Argentina's Popular Rebellion I (1/2)

by Tiimo Sunday, May. 05, 2002 at 9:23 PM

Que Se Vayan Todos: Argentina's Popular Rebellion. An eyewitness account of the financial meltdown and ongoing grassroots rebellion.

Que Se Vayan Todos: Argentina's Popular Rebellion.

An eyewitness account of the financial meltdown and ongoing

grassroots rebellion.

A beautiful 16 page tabloid size publication, complete with fantastic

full page images (by Argentina Arde and Andrew Stern) of the popular

rebellion in Argentina has just been produced. If you would like

copies write to - stating how many you would

like ( they are free - all you pay is postage - despatched from the


yours rebelliously

JJ and JW

sorry for cross psoting

The full text is below.

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

theVarig 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.

Economic Freefall

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 2 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

bond traders.

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 5 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 00 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

remains today.

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

street corners.

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, comparo, 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.

Converging Currents

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, food for our

children, the schools that are now disappearing, the

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 0,000 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.


stolen from ainfos

Original: Argentina's Popular Rebellion I (1/2)