The Guardian May 1, 2002


Argentina: neighbourhood assemblies

Argentina's economic crisis continued to deepen last week as the 
recently appointed Economy Minister resigned having failed, on a trip to 
Washington, to gain any financial relief from the International Monetary 
Fund. The resignation of the Prime Minister, Eduardo Duhalde, is also a 
possibility. Duhalde, in January, became the country's fifth Prime Minister 
in two weeks.

"A new form of political organisation"

The crisis in Argentina is yet another example of the widespread capitalist 
economic crisis, the inability of the capitalist system to find any 
acceptable solution to the situation which has created 20 percent 
unemployment and 45 per cent poverty in Argentina.

The country's problems are not being solved by the fact that Argentina has 
a multi-party electoral system either.

There is a widespread demand on the part of the working people and peasants 
of Argentina that "They Must All Go!"

One Senator declared that "There are two positions: either we take the side 
of the banks or we take the side of the people". Up to now the successive 
governments have taken the side of the banks.

The latest ploy of the government is a scheme whereby people's bank 
deposits are converted into bonds instead of cash.

The banks are facing bankruptcy. Last week the government ordered all banks 
to close until Friday (of last week).

There have been massive and daily demonstrations taking place in Buenos 
Aires and other Argentinian cities.

The question arises as to the alternative to the obvious inability of the 
"normal" capitalist prescriptions to offer any acceptable solution to the 
poverty and unemployment which are all aimed to save the capitalist system 
and the profits of the corporations.

Neighbourhood assemblies

Neighbourhood assemblies have mushroomed throughout Buenos Aires since the 
crisis broke last December.

They have organised community purchases of food at reduced prices, as well 
as establishing volunteer brigades of skilled workers who reconnect homes 
to the public service grids when their electricity, household gas, or water 
supplies are cut off for failure to pay their bills.

Other projects include community vegetable gardens and a neighbourhood bank 
in which people can put their savings in order to keep them out of the 
financial system.

Neighbourhood associations in Buenos Aires successfully pressured the 
Edesur power company to consider the possibility of a 180-day suspension of 
cut-offs due to delay in paying bills. Assemblies in other neighbourhoods 
are demanding discount electricity rates for the unemployed.

The main focus of the assemblies is usually on the crisis faced by the 
public hospitals, unemployment, and the widespread hunger and inability of 
families to buy food.

However, activists in the neighbourhood assemblies have become the target 
of violence from the traditional political parties. Municipal employees and 
sympathisers of the traditional parties  the Justice (Peronist) Party and 
the Radical Civic Union  have attempted to intimidate the more active 
members of the associations, some of whom have been beaten up.

A nurse at one hospital said she was beaten to unconsciousness by a 
stranger who had trailed her for several days. She had complained that the 
leader of her trade union did not defend the workers, due to his political 
ties.

Another neighbourhood association was attacked by around 200 men. They 
broke into one of the meetings and beat local residents with axe handles.

Telephone threats and other forms of repression have become routine for 
members of the neighbourhood assemblies.

The President of Argentina has criticised the assembly movement, saying 
that ''It is impossible to govern with assemblies. The democratic way to 
organise and participate is through voting".

But the neighbourhood assemblies are filling what is seen as a vacuum of 
power. It is this which has led people to take their problems into their 
own hands.

"We are living in a cruel system, a society for the few, and the way to 
change that is by participating in these new spaces created by the people", 
said a nurse.

"If we are able to solve some of our problems, we will create a parallel 
power. If we obtain, for example, a 50 percent discount in utility rates 
for the unemployed and for people with low incomes, we will take a leap 
forward in quality, and will have many more people participating", she 
said.

Many assembly members believe it is possible for their organisations to 
eventually take on tasks that the government is unable to carry out 
effectively.

Juan Mosca, an aeronautics industry worker, said the assemblies should 
discuss "the issues of democracy."

"That's why I brought to this inter-neighbourhood meeting the proposal to 
begin discussing who will govern tomorrow, what our political designs and 
goals will be, and how we are going to replace our leaders and our judges".

The local Hugo Haime polling firm said that of the respondents to a poll, 
35 per cent said the assemblies constituted "a new form of political 
organisation".

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