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  ZNet Commentary: Kirchnerismo










December 12, 2003


By Marie Trigona

"The [30,000] dissappeared gave their lives for this nation and it seems to us that the President [Nestor Kirchner] is aligning himself with that project, he shares our project and that of our children. We know that the President is not socialist or revolutionary, but I believe that he is doing things that others that claim they are revolutionaries don't do. We are happy and thankful," writes Hebe di Bonafini, President of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in an editorial published in October.

This editorial from historically one of Argentina's most radical human rights organizations, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo reflects a recent phenomenon plaguing national discourse, Kirchnerismo. In the six months since Nestor Kirchner took office, he has been celebrated as a progressive prototype by the media (from the far right to alternative media).

U.S. progressive media has been no exception applauding Kirchner's seemingly progressive measures and attempts to restore human rights. Most alarming is that many sectors from Argentina's "explosion in autonomous activism" has quickly forgotten what doing politics outside of traditional politics means, replacing the method of the road blockade with photo-ops and table side negotiations with the President and setting a repressive trap for those organizations rejecting state fascism and continuing to struggle.

Kirchner's administration has successfully manifested a social-democratic discourse --appearing more as Brazil's Lula or Venezuela's Chavez than his predecessor Eduardo Duhalde. In his first weeks as President, Kirchner realized a series of progressive gestures--replacing military generals, reforming Federal Police, meeting with human rights organizations, and expressing hesitance to align himself with U.S. interests in the region (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas). The media has applauded these acts, reporting that he is a man willing to negotiate with "hard line" piqueteros and having good will in respecting human rights.

Nearly everyday Argentina's national news fills with a contradictory discourse--celebrating President Nestor Kirchner's progressive act of the day while re-launching an offensive attack against the unemployed workers movement. Just this week Clarin, Argentina's largest daily published the headline, "Hardline piqueteros create chaos in the capital's center by protesters demanding more unemployment subsidies."

Radio and television talk-shows have dedicated substantial time to establish that piqueteros are lazy, extorting a salary from the government while sitting at home watching TV instead of working and that they are against work because they are impeding workers from arriving to work (meaning the middle class that drive to work in their cars).

This attack heightened October 22 after organizations (MUP 20, Frutradeyo, Tendencia Clasista) protested in front of the Government Labor Ministry to demand 3,000 unemployment plans, fresh food including meat and dairy and infrastructure support for the community kitchens. The organizations were told to come back at a later date and officials hoped to ignore demands through procrastinating meetings for negotiations.

Carlos Tomada, Labor Minister claimed that protestors stayed outside, “putting chains and locks” along police fences to block his exit from the government building until 4 a.m.. The government responded opening a criminal case against the organizations, accusing, “the illegitimate holding of freedom.” President Kirchner, has had a seemingly soft discourse in using police to control social protests but he used the action as an opportunity to take a firm stance stating, “we are not going to tolerate these type of actions.”

Kirchner has contingent plans to end unemployment by fighting “piqueterismo.” The $150 peso (about $50) monthly unemployment plans have been forever used as a way for the state to keep unemployed worker organizations in check and distinguish between the good piqueteros willing to negotiate and the hardliners who continue to block roads and demand structural changes.

Newspapers have reported that the new government’s plan to disarticulate piqueteros is to “benefit certain friendly organizations with subsidies and to isolate ideological piqueteros.” Those ideological piqueteros are those who go out and demand more than minimal subsidies, such as genuine work, free trade, transnational corporations’ accountability, and an end to poverty.

“We are worried about the piqueteros who continue to go out into the street, who block the subways, making these type of demands without realizing that another moment has arrived. The President has asked that they [the piqueteros] take on different projects. I believe that there are some piqueteros that have taken another form of struggling like ‘Pepino’ Fernández, de General Mosconi, or MTD Aníbal Verón. They are demanding justice, but without mixing requests for food and unemployment subsidies with the request for justice,” states Hebe di Bonafini in the same editorial.

What has happened that the most autonomous and radical sectors have converted themselves into progressives and accept social democracy as a solution rather than seeking social revolution? This is something that has been happening for some time since Argentina’s popular rebellion December 19 and 20, 2001 failed. One of the most notable changes is the movement’s bureaucracies’ approach to direct actions, security and negotiating with the government. Many movement leaders have adapted the discourse that it is necessary to give Kirchner time and that he is good intentioned.

