from Weekly News Update on the Americas
On Aug. 22, members of Argentina’s Union of Unemployed Workers (UTD) led by “Pepino” Fernandez occupied a gas plant belonging to the companies Plus Petrol and Panamerican in General Mosconi, near the Bolivian border in the northern province of Salta, to demand real jobs, retirement benefits and the nationalization of Argentina’s oil and gas. The protesters are former employees of the YPF oil company, which was Argentina’s state oil company until it was privatized in 1991; YPF was later sold to the Spanish company Repsol in 1999. The privatization cost thousands of workers their jobs, and the laid-off workers were denied retirement benefits.
In Buenos Aires on Aug. 22, a delegation of former YPF workers exploded noise bombs at a demonstration outside the Spanish embassy. About 50 former YPF workers–including many who are sick from exposure to toxic chemicals in their former jobs–had been in the capital for two months, holding a vigil in the Plaza de Mayo and pressing demands for jobs and retirement benefits; most returned to Salta on Aug. 21 or 22, leaving the smaller delegation behind to keep up the pressure. Later on Aug. 22, the workers in Salta–frustrated that the Argentine government was still ignoring their demands–shut off the valves that supply gas to neighboring Chile. (Resumen Latinoamericano, Aug. 23, 26)
In Pico Truncado, in the southern Argentine province of Santa Cruz, about 80-100 unemployed oil workers had been camped out at a Repsol-YPF plant since Aug. 15 to demand jobs and retirement benefits. On Aug. 25, acting on a request from the company, judge Graciela Ruata de Leone ordered the protesters evicted from the site. Santa Cruz provincial police carried out the order that same day using billy clubs, rubber bullets and tear gas against the protesters; 10 people were arrested. (RL, Aug. 23, 26)
The oil workers’ protests are part of a resurgence of social conflicts in Argentina. On Aug. 25 workers at the Juan Garrahan Hospital, Argentina’s main children’s hospital, began a 48-hour strike to demand better wages. The workers are represented by a leftist union, one of three unions at the hospital; it was their 22nd strike so far this year. Piqueteros (organized unemployed people) have been holding protests and blocking traffic every week in Buenos Aires and other cities, demanding jobs and subsidies for the unemployed. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Aug. 25; RL, Aug. 23)
On Aug. 25 in Buenos Aires, police attacked dozens of piqueteros and other workers as they tried to enter an event at the Rural Society where Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna was scheduled to speak. At least 10 people were injured and 16 arrested. The next day, Aug. 26, the government deployed some 1,200 riot police agents, backed by helicopters, to block protests in Buenos Aires by thousands of piqueteros and other activists. Police kept a march which left the Plaza de Mayo from reaching the presidential palace, and prevented protesters from blockading the Pueyrredon bridge that links the city of Buenos Aires to the district of Avellanada to the south. Activists blockade the Pueyrredon bridge on the 26th day of each month to commemorate the day in June 2002 when police killed piquetero activists Maximilano Kosteki and Dario Santillan during a protest action there. (ENH, Aug. 27, Comunicado de Prensa de la Agencia de Noticias RedAccion–ANRed, Aug. 25 via RL; Joint Communique from 4 Piquetero Groups, Aug. 26 via RL)
The administration of President Nestor Kirchner blames the recent conflicts on ex-presidents Carlos Menem (1989-1999) and Eduardo Duhalde (2002-2003), claiming they are engaged in a “destabilization pact” against his government as the country prepares for legislative elections. Half the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and a third of the Senate seats are up for grabs in the Oct. 23 vote. “The destabilization pact consists of creating a certain climate of violence just before the elections, using people who not long ago were invited to Olivos manor [the presidential palace],” said Cristina Fernandez, Kirchner’s wife, who is running for a Senate seat representing Buenos Aires province. (Her main opponent in the race is Duhalde’s wife, Hilda Gonzalez.) Fernandez was referring to the fact that Duhalde had invited several piquetero leaders to Olivos during his presidency.
President Kirchner, now just over halfway through his term, is hoping the October elections will serve as a plebiscite on his administration. Argentina’s dominant Justicialist (Peronist) Party is deeply split, with Kirchner leading the center-left faction, Duhalde in the center and Menem on the right. (ENH, Aug. 23, 25, 27) Menem is running for a Senate seat representing his home province of La Rioja. (ENH, Aug. 22)
Meanwhile, three of 15 activists detained since July 16, 2004, for allegedly committing acts of violence during a protest at the Buenos Aires city legislature against a repressive municipal “anti-crime” bill have gone on hunger strike. Pablo Martin Amitrano began the strike on Aug. 23, and Cesar Gerez and Marcelo Ruiz joined the fast on Aug. 24; the three are being held at the Devoto prison in Buenos Aires. The courts recently ruled for a third time against releasing the 15 activists from jail. The only evidence against the activists comes from undercover police agents. The Madres of the Plaza de Mayo staged a 12-hour fast at the plaza on Aug. 24 to demand their release. (Adital, Aug. 25; RL, Aug. 26)
In mid-August, combined units of the Argentine National Gendarmerie–a federal police force–and provincial police surrounded and seized a squatted estate in El Soberbio, Misiones province, in northeastern Argentina near the Brazilian border. The agents fired their weapons, physically attacked men, women and children and burned the campesinos’ homes and crops. Five campesinos were arrested, including several leaders of the Agrarian Movement of Misiones (MAM) and the Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA). The attack took place during the week of Aug. 15, according to the CTA’s news agency. MAM said the attack was carried out without a warrant on orders of Misiones minister of government Miguel Angel Iturrieta; the agents also reportedly took orders from the landowner and from Ari Krusiner, secretary of the Association of Tobacco Planters of Misiones (APTM).
Salvador Torres, a MAM leader and general co-secretary of the CTA in Misiones, was among those arrested. The attack took place just hours before Torres and other MAM leaders were scheduled to meet with the director of the provincial Department of Land to discuss a possible future dialogue between the campesinos and the landholders. The MAM leaders missed the meeting because they were in jail.
Four days after the operation, the CTA and the MAM joined other social movements in a demonstration at the provincial government headquarters in Posadas to protest the complicity of the provincial government with local landowners. More than 500 campesino families in the region have been demanding titles to the lands where they have lived and worked for decades; the large landholders call them “usurpers” and are fighting them in the provincial courts. (Adital, Aug. 24)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 28
PIQUETERO LEADER FREED
On Aug. 11, the Buenos Aires Criminal Court ordered the release of Raul Castells, leader of the Independent Movement of Retirees and Unemployed (MIJD), detained since June 9 on a warrant accusing him of extortion. Castells was reportedly on hunger strike for most of his entire two-month detention, and at some point was transferred to a clinic for medical attention.
The extortion charge originated with Castells’ participation in a protest last Dec. 9 at a McDonald’s restaurant, where he and other MIJD members demanded that the US-based chain hand over 50,000 orders of hamburgers and french fries to distribute to the hungry. Castells was previously sentenced and served two years in jail for an action at a Walmart store in Avellaneda in 2000 in which he and his supporters demanded food. He was later tried again for alleged extortion in connection with the July 2004 occupation of a casino in Resistencia, Chaco province. (La Jornada, Mexico, Aug. 12; Adital, Aug. 11)
Castells is demanding that President Nestor Kirchner grant him a presidential pardon; the MIJD leader blamed his arrest on the fact that he is running for senator representing Buenos Aires, in direct competition with the current first lady, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. (Adital, Aug. 11)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 14
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #111
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution