Tag Archive | "Eduardo Duhalde"

Darío Santillán: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary Guy

The story of Darío Santillán mirrors that of many victims of the economic policies of neoliberalism in Argentina. For many of those who grew up in the 1990s, the future was filled with uncertainty. Abandoned to their fate in the impoverished suburbs of the big cities, few could see light at the end of the tunnel.

However, in a decade that came to be known for its rejection of everything political and for a heightened sense of individualism, there were people who chose collective action over individual despair. Darío Santillán was one of them.

Interview with Mariano Pacheco (Photo: Natasha Ali)

Telling Darío’s Story

Darío’s story usually begins where it ends. His name entered the public conscience exactly ten years ago, on the 26th June 2002, when he was murdered by the Buenos Aires police, at the age of 21. As part of a piquetero movement, he was participating in a protest demanding better living conditions at the peak of the social and economic crisis. The protesters were ambushed by the police and in the repression that followed two of them were killed: Darío Santillán and Maximiliano Kosteki (universally known as Maxi and Darío).

Darío’s death speaks volumes about his life. Not only because he died fighting for the cause to which he was deeply devoted. But also because he showed commitment to the values he defended -solidarity, sense of community, camaraderie – until the very end. Whilst everyone else was running for their lives, Darío decided to face the lethal fire and risk his life to aid a dying Maxi.

Darío has become a symbol of social and political struggle. Always alive in the memory of his fellow activists, the tenth anniversary of his death became a timely excuse for the release of a book about his life, ‘Darío Santillán: El militante que puso el cuerpo’.

How to make the extraordinary shine through the ordinary? How to single out an individual when he fought for the values of the community? How to emphasise the heroic acts of a person when you know too well that there is no such thing as heroes, only hard workers? Those were some of the dilemmas faced by the writers.

Mariano Pacheco, one of the authors of the book, which he describes as a “political biography”, explains that one of the main premises of the book was to avoid portraying Darío as an exceptional being. “Darío’s experience happens within a collective frame, it doesn’t make sense to make him stand out or to create an exceptional figure, which he wasn’t. He did have some prominent features, like many others.”

Pacheco is more than a biographer. He was friends with Darío since they were both teenagers growing up in the lower-middle class suburbs of the Greater Buenos Aires, and he shared many of his political experiences. It was thanks to him that Darío came in contact with political activism and in 1998, at the age of 17, got involved in his school’s student union.

The Piquetero Experience

The second half of the 1990s witnessed the development of alternative ways of political organisation, the most notable of which were the piquetero movements.

Unlike the very first piquetero experiences of 1997/98 in the oil provinces of Salta and Neuquén, where many protesters had been members of the strong YPF workers’ unions, those in the province of Buenos Aires achieved what for many was impossible: to organise groups of unemployed workers without recent unionist experience. “The traditional parties, the left-wing parties, the sociologists in academia; they all said that it wasn’t possible to organise that social sector. Yet it was organised and it had much political and cultural productivity,” says Pacheco. This also meant that the Buenos Aires piqueteros did not inherit certain habits from traditional unionism, and leaned towards more horizontal organisational structures.

Book cover of ‘Darío Santillán: el militante que puso el cuerpo’

This was the type of organisation where Darío cut his teeth politically. He helped organise the unemployed workers’ movement (MTD, after its name in Spanish) in his southern suburb of Don Orione, a life-changing experience not only for him, but for everyone involved. The MTD carried out political activities, such as road blocks and negotiations with the government in order to obtain welfare funds, as well as social activities like a community wardrobe. But primarily, the MTD had an important impact in terms of social cohesion. The neighbourhood became a true community, where those who had lost their job could engage in productive activities and, above all, share their experience with people in the same situation.

Darío dedicated the last couple of years of his life to tirelessly work for the MTD. His commitment was such, that in 2001 he moved from Don Orione to the extremely precarious neighbourhood of La Fe, also in the southern Greater Buenos Aires. He swapped the relative comfort of his family apartment for a squat, and continued his political activism with the poorest of the poor.

Despite the importance that he placed on his political activities, Pacheco insists that one of the premises of the book was to show that Darío was also a regular guy with multiple interests. “We wanted to talk about his political experience,” he says, “but we didn’t just want to leave it at that. Many people see militants as robots, as guys who only care about their organisations, when there is also something much more rich, related to cultural interests, to other kinds of feelings that have to do with the life experience of a person, and we were very interested in emphasising that.”

The Avellaneda Massacre and its Aftermath

The piquetero groups became famous because of their methodology of blocking major roads in order to force negotiations with the government and obtain benefits such as welfare plans for the unemployed. However, that was only their most visible face, the most urgent of their demands, and often there was much more to them. Not only did they have an important social role in their neighbourhoods, but they also developed a political outlook.

Pacheco explains that the political side of the piqueteros was expressed through their horizontal organisational structure and, mainly, through education. Their aim was to train a new generation of activists, and to promote political education. This was an area that Darío was particularly interested in, and one that he helped develop during his time at La Fe. Whilst he had become an avid reader, especially keen on Che Guevara’s diaries, he did not think of education simply in terms of books. The MTD placed great importance in encouraging debate, and inciting people to think and speak for themselves.

Poster for the 10th Anniversary (courtesy of Frente Popular de Darìo Santillán)

By June 2002, Darío was living in La Fe. It was a politically intense period, hot on the heels of the December 2001 riots and president Fernando De la Rúa’s resignation. At this time, the MTD’s immediate concerns regarding welfare, as well as their longer-term debates on education, gave way to some very urgent political interventions. As the traditional political system disintegrated, the piqueteros were suddenly at the forefront of the political scene, together with the middle class ‘citizens’ assemblies’.

The failed blockage of the Puente Pueyrredón bridge in which Maxi and Darío were killed, was part of a massive nation-wide demonstration. The government’s reaction to it, and the threats previous to the protest, highlighted its importance.

In the short term, the murders of Maxi and Darío contributed to the demise of then-president Eduardo Duhalde’s government. But ten years later, some longer term consequences of the so-called Avellaneda massacre can also be appreciated. Pacheco sees the events of the 26th June 2002 as both an end and a beginning. On one hand, they marked the limits of the increasing political radicalisation within the popular classes, and of the use of political violence. On the other, they produced a long-lasting political change, by making it clear that repression is not a sustainable way to hold on to power. “De la Rúa left in a helicopter, Duhalde brought the election forward and Kirchner took office saying ‘I won’t suppress social protest'”, Pacheco points out.

Symbolically, it is not just Darío’s life and his death that have become icons of resistance, but also the struggle of his and Maxi’s families, friends, and political organisations to bring justice in a country where cases like this are too often left unpunished. Thanks to the tireless mobilisations and public pressure, those responsible for the deaths of Maxi and Darío were convicted for their crimes.

The posters announcing the activities to mark the tenth anniversary of the massacre, however, point out at what still is the main unresolved issue: punishment for those politically responsible for the murders.

Once again after ten years, the social organisations will meet up at the Avellaneda train station -renamed ‘Maxi and Darío station’- to demand the end of impunity for those who hold the maximum responsibility for their deaths. They will also remember the example of these two ordinary, extraordinary young people as they invoke their memory through the mantra: ¡Maxi y Darío: presentes!

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2002-2012: Kirchnerismo and the Rebuilding of the State

Eduardo Duhalde as President in 2002 (from Wikipedia)

Eduardo Duhalde was Argentina’s fifth president in the space of a fortnight when he was appointed by the Legislative Assembly on 2nd January 2002 to see through the remainder of Fernando De la Rúa’s term.

During the uprising of the 19th and 20th December, people had died while delivering a message to the country’s political leaders: “que se vayan todos” (“get out, all of you”). Yet Duhalde was no newcomer. He had played a leading role in the political scene in the 1990’s first as Carlos Menem’s vicepresident and then as the powerful governor of Buenos Aires province, the country’s most important and one of the worst affected by the policies of that decade.

It was not a promising start to the new era that was demanded by a public that had lost all faith in politics and politicians, after decades of helplessly seeing their living standards deteriorate under the yoke of the “new world order” that was imposed on them. Protests were frequent in the first few months of Duhalde’s term, as the social costs of the recession and devaluation reached their peak, but with strong party support, he survived the early transition.

However, Duhalde’s presidency -and his aspirations to run for a full term in elections scheduled for October 2003- was cut short as the worst example of the old politics soon resurfaced. On the 26th June 2002, a piquetero protest was violently suppressed and two protesters, Maximiliano Kosteki and Darío Santillán, died at the hands of the Buenos Aires police (also known as the ‘maldita policía‘), one of the most conspicuous symbols of corruption and decadence of the previous decade.

The elections were moved forward to April 2003. The five main candidates were again made up of familiar faces, including former peronist presidents Carlos Menem and Adolfo Rodríguez Saa (in office for one week in December 2001), and two dissidents from the devastated UCR party, Elisa Carrió and Ricardo López Murphy.

The fifth candidate—Duhalde’s choice—was Néstor Kirchner, a little known peronist governor from the southern province of Santa Cruz, who came second with 22% of the vote. Although he faced a run-off with Menem, the ex president, anticipating a heavy defeat, withdrew from the race leaving Kirchner to take office on the 25th May 2003. The age of kirchnerismo began, a model initially developed under Kirchner and still evolving eight years on as his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner begins her second term.

Kirchner takes charge in Congress in 2007. (from Wikipedia)

A New Era of Politics?

Few people would question the fact that the arrival of Kirchner marked a turning point in the country’s political history. But how much of the spirit of 2001 lived on in this new political scene? Is kirchnerism a direct consequence of 2001? Did they all “go away”, as demanded?

As president, Kirchner was quick to differentiate himself from his predecessors by attacking some of the more evident symbols of the “old politics”. Despite some initial doubts regarding his capacity to take the reins of the country (La Nación published an editorial comment before he took office stating: “Argentina has decided to give itself a government for a year”), the president showed his strong leadership style by confronting powerful corporations and corrupt institutions. One of his first measures was to reform the Supreme Court and to replace some of its judges -who were accused of corruption- with prestigious jurists. He also took on the military, and in 2003 Congress annulled the so-called “impunity laws” that had pardoned officers from the last dictatorship for its crimes against humanity.