Kirchner’s progressive measures have had superficial impact—overshadowing the fact that he has made no fundamental structural change, but has adopted policies that directly hurt the poor and in favor of U.S. interests. His style has been to adopt one progressive gesture for a conservative measure. While urging Congress to nullify impunity laws, he has passed laws allowing private utilities to be raised and supported U.S. troop military exercises in Argentina. One of his campaign promises was to “not pay the IMF at the cost of the nation’s poor.” In September he paid 2.9 billion dollars to the IMF while 58% of the population live below the poverty line and children continue to die of hunger.

He attacks unemployed workers organizations for politicizing and extorting unemployment subsidies, meanwhile unemployment has swelled to a historical high of over 20%. Of the Economically Active Population (EAP), there are some 2.2 million with unemployment subsidies. Only 10% of those receiving unemployment subsidies are participating in unemployed worker organizations. The rest of those with subsidies are working for political lackeys aligned with Peronism or providing the state with extremely cheap labor, unemployed working as janitors in municipal buildings and cooks in public schools for a 150 peso subsidy.

In order to appear willing to negotiate, sectors from the MTD-Anibal Veron organization (one of the most autonomous and hard unemployed worker organizations that existed) have over time abandoned tools for liberation like the road blockade and security measures like covering faces and carrying sticks. On many occasions, MTD’s bureaucracy and spokespersons have had meetings with Kirchner. Photos later appeared in newspapers with captions like, “hardliners willing to negotiate.” Rather than doing direct actions, the popular bakery has become the central act of resistance. One of the criticisms that has generated is that while organizations permanently negotiate to make immediate demands heard (food and subsidies), organizations are unable to build tools for liberation.

Meanwhile, Kichner continues to implement symbolic progressive gestures to reinforce his legitimacy and justify repression, many sectors from Argentina’s social movements have reinforced his fascist discourse disguised as progressivism. Ironically, these government and media attacks against the unemployed workers are un-discriminatory—homogenizing all piquetero organizations as the same. There are some 3,000 criminal cases open against activists.

As in any transition to social democracy, repressive forces must also make a transition from brutal force to adapting to utilizing bourgeois judicial system to limit social protests. Kirchner has adapted the soften rhetoric in response to growing protests, “no to police beatings but yes to incarceration.” These recent attacks have sprouted fear for organizations to be marked as violent. In response they have adopted self-censorship (embracing symbolic acts rather than direct actions).

During the recent FTAA actions in Miami, resistance in the U.S. was by far stronger than here in Argentina. In April, 2001 during actions against the FTAA in Buenos Aires banks were burnt and there were thousands in the streets. This past week, organizations including the MTD brought only a few hundred to Plaza de Mayo to display a symbolic “flag resisting the FTAA” and C.T.A. state syndicalist union coordinator and leftist political parties organized a popular census vote against the FTAA.

The National Government’s soft discourse against social protests does not mean that it is not willing to use brutal force. It’s a facade to buy time and build legitimacy to re-launch the use of state violence, but this time the “violent protestors” will be clearly marked and more easy to target. This past week in the southern province of Neuquen there were protests that ended with state repression. There were over 22 injured – 10 from lead bullet wounds. Pedro Alveal, 20-years old from MTD and worker of occupied ceramics factory Zanon was injured with over 64 impacts from rubber bullets. He was held for over 8 hours by police without medical attention while he was tortured. He lost his left eye.

In the face of this criticism, the good news is that protests is growing. With levels of poverty and misery continuing to swell, protest is inevitable. There are still organizations and compañeros still out in the streets using hard-line tactics. We need to be careful not to legitimate “progressive” characters like Nestor Kirchner—who represents the same government as Eduardo Duhalde, Fernando de La Rua, Carlos Menem and the military dictatorship. The same security forces are patrolling Argentina’s streets, but now they have a remodeled social democracy to justify state terrorism. Reformist measures and politics that Kirchner, Lula and Chavez promote do not benefit the working class and exploited sectors. Our purpose is not to make capitalism better, but to end with systems of exploitation.