Argentina’s “Picketer” Movement:
At the Service of a Global Socialist-anarchist Revolution?
In our coverage of leftism in Latin America, we thought it would be interesting to report on what is happening in Argentina where a leftist movement similar to Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) is growing. Presently Argentines live in a permanent state of tension, as chaos seems to be getting the upper hand in the country.
To assess the situation objectively, a comprehensive knowledge of Argentina’s so-called picketer movement is needed.
There is growing discontent with the action of “picketers,” small decentralized groups of protesters who picket and obstruct movement. Observers are labeling the situation as potentially “explosive” since authorities can no longer maintain public order and guarantee the free movement of people and goods. To make matters worse, the movement is largely financed by “social programs” generously provided by the government with taxpayer money.
The picketer movement does not limit itself to demanding jobs, subsidies, food or housing. They also adopt telltale Marxist themes such as protests against “imperialism,” “the Free Trade Area of the Americas,” the “war in Iraq,” “the Israeli aggression of Palestine” and “globalization.”
If the “picketer” movement attains its goals, its notoriously revolutionary action will strongly contribute to substantially changing the socio-economic system based on private property. It will also change Argentine culture, values and sentiments, gravely jeopardizing the nation’s security and possibly plunging the nation once again into civil strife.
Argentines presently live in a permanent state of tension, as chaos seems to be getting the upper hand in the country. Successive though awkward attempts at political stability have failed; basic human rights such as private property and freedom of movement are no longer guaranteed; legislation is being passed that runs contrary to party platforms. There is no coherent long-term economic plan. There is a staggering increase in crime, especially kidnappings, murder and armed robbery.
To objectively assess the situation, a comprehensive knowledge of Argentina’s so-called picketer movement is needed.
Opinion polls show a growing discontent with the action of “picketers,” small decentralized groups of protesters who picket and obstruct movement. Observers even label the situation as potentially “explosive.”
This is explicable since authorities can no longer maintain public order and guarantee the free movement of people and goods in Argentine territory as required by the Constitution. To make matters worse, the movement is largely financed by “social programs” generously provided by the government with taxpayer money.
The public is usually presented with a false dilemma: Either suppress the movement with brutal and bloody repression or learn to live with disorder, lawlessness and crime to the detriment of the legitimate rights of peaceful, honest and hard-working citizens.
Who makes up the picketer movement? Are they jobless people looking for work, food, and a roof over their heads?
Both the facts and available documentation show the movement is made up of those who are using poverty and joblessness as pretexts to mobilize revolutionary forces and leftist parties with important international connections. Having failed in the polls, the left uses the movement to install chaos and permanent class struggle, and incite hatred against private property and any form of authority.
Buenos Aires Under Siege
Today Buenos Aires is virtually under siege. Coming, going or circulating throughout the city has become an almost daily martyrdom for hundreds of thousands of people.
From 1997 to December 2, 2003, there were no fewer than 5823 roadblocks. In 2003 alone there were over 1383 roadblocks all over the country.
The picketer movement does not limit itself to demanding jobs, subsidies, food or housing. They blockade and protest over the most varied subjects.
One day they will ask for more subsidies, housing and food for jobless “heads of households.” The next day, they will protest against “neo-liberalism,” the IMF, foreign debt, police repression or amnesty for imprisoned picketers.
The picketers have adopted telltale Marxist themes that identify them with the international left when they protest against “imperialism,” “the Free Trade Area of the Americas,” the “war in Iraq,” “the Israeli aggression of Palestine,” and “globalization.”
They also identify themselves with the struggle against “the genocide of indigenous peoples” allegedly carried out by Spain when it evangelized America or when the Argentine Army fought native Indians in the Conquest of the Desert campaign in the late nineteenth century. In more modern times, they include the military’s war against urban guerrillas in the sixties, the “disappeared ones,” and the “Falklands War.”
A Quasi-military Organization
Numerous reports on the movement show the picketers acting with a quasi-military capacity of mobilization. They are skilled at employing sophisticated psychological tactics to mobilize and get media attention. They are connected and affiliated on a national and international level with recognized Marxist organizations in Argentina, who seek to radically replace the nation’s socioeconomic structure with a neo-socialist model not unlike those promoted by Castro’s Cuba, Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
This revolutionary movement has turned to direct action in the streets because of its notorious failure to attain political status through the popular vote. In the 2003 elections, parties linked to the movement won only .61% of the vote in the Province of Buenos Aires and .25% all over the country.
A Criminal Record
The “picketer” movement has been involved in ever-growing violence which has targeted shops and offices, cars and buses, traffic signs, ATM machines, telephone booths, and newspaper stands. It has carried out lootings, charged tolls in roads and bridges, and stolen belongings from citizens trapped in its demonstrations, roadblocks, and takeovers of train and subway stations.
Such protests are largely concentrated in the city and province of Buenos Aires, but also occur in the oil and mineral rich provinces of Jujuy, Salta and Neuquen.
On the pretext of maintaining “order,” participants in “picketer” marches are surrounded by people carrying large wood sticks, rubber-covered metal pipes or sand-filled garden hoses. They also have “Molotov cocktails” and stones in their backpacks ready to throw against street shops and the police. Some also carry primitive and illegal shotguns capable of spewing out large caliber munitions. There are also some cases where even pistols and rifles were reported. They have developed tactics to confront the police.
