchange rate, but this
further infuriated the IMF because it is another artificial control
of the markets. In response, Doug Smith, a Wall Street analyst, said,
"The only thing that's going to stop this is for them to come up with
some announcements that are credible and get the IMF behind them
instead of trying to put Band-Aids on every situation." Yet there are
no credible announcements to be made, and the wounds are too deep for
A certain kind of language has become common currency
recently. The head of the IMF, Horst Koehler, has declared that "...
without pain, [Argentina] won't get out of this crisis." President
Bush called on Argentina to make some "tough calls" before even
thinking of the much-desired financial aid, and President Duhalde
himself said that things are going to get a lot worse before they get
Is this tough talk laying the groundwork for a military coup?
After all, Argentina has had its fair share of these over the last
century. But given the residual illegitimacy of the military,
stemming from the decades of dictatorships, it seems that this option
is unlikely, and besides, no one wants to take power and inherit the
current situation, not even the military. In fact, it seems that
there may be dissent their ranks - one officer told reporters, "Even
if the situation turns to anarchy or civil war, if they ask me to
intervene, my principal concern will be making sure my orders will be
obeyed by my men."
More likely than another coup, or CIA-funded force invading
to "restore order" (common practice in Latin American history),
another form of outside intervention will be attempted. "Somebody has
to run the country with a tight grip," write two professors of
economics in a Financial Times article brilliantly entitled,
"Argentina cannot be trusted." The article goes on to suggest that
Argentina "must surrender its sovereignty on all financial issues,"
it must accept "...radical reform and foreign, hands-on control and
supervision of fiscal spending, money printing, and tax
administration," preferably from a "...board of foreign central
bankers," from "...small disinterested countries." To phrase it
another way, it would be like Belgian, Danish, and Swiss bankers
coming in to run the British Central Bank and Inland Revenue Service.
Despite shocking poll results saying that 47% of the
population agrees that large parts of Argentina's government should
be entrusted to international experts, there is such distrust in
banks that it seems unlikely that the arrival of more foreign bankers
will calm people's nerves. As Enrique Garcia, president of the Andean
Development Bank, said recently, "People in the streets feel that
instead of being part of the solution, the banking sector is part of
The spirit on the streets and in the assemblies is that
people can govern themselves. Another poll showed that one in three
people had attended an assembly, and that 35% say the assemblies
constitute ''a new form of political organization." The spirit of
direct democracy and self-organization has never felt as strong as it
did as we watched the assemblies unfold in the long, warm Buenos
Aires evenings. President Duhalde may say, ''It is impossible to
govern with assemblies," and believe that "the democratic way to
organize and participate is through voting," but the people of
Argentina have taught themselves through practice the real meaning of
democracy, and the vacuous words of politicians now fall on deaf ears.
One evening, after attending his local assembly, a middle
aged man who was active in the resistance against the military
dictatorship, turned to us, and said in a soft, confident voice, "In
the last month we have achieved more than we did in forty years. In
four short weeks we have given ourselves enough hope to last us
another forty years."
So a choice does exist, despite the government's blind
adherence to the demands of the IMF. Argentina can choose between
sovereignty and occupation, between the local desire of people and
the global demands of capital, between democracy and empire, between
life and money, between hope and despair.
Watch this Space
15th Feb. 2002
When we first landed in Buenos Aires, we were immediately searching
for signs of the insurrection. Would this airport feel any different
from any other? Would the streets be clogged with traffic, or with
crowds? Was the garbage still being collected and the mail delivered?
Never having been in a country in the midst of a mass social
rebellion, we wondered what would appear different in everyday life.
Riding into the city, we got our first clue. The barren
stretches of highway that link cities with airports, so similar all
over the world, are always flanked by rows of large billboards,
advertising the staples of international business - Visa cards,
mobile phones, hotels, airlines. This was true on this sterile strip
of land, but something was different.
Over half the billboards were completely bare, with huge
white spaces where adverts would have been. There was something
really beautiful about them, as they stood enormous in their
emptiness, drained of the poisonous images of consumption, yet
seductive in their nothingness, freed from commerce, and filled with
possibility. They somehow stood for the space of change that this
country is undergoing, they spoke of the pause, the blank sheet of
paper waiting to be filled; they were the space from which a society
could begin to imagine something different, the space from which
people could begin to put dreams into action.
A Post Script for the Global Anticapitalist Movement
Argentina's crisis is fast emerging as a sort of economic Rorschach
test, used by economists and theoreticians of all ideological
persuasions to prove their point," says the Financial Times.
"Opponents of the 'Washington Consensus' say Argentina's experience
shows the perils of following the recipes of the IMF. Supporters of
free markets say Argentina's experience shows the danger of not
opening up [the economy] enough."
Argentina may well prove to be the crisis which irrevocably
splits the ever-widening crack in the neoliberal armor, especially if
things continue to unravel in other parts of Latin America. Recent
events in Venezuela, and the possibility of left wing gains in this
year's Brazilian presidential elections, point to a shift away from
the "Washington Consensus" across much of the region.
