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Another December 20: Anniversary of an Uprising

By: 
Marie Trigona
Date Published: 
February 14, 2003

“On December 20 last year, we went out to the streets to see what was going on. After five minutes, there were 200 people, after ten minutes, 500 people. We walked together to the Plaza de Mayo. That was one of the most exciting and emotional moments of my life, to see for the first time so many people together struggling. It was very hopeful but terrifying at the same time,” remembers Irina, one year after the climax of Argentina’s economic crisis.

For two days Argentines once again reclaimed Buenos Aires’ streets singing the demand, “Que Se Vayan Todos” (All the Politicians Out!). Over 100,000 protestors marched to the Plaza de Mayo December 20 to mark the first anniversary since a popular uprising swept away the government, to celebrate a year of popular organizing, and to continue demands for social change.

Citizens and activists from piquetero groups, popular neighborhood assemblies, reoccupied factories, and human rights organizations came to denounce the government’s inability to find solutions to Argentina’s growing social problems—poverty, hunger, unemployment, and police repression.

Argentina’s crisis

Argentina’s crisis climaxed December 19 and 20, 2001, after popular protests ousted former President De la Rua. Masses of people swept the streets last year, with the slogan “Que Se Vayan Todos.” Two days of rebellion and an imposed state of siege ended with 33 deaths and 200 injured. Riots consumed the streets as citizens responded to a peso devaluation, frozen bank accounts, and IMF-imposed austerity measures.

Last year’s events have fostered massive grassroots movements. As the crisis deepens, citizens continue to organize and demand an end to economic policies following IMF’s failed development plans.

Today’s Argentina struggles with growing numbers of unemployed or underemployed—some estimates put 40% of the national population into these categories. Argentina, one of Latin America’s industrial giants is struggling to feed its population as 53% of the population lives below the poverty line. Daily, newspapers and television report children in critical condition from malnutrition. In the northern province of Tucuman, some 12 thousand children are malnourished.

The piqueteros

“For each person in this country, there are one and a half heads of cattle, yet most children here can’t afford to eat meat. The piqueteros blockade roads, bridges, and routes because we can’t permit trucks to deliver meat and milk to businesses while our children are suffering from hunger.” explains Pini, an activist with the piquetero group Movimiento Teresa RodrÌguez (MTR). Since 1997, Argentina’s unemployed picketers movement has been organizing in communities throughout the country. Skyrocketing unemployment in recent years underlies the growth of what is today the strongest popular movement in Argentina.

Piqueteros organized a five-day national march to mobilize support for the movement’s central demands for work, health, education, social change, and dignity. Actions and blockades were held in 20 of Argentina’s 24 provinces. The piqueteros marched through Buenos Aires’ streets with an overwhelmingly strong presence. Clearly, the message of the piqueteros to the overflowing Plaza was that against capitalism, corrupt government, and a refusal to be silenced.

IMF Out!

“I came to the Plaza today with a lot of anger because the politicians are controlled by the IMF. The people did not make the foreign debt—it started with the military dictatorship. We are paying the debt at the cost of children dying of hunger,” declares MarÌa de Neivaido, unemployed for 5 years.

Participants made a clear connection between Argentina’s struggle, foreign debt, and the International Monetary Fund’s economic policies. As the government continually negotiates and answers to the IMF and World Bank, the country’s poorest pay the social costs of the economic crisis with no end in sight. The IMF has been unwilling to offer a bailout loan to Argentina, and the nation has been unable to make payments on loans without using economic reserves.

As Argentina prepares for the upcoming elections in March, only two candidates have announced campaigns: former neoliberal president Carlos Menem, and Elisa CarriÛ, populist candidate from ARI (Argentina for an Equal Republic). The current president, Eduardo Duhalde, has announced that he will not run in the next year’s elections. This comes at a time when the Duhalde administration struggles against an agreement with the IMF to peg the economy to the dollar. If elected, the two candidates plan to continue with IMF’s structural adjustment policies and debt payments. Participants in the events of December 19 and 20 sent a clear message that upcoming elections aren’t a solution.

In the face of a deepening crisis, social movements are responding with alternative solutions. December 19 and 20 celebrate viable alternatives that the new movements have fostered—worker-controlled factories, neighborhood assemblies making community decisions, and piqueteros’ popular bakeries.

Protestors went to the streets not only to remember the events of last year, but also to continue a struggle against an exploitative system. December 19 and 20, 2002, is a remarkable continuation of grassroots organizing and popular rebellion. The slogan “Que Se Vayan Todos!” clearly echoes citizens’ rejection of a system that puts profit before people.

About the Author
Marie Trigona is an activist and independent journalist currently based in Argentina.