Argentina: Mass Protests Threaten Ruling Class

LAST WEEK The Socialist described the momentous scenes of 19/20 December in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when an uprising of workers and the middle classes pushed aside the ‘State of Siege’ and drove out the hated President De la Rua, whose ‘neo-liberal’ capitalist policies had pauperised society. Mass protests are continuing as the crisis deepens. Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) member DIMITRI SILVEIRA takes up the story.

Mass Protests Threaten Ruling Class

ON 23 December Adolfo Saa was appointed President by the Legislative Assembly. A smiling Saa immediately announced a series of populist measures to be implemented by his government.

The most pronounced effect of these proposals was to create an expectation of change. The holiday period had also begun and there was a downturn in mobilisations. Everything seemed quiet and then…

28 December uprising

ONE OF the main changes that people wanted to see was the government ending the “corralito” (the restriction on cash withdrawals from bank accounts), but it announced it was going to keep it!

In addition to this unpopular announcement, Rodruguez Saa nominated Carlos Grosso – a Peronist leader – as Chief of Cabinet of the Government, who has a long list of corruption charges against him. When questioned about the suitability of his nomination, Grosso replied: “I was nominated for my intelligence not for my record.” This was too much to swallow.

On 28 December at 10pm the first echoes of the sound of banging metal could be heard as people began to go out onto the streets to begin a mass demonstration – another “cacercolazo”. At 11.30pm there were only a few of us – no more than 100 people – who began to assemble in front of the National Congress. One hour later we were thousands!

The few police who were guarding the main entrance to the Congress simply vanished. The crowd control barriers that had been used to block the steps up to the Congress were now used by us to block off the streets!

The staircase was totally taken over and with every minute that passed more and more people arrived to occupy the square in front of the Congress.

By midnight more than 15,000 voices were chanting that we should go forward to take the Casa Rosada – the Presidential Palace. The Avenida de Mayo that links the Plaza de Mayo with the Casa Rosada and the National Congress had a few people passing through it. Arriving in the Plaza de Mayo tens of thousands more were assembled in front of the Casa Rosada.

Following the brutal repression that the police carried out on 19-20 December, in which 30 people were murdered, including 13- and 14-year-olds, the order was given not to use repressive measures, for the moment, as a gigantic protest was taking place at the gates of the Casa de Govierno. The few police that guarded a part of the front of the Casa Rosada, when confronted with the people simply vanished.

At this point there was not a single policeman in the hall to the Casa Rosada, and taking it had become the easiest task in the world. The objective had not only been to take the hall but the Casa Rosada itself.

The demonstration had been peaceful. You could see young and old together. They carried the Argentinian national flag and all sang protest songs and demanded profound political change in the country.

At 2.30am the riot troops arrived and began to brutally repress the demonstration using tear gas and plastic bullets. After this battle in the Plaza de Mayo the masses decided to return to the National Congress. It was about 4am in the morning when the demonstration was finally dispersed after a series of running battles with the police and attempts to re-occupy the Plaza del Congresso.

The masses managed to do in the National Congress what they could not do in the Casa Rosada. The main door was open and some people managed to enter the National Congress while tens of thousands stood outside chanting: “They will all go”.

Sofas, curtain, pictures, bronze busts, everything they found in the National Congress was taken down the steps to a massive bonfire around which the people chanted and sang, “In Argentina – They will rob no more”.

Not much later at about 5am police re-enforcements arrived which dispersed the demonstration which had mobilised up to 50,000 people.

Political effects

IN THE middle of the night of the 28th the Chief of the Cabinet of the Government, Carlos Grosso, faced with the beginning of the uprising which was unfolding in various regions throughout the country, submitted his resignation.

By the 29th the weakened government of Rodriguez Saa began to collapse like a stack of cards. Saa made a public announcement regarding the events of the previous night and called a meeting of all provincial governors from the Peronists asking them for their co-operation in strengthening support for his government.

On the 30th only five of the 14 governors called to the meeting attended. Without the support of his own Peronists, Saa was left ‘suspended in mid air’. On the same day he announced that he could not continue as President of Argentina.

Ramon Puerta, who assumed the Presidency after Saa was also forced to resign. Eduardo Camano, President of the Chamber of Deputies, then assumed the post of President of the Republic for a few hours. He convened the Legislative Assembly to elect a new President on 1 January.

Duhalde – will he last?

ON 1 January at 2pm the Legislative Assembly began its session. The Peronists proposed Eduardo Duhalde as President with the support of the UCR (Radical Civil Union – a liberal capitalist party) and FREPASO (a centre capitalist coalition) and other smaller capitalist parties.

The ARI (Alianca por Una Republica de Iquales – a centre-left grouping) began by saying it would abstain. Following a hysterical intervention by a Peronist Senator denouncing the left the ARI decided to vote against Duhalde.

Duhalde was elected by a big majority of the assembly to govern until 2003. Opinion polls taken in Buenos Aires between 26 and 29 December indicated that if elections were to take place in March 2002; 20% would be undecided and 12% would cast a blank vote.

The highest vote for any candidate was 10.2% for Elisa Carrio of ARI.

The calling of an assembly of Deputies and Senators to elect a new president was denounced by the Left as a farce. They called a protest outside the congress in front of a protest called by some Peronists. In reality the Peronists had mobilised a layer of lumpen [reactionary] workers to wave flags and shout slogans in support of Duhalde.

A fight broke out which was reported as between left-wing militants and Peronists. The police intervened and attacked the left-wing protesters. The total protest was no bigger than 400.

At 11pm on the same day (1 January) another demonstration took place involving about 5,000 mainly young people. The main thrust of the protest was against Duhalde being elected President until 2003 and the cancellation of elections in March 2002 which had been agreed when Saa resigned.