Argentina Update December 21, 2001

by George Saunders


The enormous mass mobilization of workers and the poor in Argentina, driven to desperation by the crisis of the capitalist economy, forced the resignation of President De la Rua on December 20 and cancellation of the state of siege.

The government’s declaration of a state of siege had only prompted a greater mass outpouring. The rulers were forced to back down, a sign of a potentially revolutionary situation.

The mobilized working class fought to preserve its democratic rights at the same time that it asserted its right to survive, to ensure that its fundamental needs for food, clothing, and shelter be met.

The Peronist opposition party in Parliament seems poised to take over the leadership of the country. But a continued mass mobilization, in which the workers and the poor organize themselves independently in order to press their demands, is the only way to be sure that the needs of the vast majority will be addressed and acted on.

As an indication that there are organized forces for a continued mobilization and independent assertion of working-class needs, we reprint below a December 20 declaration by the organization ATTAC-Argentina.

Before that, our contributing editor Charles Walker has the following update to his informative article of December 20, “Rebellion in Argentina”:

As De la Rua fled the palace in a helicopter, he no doubt hoped that the protesters would leave the streets. But some protesters had other ideas. “We want them all out, not just De la Rua, but all of the political leaders. This is a wakeup call: we’re fed up with this country’s political class,” one said. Another told the press, “The past few days were ugly, but many more are ahead.”

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) sent a message of solidarity, but some protesters might have thought the union officials’ hopes were naïve. “We at the ICFTU fully affirm our support for the strike action carried out by our affiliated member, CGT. We hope that the government, in whatever form it may take, will finally begin to pay attention to the needs of the workers and the social costs of mismanagement.” The ICFTU also stated that while it deplores violence, “the anger of the people is a comprehensible reaction to the continued pursuit of nefarious policies.”

The editors of the New York Times (Dec. 21) gave their own ominous opinion: “Argentina will most likely have to devalue its currency and pass through even rougher economic times before it can begin a recovery.” That’s because, say many analysts, devaluing the nation’s currency means instant bankruptcy for countless Argentines and many of the biggest businesses. The Times editors also knowingly implied that if the masses spurn the prospect of “rougher economic times,” then military repression might follow. “It is a painful process, and one that can be managed only if political stability is restored and maintained, and if the army stays out of politics.”

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Declaration by ATTAC-Argentina:
“We Will Continue the Mobilization”

[The following is a slightly edited version of a statement posted on the Internet December 20, just before the resignation of Argentine President De la Rua.]

[What is ATTAC? ATTAC is a coalition of unions, farmers, and intellectuals that was started in France and now has groups in many countries — including in Argentina. It has become the most public face of the antiglobalization movement in much of Europe. (ATTAC stands for Association for the Taxation of [Financial] Transactions for the Aid of Citizens.) Founded in 1998 by Bernard Cassen and Susan George of the socialist monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, ATTAC began as a campaign for the implementation of the so-called Tobin Tax, the proposal by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Tobin to tax all speculative financial transactions.]

[For more background information on Argentina, see the web site of International Viewpoint (IV), publication of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, a worldwide organization of socialist and labor activists. Go to: http://www.3bh.org.uk/IV/ and type Argentina in the search field. IV has carried several important articles on Argentina during the past year.]

ATTAC-Argentina Declaration:

We are participating in a significant popular mobilization. The time came when the popular movement took the leadership, and the militants of ATTAC took part in the mobilizations in public places and other areas, with [people banging with sticks on pots and] pans. [The popular movement is] playing a role which cannot be delegated to others.

The people said NO to the state of siege and massively mobilized to repudiate the government's economic policy and to demand the resignation of the economic minister as well as a change in his policies of famine and misery.

The popular fight forced the resignation of [economic minister] Domingo Cavallo. Tens of thousands of people mobilized after hearing the announcement of the state of siege. There is an attitude supporting civil disobedience, asserting the democratic rights that were ridiculed by the administration of [President] De la Rúa.

We mobilized to demand major changes to intolerable social conditions, against policies which gave priority to the payment of the foreign debt over the satisfaction of needs arising from Argentina's immense poverty. There are 2.5 million people without work and 14 million poor, of whom 5 million are indigent. These were the conditions in which thousands of the hungry threw themselves into the country’s supermarkets. The repressive response of the government cost the lives of at least 7 people [now reportedly more than 20].

ATTAC-Argentina joined with these popular protests, along with other initiatives that have been developed lately, including the blocking of roads and streets, and the popular consultation [referendum] organized last weekend, in which 3 million voted in favor of a guaranteed right of employment, the establishment of a $380 monthly stipend for unemployed heads of families, and universal allowances for people younger than 18 and older than 65.

ATTAC-Argentina demands: