Social protesters have returned to the streets in Argentina in the first major organized social/ political manifestation in Latin America since the quarantine measures were introduced in March (there have been numerous spontaneous mass violations of quarantine measures but these were not organized demonstrations, rather people on the verge of starvation seeking food, water and other essential items).
Mass protests had been a regular occurrence in many countries in the region during the second half of 2019 and the first months of 2020, however this ended as the quarantine measures were introduced. Chile in particular had witnessed mass protests and widespread social rebellion since October, protesting severe inequality, deprivation and political and economic exclusion. Although some mass demonstrations persisted for a while (there were some memorable videos of one protest where a substantial proportion of the participants arrived wearing protective overalls and masks as the demonstrators surged through the streets), and there have been some isolated street actions and events on a much reduced scale, the quarantine and lockdown measures effectively quashed the street protests and mass rebellion and placed all major political developments on hold.
In Colombia, social protests and demonstrations had also been steadily increasing in scale and depth as key social sectors worked intensely on strengthening strategic planning, organization and solidarity amongst historically fragmented social classes and sectors (including major trade unions, students, farmers, Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities). In this context a national strike and mass protest was held on 21 November 2019 with considerable success, with major demonstrations taking place in almost all major cities throughout the country. A follow up national strike had been convened for the 25th of March however it was cancelled as the quarantine entered into effect. All social protests were effectively terminated, occasional symbolic gestures and ‘virtual’ events among those with access to the internet notwithstanding, as communities went into survival mode.
The ‘new normal’, ironclad social, political and economic lockdown, police and military taking complete control of the streets (and occasionally shooting stragglers or those forced by necessity and/ or despair to venture outside), zero political discussion or activity of any kind, came to an abrupt end in Argentina last week as citizens manifested that their patience is at an end.
The protestors were careful to abide by measures such as wearing masks and maintaining a 2 metre distance as they met and marched, it wasn’t disputing the need for quarantine and other precautionary measures as such, rather to emphasize that many people are beginning to suffer from malnutrition and are facing the imminent risk of starvation. Although the Argentine government has been much more protest tolerant than Chile or Bolivia, for example, as elsewhere the administration of President Alberto Fernandez has found it difficult to elaborate innovative measures that go beyond the immediate demands of the entrenched networks of political, economic and bureaucratic elites and has tended to implement support measures for big business and finance before considering how to help the rest of the Argentinian people.
Hence, last Wednesday the representatives of a diverse range of social organizations, grouped together to coordinate their demands and actions in the Front of Fighting Organizations (Frente de Organizaciones en Lucha), reclaimed the streets of Buenos Aires to express their demands and dissatisfaction with many of the government’s actions. Maria Torrellas described the event:
“All the convening organizations have been coordinating the creation of communal kitchens to provide food for the most humble and disadvantaged of their people as a gesture of pure solidarity and awareness of their plight.
For them the pretty speeches and condescending words of encouragement of certain officials are of no relevance, what counts is the daily struggle for a bowl of soup or a glass of milk for their children. After uniting at a central plaza the demonstrators marched to the Ministry of Labour and finally shouted their anger outside the luxurious offices of the transnational financial giant JP Morgan (with the cry – ‘Their wealth is our poverty!’).
The march comprised men and women who, in the face of the State’s failure to meet their most urgent needs, defied their fear of the Coronavirus and went out to fight on the street for their rights… There, in the streets, duly separated by a couple of metres …, they were showing that if there are no solutions there will be struggle.
In defiance also of the CGT bureaucrats and the UIA millionaires (of the largest trade unions) who agreed to an officially sanctioned reduction in salaries, also defying the apologists who every day try to convince us that ‘we must be cautious’ and ‘not fall into provocations’, when those who provoke the most are the debt vultures of financial capital, the economic hitmen of the IMF who continue to be paid for an illegitimate debt. It is also a provocation to sign agreements with Soros and his acolytes, when what this multinational mafia structure seeks is to replace our sovereignty and dignity with never-ending servitude, frauds and deceptions…”
Among the core demands of the marchers were an immediate massive boost to the food assistance programs, no salary reductions, no more dismissals of workers, a basic universal income, and a substantial increase in support for other social programs.
Significantly, unlike in Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, or so many other countries where all social protests are routinely met by hoards of heavily armed and militarized riot police, the marchers were not challenged and the deputy Minister for Labour subsequently met with representatives from the social groups and the respective parties reached preliminary agreement on some of the demands.