Kirchner under pressure

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

With 60% of the population living below the poverty line, the intense squeeze on the poor and lower middle classes in Argentina leaves little room for manoeuvre by new President Kirchner who is attempting to regroup the Argentinean bourgeoisie. Since May he has sought favour with the US ruling class by releasing evidence on anti-Zionist bombings in August 1994 which killed 86 Argentineans. At the same time he has removed 58 generals in order to weaken US ‘coup capacity’. He then raised domestic support by revoking the 1986/7 laws granting immunity to 1,100 military and police for kidnap, torture, murder and other crimes committed during the dictatorship.

This follows years of determined campaigns by families, democratic and human rights workers, recently including ‘escraches’: demonstrating outside and painting the houses and cars of these freed criminals. To clean up the image of the establishment Kirchner promised to clear out corrupt judges.

Since the 1930s, the military and political establishment have acted with impunity. Now ex-dictator Videla, freed in 1990 by President Menem from a life imprisonment sentence imposed in 1985 (for 66 murders, 306 kidnaps, 93 tortures and 26 counts of theft), is under arrest for theft of babies born in his concentration camps after the 1976 coup. Trials of other such criminals will now be held in Argentina, thus preventing extradition and trials abroad, for example in Spain (so suiting both governments).

After weeks of publicly berating the IMF for lending money to his predecessors, on 9 September Kirchner refused to make a $2.9bn payment to the IMF, forcing the IMF to renegotiate a $21bn debt refinancing deal with various lenders, including itself. The IMF (supported by the European Union) has dropped its demands that privatised utilities must be paid an astonishing $20bn ‘compensation’ for the government’s refusal to allow tariffs to rise after the peso devaluation, and that the banks should be similarly compensated for devaluation losses. Spanish Telefonica alone demanded $3.8bn. These demands showed absolutely clearly who the IMF works for.

The IMF has seen the limits to the Argentinean state’s ability to squeeze the poor and middle classes, and has heeded Kirchner’s advice. At the end of September Kirchner demanded a 75% write down of the $87bn in private debts defaulted upon in 2001. But even this would still leave public debt at 90% of gross domestic product. The unemployed militants and trade unions have agreed to give Kirchner some months to implement his miserable $3bn public works projects and further define his social policies. He has to negotiate such concessions through opportunists in the trade unions if he is to prevent further and, for the government, potentially disastrous unrest amongst the workers and middle classes.

Constant pressure by foreign investors, for example Spain’s Repsol-YPF (vital for the petroleum and gas extraction industries), and Endesa, for guarantees of security for their capital in Argentina determines the behaviour of Argentinean leaders. The multi-national construction company Dragados has threatened to move its investments to Brazil and Mexico if ‘economic reforms’ are not made.

Much has been learned by workers’ organisation in the last five years through insurrection, rebellion, factory occupations, strikes and blockades. Kirchner now has to stop these lessons being used to form a new coherent political opposition. He has been able to rely on the system of hand-outs to the poor using the municipal governments usually run by his party allies the Peronists, alongside the usual legal and police actions against the organisations of the poor. He will hope to see the complete collapse of the recent pickets’ movements, as happened with the earliest, founding pickets. These were Tanto Cutral-Co of 1996 and Tartagal from 1997, which were dissolved when the Menem government provided sufficient funds to create employment schemes.

Alvaro Michaels


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