At the same time, in terms of the party political system, changes were minimal. In the midst of the crisis, the demands of the mobilised masses were transmitted in the formation of the so-called “popular assemblies”, groups of residents, overwhelmingly in Buenos Aires and its surrounding suburbs, coming together to practice grass-roots politics. However, these only lasted for a few months as they were unable to institutionalise themselves and produce the policy programme and leadership necessary to survive in the long term and to aspire to obtain political power. The dominance of the traditional parties, and especially of peronism, of which kirchnerism is an offshoot, was never truly challenged.

Since 1983, Argentina has had a national two-party system dominated by the Justicialist and Radical parties (PJ and UCR, respectively). The national prevalence of these parties has never been called into question, although smaller third parties have emerged from time to time. A few of these were, and still are, confined to specific provinces and some of them have become powerful in their own districts, often winning provincial elections (the classic example is the Movimiento Popular Neuquino in the province of Neuquén). Some of them have attempted to transcend those limits and become viable options at the national level (the more succesful of these has been FREPASO who got to power in an alliance with the UCR in 1999). More recently, the centre-right PRO and Socialist party have been successful in Buenos Aires and Santa Fe respectively, but they tend to lack the territorial strength and ability to expand geographically without resorting to alliances with one of the “big two”.

Indeed, both peronism and radicalism have extensive political networks and localised grass-roots activist groups built over decades of political activity and relations of patronage, which are the base of their power. In the case of peronism, this set-up tends to strengthen the power of the governors, thus explaining the prevalence, to this day, of conservative caudillos in many provinces, which hinder the emergence of renewed leaderships.

As political scientist Andrés Malamud, one of the authors of the recently released book ‘La política en tiempos de los Kirchner‘ (‘Politics in the Kirchners’ years’, Eudeba) points out, rather than weakening this structure, the kirchnerist years have produced a “recharged two-party system”. The electoral reform introduced by President Fernández in 2009 will likely deepen this bipartisanship.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2010. (from Wikipedia)

The Memory of 2001

Political institutions are only part of the picture, however, and even though it is clear that they have not all “gone away” as the people demanded, it cannot be denied that the political culture in the last decade has simply not been the same as in previous decades.

Both in speech and in action, the Kirchners have put politics back on the agenda. The authoritative central role regained by the state, after being relegated by “the market” for too long, is a testament to this.

The neoliberal ideology that dominated in Argentina for 25 years is not only an economic policy, but a way to understand and to exercise politics. It proposes technocratic governments whose job it is to apply objectively formulated policies, leaving no room for debate and denying the conflicting nature of politics -and therefore, politics itself. The crisis of 2001 in Argentina showed that the supposed objectivity and neutrality of neoliberalism was false and that, after 25 years, there were clear winners and losers.

Kirchnerism, on the other hand, has based its political style and rhetoric around the notion of conflict. By doing this, it has recovered some traditional peronist forms of discourse, such as the building of an adversary, and an “us and them” dynamic. Much of this style borrows from the concept of “agonistic democracy”, a way of understanding democracy as an expression of dissenting points of view, whilst accepting that an absolute consensus is impossible to achieve. In this view, the main aim of the democratic system is to channel the hegemonic struggles within society -in order to avoid them being expressed through violent means- but without denying them.

Whilst some find this political style aggressive and violent, recovering the notion of conflict has given public debate a renewed vigour. Many political, economic and social debates which were unthinkable a decade ago have been put on the public agenda. These include the role of the state, the role of the corporations (economic and otherwise), minority rights, sexual, reproductive and gender issues, the role of the media, the country’s insertion in the global system, to name a few. Politics has been brought back to the centre of the stage -and that can only be good for democracy.

2001 also marked a generational change. The devastation brought about by the military dictatorship amongst the politically-engaged youth produced what is usually called “a lost generation” amongst those who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s. The social discipline imposed by economic hardship did the rest. The last decade, however, has seen the development of the generation who witnessed first hand, in 2001, the power of a mobilised society. While the continuity in the insititutional conditions means that this did not necessarily translate into the creation of new political parties, there is a new generation making its way from within the traditional political identities and through alternative social movements.

This engaged generation is arguably the most important legacy of the 2001 crisis, and a powerful constraint on the activities of the political class, as evident in the kirchnerist policy not to suppress political protests with force. In the last year, President Fernández has given a rising importance to the notion of generational change, both in her speeches and in her actions. The increasing influence of peronist youth group La Cámpora is probably the best example of how the new generations are being integrated into politics.

Traumatic events can often be cathartic and open the way to new and -sometimes- better things. They always leave traces in those who suffer them. The 2001 crisis became one of the most important events in the last few decades, in a country with an already turbulent history. We are only now beginning to see the mid-term effects of the crisis on the political system, and must not forget that deep, structural changes can take many years to manifest. Even though many negative aspects of everyday political practices have not been resolved, the capacity of the democratic system to adapt and to survive the 2001 crisis – something that would have been much less likely a few decades ago – is a good sign of maturity for a relatively young democracy.

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CFK Wins Second Consecutive Election by Record Numbers

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her vice-presidential running mate Amado Boudou, candidates for the Victory Front party, won a sweeping victory this afternoon in the presidential race with over 54% of the vote according to preliminary official figures based on 15.5% of polling stations.

Last August the team won slightly over 50% of the vote in the primary elections. Today, Fernández beat the prior record holder Raúl Alfonsín, for highest percentage of votes in a presidential election. Alfonsín, whose son was in the race today for president, won after the last military dictatorship in 1983, with 51% of the vote.

None of the candidates for the opposition in today’s race came close to achieving the votes necessary to force Fernández to a run-off election. Hermes Binner (Ample Progressive Front) came in second place with16.98% of the vote. Ricardo Alfonsín (Union for Social Development party) ended in third place with 13.21%. Alberto Rodríguez Saá (Federal Convergance party) finished fourth with 7.33%. Eduardo Duhualde (Popular Union party) came in fifth with 5.66%. Jorge Altamira (Left Front Party) won just 2.12% and Elisa Carrió (Civic Coalition party) finished in last place with 1.66% of the vote.

Governor of Buenos Aires Province Daniel Scioli beat candidate Francisco de Narvaez by more than 40 points with 57.6%. Narvaez won just 19.8%. The candidate of the Broad Progressive Front (FAP), Margarita Stolibizer, earned just 9%.

Over 29 million residents came out today to cast their ballots in the elections. Fernández will hold office until December, 2015.

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The History of Peronism (Part II)

Juan Domingo Perón's funeral - July 1974

Celina Andreassi concludes the complex history of peronism in the second part of our series. To read Part I, click here.

Juan Domingo Perón died on 1st July 1974, just as the tension between the left wing of the peronist movement -embodied in La Tendencia, the left of the Peronist Youth- and its right wing -manifest certain factions of the CGT and Minister José López Rega- reached breaking point.

In his last term, Perón wife, María Estela Martínez (aka Isabel Perón), was vice president. But Isabel was no Evita, and the death of Perón left her in a position she was unable to fulfill.

Perón had met Isabel in Panama, where she worked as an exotic dancer, in 1955, and married her six years later in Spain. She was sent to Argentina in 1965 as Perón’s delegate and during this trip she met former policeman José López Rega (aka “the warlock”) and bonded with him thanks to a shared interest in astrology and religion. López Rega moved to Spain and became the couple’s private secretary, exercising a great deal of influence on them, especially Isabel.

After Perón’s return to Argentina and the presidency, López Rega was appointed welfare minister. From this position, he surrounded himself with extreme right-wing organisations and, after Perón’s split with the peronist left, he organised the paramilitary organisation Triple A (Argentine Anti-communist Alliance) to quash the “subversives”.

It is believed that the Triple A started its operations in 1973, just before Perón took office. There is some debate regarding the role of Perón himself in the actions of the Triple A: the most commonly accepted theory is that whilst he was not personally involved in the group’s operations, he was aware of its existence and did nothing to stop them.

Is it estimated that the Triple A committed over 2,000 murders in around two years of existence. Its main targets were key leftist figures—both peronist and non-peronist—including politicians, unionists, scientists and artists. The height of its activity ocurred during Isabel Perón’s government, between 1974 and 1975, when López Rega’s influence was at its peak.

In the midst of a situation dominated by violence and terror, the government was proving to be more succesful killing its enemies than in managing the country. The international oil crisis affected Argentina’s economy, causing high inflation, a decrease in capital investments, and external debt growth. In 1975, López Rega sponsored a new Economy Minister, Celestino Rodrigo, who implemented a 100%devaluation of the currency combined with a massive increase in the prices of fuel and services such as electricity.

The plan was a disaster and was met by strong opposition from the workers. This, which coincided with in-fighting between López Rega and some sectors of the CGT, brought about the first general strike against a peronist government in history, and both Rodrigo and López Rega were forced to resign. López Rega had to leave the country and returned to Spain.

Isabel Perón and José López Rega

Isabel was now alone, and subject to pressures from all sides, whilst the political violence did not wane. She turned to the Armed Forces, naming Jorge Videla as chief of the Army and giving them free reign to carry out the fight against “subversive elements”. In this way, the illegal actions of the Triple A were legitimised and handed to the military.

The conflicts did not cease, and to avoid a military coup, Isabel Perón called for early elections to be held in late 1976. This manoeuvre did not work and another coup—the last to this date—was carried out on 24th March 1976. By this time the left wing guerrilla groups were already very weak after years of illegal repression and neither the government or the opposition were able to stop it.

Despite the fact that Argentina had been suffering from coups and military governments since 1930, no one could foresee that what happened in 1976 would become the biggest tragedy in the country’s history. Not only because of the seven years of indescribable terror that followed, but also because of its deep and long-lasting political and economic consequences, which extended well beyond the return to democracy.

The Peronist Renewal (1983-1989)

Despite the massive amount of murders, kidnappings and forced exiles during the years of the dictatorship, the faces that re-emerged in the peronist movement after the return to democracy in 1983 were the sames ones as in the mid-70’s. Isabel Perón was still the president of the party’s National Council, despite living abroad and not wanting anything to do with Argentine politics. Both the party and the unions were still divided in factions.

It is not surprising then, than after losing the 1983 elections to the radical candidate Raúl Alfonsín -the first ever loss for the peronist party in a presidential election- the situation reached a crisis point.

After many years in which the trade unions had been the backbone of the peronist movement -years during which the peronist party had been banned- the renewal that took place in the 80’s was based around the need for the political wing to take control. After a conflictive power struggle, politicians triumphed over the unionists, and a new wave of peronist leaders—more liberal, more inclined to look at the middle classes for electoral support, and more concerned about the institutionalisation of the movement emerged—took control of the national peronist movement.

One of the main figures of this renewal was La Rioja governor Carlos Menem, whom, with the support of the unionists he had contributed to displace in the first place, won the internal election in 1988 and became the presidential candidate for the Partido Justicialista (PJ).

Raúl Alfonsín hands the presidential baton to Carlos Menem in 1989

The Menem Era (1989-1999)
In 1989, the economic situation was so critical that then-president Alfonsín was forced to bring the election forward by a few months, and then, after Menem’s victory, to hand over the power six months before he was due. Alfonsín’s term had been difficult and the peronist opposition -notoriously hard to deal with, as had been demonstrated during other non-peronist governments- had been more part of the problem than the solution. The president had to endure a record fourteen general strikes led by the CGT and the blockage of important bills in Congress which the peronist would later on implement themselves whilst in government.

Menem’s image and discourse in 1989 were very different to what they would become in the 90’s. He presented himself as a populist caudillo from the countryside, who got to power by promising to carry out a “production revolution”, a “salariazo” (wage increase) and to reestablish the culture of labour. As he confessed in a interview a few years later, “had I said what I was going to do, no one would have voted for me”.

In a movement broad enough to accommodate the most extreme right and left wing factions, there were always certain underlying elements— a certain nationalist rhetoric or the importance of the worker’s movement—that could be found across the factions. Menem exploited this peronist identity during his presidential campaign, but very soon after coming to power he turned his back on the historical “three banners of peronism”: social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty.

During his ten years in government, Menem finished off—in economic terms—what the last dictatorship had started: the establishment of a neoliberal model to replace the peronist-era import substitution industrialisation, putting finance at the centre of the economy. The pillars of the new paradigm were the mass privatisation of public utilities—including strategic assets such as the energy network—, the pegging of the peso to the US dollar to curb inflation, a strong market liberalisation and a reform of the State which, in theory, would make it smaller and more efficient.

After a relatively prosperous period which lasted until about 1994 -supported by funds from selling public assets- all socio-economic indicators started to drop, and would continue to do so for almost a decade.

The overvalued peso made the Argentine industry non-competitive and unable to rival the flood of imported products To counter this, labour costs were lowered and labour laws loosened, making it easier for firms to lay-off workers. Industrial activity lost ground to financial activity, and went from representing 35% of the GDP in the early 70’s to 16% in 2001. Unemployment, a minor problem in Argentina for decades, began to rise rapidly. Foreign debt soared as the government struggled to maintain the value of the peso.

The unions were not there to protect their members. Whilst many of the more combative unionists and political activists had not survived the 70’s violence, those who did often fell victim to another major component of the model: corruption. The main CGT unionists—the so-called “fat cats”—were co-opted into defending their own economic interests and those of the employers, even as state companies were sold at bargain prices to foreign conglomerates.

At odds with the menemist faction of the movement, dissident groups abandoned the peronist party and formed new organisations, though without ever renouncing their peronist identity.

Of these new groups, the most important was the Frente Grande, led by Carlos “Chacho” Alvarez, which added a new dimension to the traditional Peronist-Radical dichotomy. The Frente Grande ended up joining the Alliance with the UCR between 1999 and 2001, when the economic troubles of the 90s came to a head.

Even within the peronist party, there was significant opposition to Menem, such as the group of Santa Cruz congress-people, led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Likewise, within the union movement there was a dissident group led by Hugo Moyano, whose unions left the official CGT and organised themselves in a new dissident faction that was against the Menem government and “fat cats”. Meanwhile, in 1991, another workers’ confederation, the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA), was created. Unlike the more traditional CGT, the CTA become more involved with social movements and allowed the unemployed to become members. In the second half of the decade, these social and piquetero (picketer) movements positioned themselves at the fore-front of the opposition.

Riots in Buenos Aires - December 2001

The Crisis (1999-2003)

After serving two terms, Menem left power in 1999. The economy was, by then, deep in recession and would erupt into crisis in two years. Radical Fernando De La Rúa was in power at the time, but the foundations of the crisis were laid by the military dictatorship and Menem’s government.

When De La Rúa resigned in December 2001, Argentina went through five presidents in a two-week period. One of them, peronist Adolfo Rodríguez Saa (whose brother Alberto is running for president in the current elections) lasted a week, which gave him enough time to default on the country’s debts but not to muster the party’s support to face the crisis.

After his resignation, peronist senator Eduardo Duhalde (who had been Menem’s vice-president and governor of Buenos Aires province in the 90’s) was appointed president by congress. It has been suggested by some journalists and politicians that Duhalde played an important role in the events that led to the resignation of both De La Rúa and Rodríguez Saa, motivated by a life-long ambition to become president.

Duhalde’s aim was to finish off De la Rúa’s term and call for elections in October 2003. He had the difficult task of ruling the country at one of its most desperate moments, with over half the population living in poverty, 25% in extreme poverty and with 20% unemployment. During his term, his economy minister Roberto Lavagna -who would remain in the job during Néstor Kirchner’s presidency, until late 2005- lay the foundations for the current economic model. Probably the most important single policy of Duhalde’s government was one of his first: the ending of the ten-year long pegging of the peso to the US dollar, which triggered a huge devaluation and opened up the possibility to reactivate industrial activity.

The 2001 crisis had an economic cause and a social reaction. After the protests that ended De La Rúa’s government, there was a state of permanent mobilisation. Social movements grew, as well as popular assemblies, and it was a time of intense social conflict. In June 2002, a piquetero protest that was blocking a bridge between the City of Buenos Aires and Avellaneda was violently suppressed by the Buenos Aires police, who killed protesters Maximiliano Kosteki and Darío Santillán. The so-called “Avellaneda massacre” had a strong political impact, forcing Duhalde to bring the election forward to April 2003 and to hand over government in May of that year.

The scandal over the death of Kosteki and Santillán also forced Duhalde to give up his hopes for a re-election, despite having control over the peronist party and a stronger position than his internal rivals Menem and the Rodríguez Saa brothers. Instead, Duhalde chose to support the relatively unknown governor of the southern province of Santa Cruz, Néstor Kirchner.

Just as in 2011, there were three peronist candidates in 2003: Kirchner, Menem and Adolfo Rodríguez Saa. The winner of the first round of the election was Carlos Menem, with 24% of the vote, followed by Néstor Kirchner with 22%. A run-off was scheduled to take place three weeks later, however Menem—aware of his weak support and probably in an attempt to weaken the next government—withdrew from the election, leaving Kirchner to take office on 25th May 2003.

Kirchnerism (2003-2011)

A decade of neoliberalism produced profound changes, not only economic, but also social, political and cultural. The intense political activism that had dominated Argentine life for decades, and that received its hardest blow during the last dictatorship, gave way to years of apathy and individualism, exacerbated by the break-up of traditional community ties brought about by unemployment and social exclusion.

Though the kirchnerist governments have so far left many pillars of the neo-liberal economic model untouched, in the last eight years there has been an undeniable cultural and symbolic change, which seeks to restore the activist spirit of the 70’s. Politics and debate have once again become means to resolve social conflict. In this context, there has also been a revitalisation of the debate about peronism and its historical role, with certain long-forgotten words brought back to every-day conversation.

The good relationship between Néstor Kirchner and Eduardo Duhalde did not last long. As Kirchner started to act with more autonomy and their political differences became obvious, the struggle to control the party intensified. In the 2005 legislative election the split was official and each leader presented its own peronist ballot—Duhalde kept the official Partido Justicialista banner, whilst Kirchner ran under the Frente para la Victoria (FPV). The FPV won the election and with it the control of the party, especially in the crucial Buenos Aires province, the most populous district in the country and a traditional peronist stronghold. Duhalde was then forced to leave the “official” peronist party and join the ranks of the dissident Peronismo Federal, led by Alberto Rodríguez Saa.

Néstor Kirchner and President Fernández in 2008 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

After a crushing victory for the FPV and its allies (which included non-peronists, like Radical vicepresident Julio Cobos) in the presidential elections of 2007, when Cristina Fernández de Kirchner succeeded her husband, Néstor Kirchner strengthened his grip over the PJ.

This, however, was short-lived, as the campo crisis of 2008 caused a massive exodus of government supporters. The FPV performed very poorly in the 2009 legislative elections and even lost to dissident peronist Francisco de Narváez in Buenos Aires province.

2009 was a good year for the opposition, and especially for the dissident peronists, who can be considered the right wing of today’s peronist party. By 2010, with this year’s presidential elections on the public agenda, a struggle began between dissident peronists looking to position themselves as candidates.

In the end, there were two pre-candidates left: Eduardo Duhalde and Alberto Rodríguez Saa, the incumbent governor of San Luis. Internal elections were scheduled to decide on one candidate, but after voting in two provinces, these were cancelled amidst crossed accusations of fraud, and both candidates decided to run separately. Duhalde, who is supported by a dissident CGT group called CGT Celeste y Blanca—opposed to Hugo Moyano’s official, kirchnerist CGT and led by the “fat cats” associated with the Menem years—performed slightly better in the primary elections in August 2011, though current polls indicate that Rodríguez Saa could obtain more votes in the October elections.

Meanwhile, the government’s image had started to improve in 2010. The death of Néstor Kirchner in October 2010 only accelerated this process. The landslide victory of Cristina Kirchner in the August 2011 primaries and the weakening of the dissident groups has opened up a new chapter in the history of peronism. As Néstor Kirchner has already been placed by his followers next to Perón and Evita on the peronist pantheon, some see kirchnerism as the final evolution of the movement.

However, history has showed that peronism is an ever-changing, contradictory political movement whose very nature lies in its capacity to adapt to the political and social environment. Even after 66 years, any attempt to provide a neat definition of peronism is doomed to fail.

Posted in Analysis, TOP STORYComments (4)

Countdown to October: The Presidential Candidates

Argentina’s first primary elections took place last Sunday, selecting the candidates that will represent their respective parties in the presidential elections on 23rd October. Incumbent President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took a clear lead with 50.06% of the votes – 38 points ahead of her nearest rival. After winning in every province except San Luis, President Fernández looks set to win another term in office.

The battle for second place resulted in a tie between Ricardo Alfonsín and Eduardo Duhalde, who both reached 12% of the votes. The governor of Santa Fe, socialist Hermes Binner, was fourth with an impressive 10% in his party’s first presidential campaign. Further back, Alberto Rodriguez Saá – who triumphed in San Luis – Elisa Carrió, and Jorge Altamira also crossed the 1.5% threshold, and are official candidates for the national election.

The primary election had a remarkably high voter turnout, with 77% participation. The elections took place without major incident, although there were claims of ballot theft in several key districts such as the capital and greater Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Santa Fe.

With the presidential ballot now just over two months away, The Argentina Independent gives you a run down of the seven successful candidates and their parties.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and running mate Amado Boudou arrive on stage to the cheers of the crowd at the Hotel Intercontinental 14th August 2011 during the presidential primary. (Caitlin M. Kelly/Argentina Elections)

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Frente para la Victoria) – 50.06% (of the vote in the primaries)

Cristina Elizabet Fernández de Kirchner, born 19th February 1953, is the incumbent president of Argentina. She announced her candidacy for re-election at the Casa Rosada in June 2011.

President Fernández was a Senator for Buenos Aires Province prior to taking office in 2007, representing the ruling ‘Frente para la Victoria’ (FPV), after winning the general election with 45.3% of the vote. She is Argentina’s first elected female president, and the wife of former president of Argentina, Néstor Kirchner.

The FPV is a social democratic faction of the Peronist party, founded in 2003, when Néstor Kirchner ran for president. After eight years in power, the party’s policy approach is commonly referred to as kirchnerismo.

President Fernández announced that during a second term she intends to deepen the kirchnerismo ‘model’, which is based on the principles of defending human rights and redistributing wealth.

Whilst in government, the Kirchners have focused on bringing to justice those who committed crimes against humanity during the last dictatorship (1976-83). In the wake of the 2001 economic crisis, the FPV declared itself against neoliberal policies and rejected free-trade agreements in order strengthen relations with other leftist countries in Latin America, such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Bolivia. Though President Fernández’ political orientation is considered centre-left, she recently announced that she will remain supportive of the illegality of abortion in Argentina.

In a difficult first term for President Fernández the main flashpoints were the reform of the media law in 2009 and the campo crisis of 2008. A new version of the country’s media law was sanctioned in 2009, aiming to break up the oligopolies that have long existed in the Argentine media industry. However, the bill was slammed by some media groups as an attempt to silence voices critical of the government. Various media organisations started opposing the government during the so-called ‘campo crisis’ of 2008. The president introduced a new sliding-scale taxation system for agricultural exports, especially soy. This was rejected by farming associations, who went on strike and blocked national highways for months, until the measure was eventually rejected by Vice President Julio Cobos – a Radical – in the Senate.

This time, President Fernández has selected close ally, and economy minister, Amado Boudou, as her running mate.

Ricardo Alfonsín (Unión para el Desarrollo Social) – 12.17%

Bunker UDESO Ricardo Alfonsín and González Fraga (By Santiago Trusso)

Bunker UDESO Ricardo Alfonsín and González Fraga (By Santiago Trusso)

Ricardo Luis Alfonsín, born 2nd November 1951, is the presidential candidate of the ‘Unión Cívica Radical‘ (UCR). Alfonsín is an Argentine lawyer, academic and politician. He is the son of former president Raúl Alfonsín, who held office from 1983 to 1989.

The ‘Unión para el Desarrollo Social’ is a new alliance within the UCR, which Alfonsín will lead during the presidential elections. Founded in 1891, the UCR is the oldest political party active in Argentina.

For the presidential elections, Alfonsín made a surprising alliance with conservative Peronist and ex-rival Francisco de Narváez of the ‘Union Celeste y Blanco’. De Narváez, currently a national deputy for Buenos Aires Province, had previously aligned himself with the centre-right and conservative mayor of Buenos Aires City, Maurico Macri.

Alfonsín, meanwhile, initially planned to align himself with a socialist partner, to create a national progressive front. Moreover, during the 2009 legislative election, a key feature of Alfonsín’s campaign was his confrontation with De Narváez. For the elections in October, however, they have developed a common platform and united their list of candidates.

Alfonsín’s policy platform focuses on eradicating poverty, reducing inflation, promoting education and sustainable development, and tackling crime. Broad proposals include the reduction of inflation to less than 10% within three years, without negatively affecting economic activity, as well as guaranteeing a minimum level of welfare for children and adolescents, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and retirees.

Eduardo Duhalde (Frente Popular) – 12.16%

Eduardo Duhalde (By Santiago Trusso)

Eduardo Duhalde (By Santiago Trusso)

Eduardo Alberto Duhalde, born 5th October 1941, is the candidate for the federal Peronist party ‘Frente Popular’. He was president of Argentina from January 2002 to May 2003, appointed by Congress as a consequence of the chaos caused by the economic crisis in 2001-02. His first major decision was to exit the currency peg with the US dollar, leading to a sharp devaluation of the peso. After overseeing a turbulent period, he called early elections in 2003, which were won by Néstor Kirchner.

The ‘Frente Popular’ is related to the ‘Unión Popular’, founded in 1955 by Juan Atilio Bramuglia, Minister of Foreign Affairs during the administration of Juan Domingo Perón. Its original purpose was to serve as an alternative to the Peronist party, which was banned after a military coup had forced Perón into exile.

Duhalde’s 2011 campaign emphasises security issues and the establishment of federalism. It calls for the restoration of authority and peace, construction of modern progressivism, crime and drug prevention, compliance with human rights, and the creation of an ownership society based on the principles of personal responsibility, economic liberty, and the owning of property.

Duhalde’s candidate for the vice presidency is Mario Das Neves, the outspoken governor of Chubut province who has been harsh in his criticism of the Kirchners in recent years.