The last decade has seen the increasing delegitimazation of
the neoliberal model, as a movement of movements has sprung up on
every continent, challenging the seemingly unstoppable expansion of
capital. From Chiapas to Genoa, Seattle to Porto Alegre, Bangalore to
Soweto, people have occupied the streets, taken direct action,
practiced models of self-organization, and celebrated a radical
spirit of autonomy, diversity, and interdependence. The movements
seemed unstoppable, as mass mobilizations got bigger, more diverse
populations converged, and the World Bank, WTO, IMF, and G8 were
forced to meet on mountain tops, protected by repressive regimes, or
behind fences defended by thousands of riot police. Seeing them on
the defensive, having to justify their existence, gave the movements
an extraordinary sense of hope.
By identifying the underlying global problem as capitalism,
and by developing extraordinary international networks of inspiration
in very short amounts of time, it felt almost as though history were
speeding up, that perhaps we could succeed in the next phase, the
process of imagining and constructing worlds which exist beyond greed
and competition. Then, history did what it does best, surprising us
all on September 11th when the twin towers were brought down, and it
seemed for a while that everything had changed.
Suddenly hope was replaced by the politics of despair and
fear. Demonstrations were called off, funding was pulled, and mass
backpedaling and distancing occurred within the movement itself.
Commentators immediately declared anticapitalism dead. The editor of
The Guardian wrote "since September 11th, there is no appetite for
[antiglobalization], no interest, and the issues that were
all-consuming a few months ago seem irrelevant now." Others suggested
that the movement was somehow linked to the terrorists. Clare Short,
the UK development minister, stated that the movement's demands were
very similar to those of Al-Qaida.
September the 11th forced a reappraisal among activists,
particularly in the global North. It challenged us all to take a deep
breath, put our rhetoric into practice, and think strategically, and
fast. Then three months later, history seemed to resume its
accelerated speed, when Argentina erupted, followed closely by the
collapse of Enron. It seemed that despite the blindly nationalist,
racist, and indefinite "war on terror" to distract the world,
neoliberalism was continuing to disintegrate.
Perhaps the biggest challenge the global movements face now
is to realize that the first round is over, and that the slogan first
sprayed on a building in Seattle and last seen on a burning police
van in Genoa, "We Are Winning," may actually be true. The "crisis of
legitimacy" expands exponentially almost daily. Corporations and
institutions such as the World Bank and the G8 are constantly trying
to appease the growing global uprising, with empty promises of
environmental sustainability and poverty reduction.
On May Day, 2002 a new book is being launched by academics
who lament, "Today there is an anticapitalist orthodoxy that goes
beyond a latent hostility to big business. Its a well-organized
critique of capitalism." The book argues that we must "start standing
up for capitalism" because it's "the best thing that ever happened to
the world," and that "if we want to change the world then we should
do it through business," and treat capitalism as a "hero, not a
villain." Perhaps a few hours on the streets of Argentina, or a chat
with former employees of Enron would show them the true villainy and
absurdity of capitalism.
With mainstream commentators falling over themselves to
declare that capitalism is good for us and will save the world, it
seems clear that the first round of this movement has been a victory.
There has been a "...nearly complete collapse of the prevailing
economic theory," according to economist James K. Galbraith. But the
next round will be the hardest. It will involve applying our
critiques and principles to our everyday lives; it will be a stage of
working close to home. A stage where mass conflict on the streets is
balanced (but not entirely replaced) with creating alternatives to
capitalism in our neighborhoods, our towns and cities, our
bioregions. This is exactly where Argentina can show us an inspiring
way to move forward.
The situation in Argentina contains many elements of the
anticapitalist movements: the practice of direct action,
self-management and direct democracy; the belief in the power of
diversity, decentralization, and solidarity; the convergence of
radically different social sectors; the rejection of the state,
multinational corporations, and financial institutions. Yet, what is
most incredible is that the form of the uprising arose spontaneously,
it was not imposed or suggested by activists, but rather, created by
ordinary people from the ground up, resulting in a truly popular
rebellion that is taking place every day, every week, and including
every sort of person imaginable.
Argentina has become a living laboratory of struggle, a place
where the popular politics of the future are being invented. In the
face of poverty and economic meltdown, people have found enough hope
to continue resisting, and have mustered sufficient creativity to
begin building alternatives to the despair of capitalism. The global
movements can learn much in this laboratory. In many ways it is
comparable with the social revolutions of Spain in 1936, of France in
May 1968, and more recently, in southern Mexico, with the 1994
uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) - all
rebellions which inspired, then and now, millions around the world.
It was a spirit of innovative solidarity that sparked a
transformation of the practice of politics, and led us into the first
stage of this new evolution of people's movements. The Zapatistas
sowed the seeds for creating "rebellions which listen" to local needs
and demands, and which are therefore particular to each place, and
activists from around the world responded, not only through
traditional forms of international solidarity as practiced during the
1970-80s, particularly by Central American solidarity groups, but
also through applying the spirit of Zapatismo by "listening" at home.
This network of listening that has occurred between many
different cultures has been a cornerstone for the first round of this
global movement, as it wove together its multiple differences,
forming a powerful fabric of struggle. The second round needs to
maintain these networks that nurture mutual inspiration flowing,
because no revolution can succeed without hope. But the global
anticapitalist movement also needs the reassurance of seeing its
desires and aspirations being lived on a daily basis. The Zapatista
autonomous municipalities in Chiapas are a kind of model, but are
firmly rooted in indigenous culture, are small enclaves within a
larger state, and are largely unexportable. Argentina, however, is an
entire society undergoing transformation. It is a model that is much
easier for the movements, especially those of the global North, to
imagine occurring at home.
However, the movement in Argentina is in danger of isolation;
without the security and the mutual inspiration of international
solidarity, it will suffer greatly. The mainstream press has mostly
ignored the situation since the December riots, and most people we
met felt that the world was unaware of their plight. For once, no one
was chanting "the whole world is watching," because of course, it is
in the interest of capitalism's defense team to ensure that we don't
get to watch, don't get to see what's really going on. Although many
anticapitalists worldwide have said "Thank god for Argentina," as
we've had our hopes rekindled in the dark days post 9-11, most of the
people on the streets of Argentina have no idea that they've provided
such widespread optimism.
If Chiapas was the place from which the seeds of the first
round of this movement blew, then Argentina could well be where those
seeds land, begin to sprout, and put down roots. We need to find
creative ways to support and learn from the rebellion there as we did
with the Zapatistas. Some solidarity actions have been taken - the
Argentinean embassy in London was occupied and an anarchist flag hung
out front, cacerolazos have taken place from Seattle to Sao Paolo,
Rome to Nairobi. A chant directed against the World Economic Forum
when they met in New York, proclaimed, "They are Enron, we are
Argentina!" But much more could be done, more stories could be
exchanged, actions coordinated, and visits to the laboratory
There is a joke currently circulating the Japanese banking
community, that goes: "What's the difference between Japan and
Argentina ?" "About eighteen months." These bankers well know that
the economic situation in Argentina will occur elsewhere, and that it
is inevitable that the tug of war between people's desires for a
better life and the demands of global capital will result in
explosions across the planet. A recent report by the World
Development Movement documents 77 separate incidents of civil unrest
in 23 countries, all relating to IMF protests, and all occurring in
the year 2001. From Angola to Nepal to Columbia to Turkey, the same
cracks are appearing in the neoliberal "logic," and people are
resisting. A dozen countries are poised to be the "next Argentina,"
and some of them may be a lot closer to home than we ever imagined.
We need to be prepared, not only to resist, but to find ways
to rebuild our societies when the economic crisis hits. If the
popular rebellion in Argentina succeeds, it could show the world that
people are able to live through severe economic crisis and come out
the other side, not merely having survived, but stronger, and happier
for struggling for new ways of living.
As this goes to print, the economic crisis in Argentina
continues to spiral out of control. Having succeeded in winning legal
battles against the government (setting legal precedent that
ricochets around the globe) and recovering their savings from banks,
thousands of depositors are withdrawing their money from the banking
system as fast as they can. In recent days a judge has sent a police
contingent and a locksmith to a branch of HSBC to recover a
claimant's savings, while the vault of a branch of Banco Provincia
was opened with the aid of a blowtorch. With the banking system about
to go belly up, the government decided to close all banks for an
"indefinite holiday." When the IMF refused again to loan more money
and the Argentinean congress threw out a bill that proposed
converting the frozen bank savings into IOU government bonds, the new
minister of economy resigned. In an emergency press conference,
Duhalde declared "Banks will have to open again and God knows what
will happen then. Banks cannot be closed permanently. It would be
absurd to think of a capitalist system without banks."
It may be absurd to think of a capitalist system without
banks, but it is equally absurd to believe in the continuation of the
present global system. Perhaps the most realistic thing to imagine at
the beginning of this already war-torn century, is a system free of
capitalism, one without banks, without poverty, without despair, a
system whose currency is creativity and hope, a system that rewards
cooperation rather than competition, a system that values the will of
the people over the rule of the market. One day we may look back at
the absurdity of the present and remember how the people of Argentina
inspired us to demand the impossible, and invited us to build new
worlds which spread outwards from our own neighborhoods.
John Jordan and Jennifer Whitney, May Day 2002
Argentina's own independent media centre, mostly in spanish, a great
source of information straight from the streets.
Loads of links to excellent English language news and analysis about
The Financial Times, always the best coverage of struggles in the
global South! Why? Because they affect investment ...
Argentina's English language daily paper on line. Good for up to the
John Jordan and Jennifer Whitney.
Argentina Arde and Andrew Stern.
María Eva, Martín, Ezequiel, Alejandro, Rosa, Griselda, Raphael and
many others on the streets. Annabela, Gabriel, Manuel for the flat
from heaven. Greyg for fellow travelling. Naomi and Avi for
contagious optimism. Sherry Fraser for Photo Shop wizardry.
Joane and Josephine for love and support.
For more copies contact:
For similar inspiration in print check out the forthcoming book "We
Are Everywhere: The Irresistable Rise of Global Anticapitalism"
published by Verso at the end of 2002.
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