In the city of General Mosconi (Salta) about thirty hooded picketers broke into a home and climbed on the veranda to “get a better shot” at the police. “The picketers shouted with joy when a policeman would fall,” one of the witnesses said.
Like other terrorist and subversive organizations around the world, the picketer activists usually wear hoods in the streets.
A Vast International Network
While many countries groaned under the Communist yoke in the 60’s and 70’s, an important part of the international left supported guerrilla movements to overthrow non-communist governments, particularly in Latin America. Everyone in Argentina is well aware of the government’s struggle against the guerrilla movement then. The scars of that protracted fight are still felt to this day.
Like Soviet state socialism, the guerrilla movement failed. International left changed strategy and now presents other types of radical socialism: so-called direct democracy or workers’ self-management which seek to rehabilitate old anarchist theories.
In Latin America, those who follow this new-fangled socialism have been energized by what are called “social movements.” They join other anti-globalist groups who, manipulating real or imagined injustices, wage war against a vaguely defined “neo-liberalism.”
Leftists worldwide have united at the World Social Forums held in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre and other Social Forums held elsewhere. Argentina’s picketer movement and leftist parties actively participate in these forums, along with prominent figures of liberation theology from other countries.
What is really emerging from beneath the anti-globalization rhetoric is a kind of Rebel International, waging an insidious combat against private property, free enterprise, and the powers of the state in order to transform society into an association of small self-managing groups.
This “neo-socialism,” furthermore, creates a new “proletariat” of “world citizens” which resist the “alienations” of the dominant global culture. This new class struggle includes defending the pseudo rights of “sexual minorities,” encouraging “alternative” lifestyles, legalization of drugs, feminism, same-sex “marriage,” and all those who supposedly suffer from “social exclusion.”
Despite its multifaceted demands, those waging this “planetary social warfare” are organized and motivated. Much like Al-Qaida in the strategic-tactic field of international terrorism, this revolutionary movement is organized into similar decentralized networks. It employs “horizontal organization” which replaces the “vertical-pyramidal” organization of old revolutionary structures.
Its leaders believe that to be effective in this struggle, they can break the law. Thus, illegal actions of “symbolic” violence are acceptable.
The picketers’ goals, claims and methods in Argentina correspond to those in this international network.
During her stay in Buenos Aires in the summer of 2002, Canadian journalist and World Social Forum activist Noami Klein stated: “I believe the picketer phenomenon is enormously significant here, and, potentially, abroad. We have seen similar, smaller movements organize the marginalized and I believe this represents the future of activism.”
Considering their background, it is no wonder these neo-anarchist Argentine leftists take a special liking for the regimes of Brazil’s President Lula da Silva and the “Landless” workers movement, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and his “Bolivarian Groups,” and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
Argentine picketer leader Luis D’Elía, who represents the “moderate” and “dialoguing” wing of the movement, publicly defends the government of President Kirchner. However, he qualifies his support by putting it in an ideological context: “We support the regional bloc that is being formed by Kirchner, Fidel, Lula and Chavez. Any measure of ours must be taken within this context.”
Isabel Rauber, another picketer supporter, makes clear that the picketers’ goal is revolutionary, internationalist, and Communist-anarchist: “Seattle, Porto Alegre, Genoa, Quebec, Buenos Aires, Florence, Quito, are part of a same picket: the global picket” (Isabel Rauber, “Piquetes y piqueteros en la Argentina de la crisis – Cerrar el paso abriendo caminos,” 2002, www.lavaca.org)
Caught in the false dilemma of “bloody repression versus “silk gloves,” Argentine authorities have failed to find an adequate solution to reestablish the rule of law, peace and order in the country.
The government systematically fails to act on the pretext that eventually the “moderate” and “dialoguing” wings of the picketer movement will prevail upon the “violent” wing and resolve the situation.
Such a stand is all the more surprising since the whole country is clamoring for a solution and the present administration came to power promising to use a “K-style,” a can-do attitude that supposedly knows no obstacles or difficulties.
Such an attitude of inaction is perplexing since the government has all the necessary legal tools to reestablish order and set the country once again on the road to economic progress. A well-known tax official from the city of La Plata recently said: “Crime in Argentina should not be negotiated but repressed with the Penal Code and other pertinent laws” (La Nación, 12-2-03).
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The sequence of recent developments in Argentina is strikingly similar to revolutionary processes in other countries.
If the “picketer” movement attains its goals, its notoriously revolutionary action will strongly contribute to substantially changing the socio-economic system based on private property. It will also change Argentine culture, values and sentiments, gravely jeopardizing the nation’s security and possibly plunging the nation once again into civil strife to avert the implantation of a socialist utopia without classes or private property.
The above report is based on a December 2003 study titled “Entre argentinos-Diálogo Directo: “Piqueteros, ¿cuestión social auténtica o revolución anarco-socialista global” by the groups Reconquista and Defensa de los Ideales que Nunca Mueren, in Buenos Aires.