Hermes Binner (Frente Amplio Progresista) – 10.27%

Hermes Juan Binner, born 5th June 1943, is an Argentine medical doctor and politician. In 2007, he was elected the first socialist governor in the history of Argentina, in the province of Santa Fe.

Hermes Binner (by Santiago Trusso)

Hermes Binner (by Santiago Trusso)

His presidential candidacy is represented by the ‘Frente Amplio Progresista’ party, which was founded and first introduced in June 2011. Several groups of the “democratic left” of Argentina belong to the ‘Frente’: Partido Socialista, Generación para un Encuentro Nacional, Movimiento Libres del Sur and Corriente Nacional por la Unidad Popular, among others.

Binner’s campaign focuses on social issues, such a health, education, employment, housing and climate change. His proposals include the integration of the entire production process of Argentina’s prime materials to increase employment, the promise of a dignified income for all retirees, and more long-term thinking into the country’s environmental policies.

Binner has also pledged to reduce the discrepancies in public education and healthcare found across different provinces. He furthermore encourages the acquisition of social housing via low tax rates and direct loans.

Alberto José Rodríguez Saá (Frente Compromiso Federal) – 8.17%

Alberto Rodríguez Saá (Courtesy of Facebook Campaign)

Alberto Rodríguez Saá (Courtesy of Facebook Campaign)

Alberto José Rodriguez Saá, born 21st August 1949, is the candidate of the ‘Frente Compromiso Federal’ party for the presidential elections. Saá is an Argentine lawyer and politician. In 2003 he was elected as governor of San Luis province, where he remains popular today.

The main thrust of Saá’s electoral campaign is to apply the “San Luis model” nationwide. San Luis has one of Argentina’s most stable and strong economies, with continuous full employment since 2003 and comparably low poverty rates.

The ‘Frente Compromiso Federal’ is a new coalition formed by Saá. He united the liberal ‘Peronismo Federal’ party with the Partido Demócrata, Partido Verde, Partido Política Abierta para la Integridad Social (PAIS) and others.

Saá’s political proposal focuses on the development of a social state with a free and competitive economy. Active policies in infrastructure are planned that favour a strong economy with high wages and full employment. He promised to increase government spending in the education and health sector.

Furthermore, the proposal suggests a drastic alteration of the current taxation system, with a lower VAT and a looser taxation scheme for the farming industry. Noting that San Luis has almost 40% of Argentina’s highways in its province, Saá has promised to invest heavily in the construction of highways and harbours nationwide to support economic activity.

Though the model of San Luis is considered a success, critics question the applicability of the very liberal model at a national level.

Elisa Carrió (Courtesy of Elecciones Elisa Carrió page on Facebook)

Elisa Carrió (Courtesy of Elecciones Elisa Carrió page on Facebook)

Elisa Carrió (Coalición Cívica) – 3.24%

Elisa María Avelina Carrió, born 26th December 1956, is an Argentine politician and founder and head of the executive board of the ‘Coalición Cívica’.

Carrió was deputy for the province of Chaco from 1995-99 and was re-elected for a second term from 1999-2003. As candidate of the newly created ‘Coalición Cívica ARI’, Carrió was the first female presidential candidate in 2003. In October 2005, she was elected to Congress as National Deputy for the City of Buenos Aires.

The ‘Coalición Cívica’ is part of the ‘Coalición Cívica ARI’, founded in 2002. It includes parties from different ideologies, such as the Unión por Todos (UpT), el movimiento FORJA, and el movimiento Radicales en la Coalición.

The main principles advertised by the ‘Coalición Cívica’ are ethics and income distribution. The campaign emphasises the fight against bureaucracy and corruption, and promotes absolute transparency in government. Other policy proposals discuss general national concerns, such as education, health and employment.

However, the campaign lacked concrete ideas, and after finishing second in the 2007 presidential election, this primaries result was a huge blow for Carrió and the party.

Jorge Altamira (Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores) – 2.48%

69-year-old José Saúl Wermus, better known as Jorge Altamira, is an Argentine politician and candidate of the left-wing labour party ‘Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores’.

Jorge Altamira (Courtesy of Jorge Altamira Presidente 2011 Facebook Campaign)

Jorge Altamira (Courtesy of Jorge Altamira Presidente 2011 Facebook Campaign)

As founding member and prominent leader of the Labour Party, Altamira has run for president of the nation and national deputy several times. He was elected legislator of the City of Buenos Aires from 2000-04.

The ‘Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores‘ is an electoral alliance formed by the Partido Obrero, the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas, the Izquierda Socialista, and other minor leftist parties.

Altamira’s political manifesto focuses on concrete issues within the social, human rights and economic fields: it suggests a minimum wage of $5,000 and continuous skill enhancement by employers to end unemployment. It focuses on nationalisation of the industry and proposes non-payment of the external debt. With respect to human rights, it explicitly calls for the punishment of the perpetrators that were involved in the killing of 23-year-old activist Mariano Ferreyra in October 2010. The proposal furthermore suggests the expulsion of imperialism from all countries and supports the establishment of a socialist union in Latin America.

His running mate for the presidential elections will be Christian Castillo, university lecturer and leader of the Socialist Workers Party.

Posted in News From Argentina, TOP STORYComments (0)

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