Que se Vayan Todos

Predicting the Unpredictable

The repudiation of the politicians and the economic elites is complete," says José Luis Coraggio, the rector of a university in Buenos Aires who is active in the movement. "None of them who are recognized can walk the streets without being insulted or spat upon. It is impossible to predict what will happen. Next month, or next week, Duhalde could be deposed, we could be in a state of chaos, or we could be building a new country that breaks with neoliberal and capitalist orthodoxy."

Breaking with capitalist orthodoxy is what the IMF and the supporters of global capitalism most fear. Last year Fidel Castro caused a diplomatic storm when he accused Argentina of "licking the Yankee boot." Currently that boot is held over Argentina's face and will undoubtedly start kicking if the government does not find a way to please the demands of global capital, and get back to the business of licking again.

However, the government is between a rock and a hard place - even if it had an iota of legitimacy within Argentinean society, which it clearly doesn't, it could not possibly please both the hopes of the citizens and the demands of capital as enforced by the IMF. So what can it do?

Traditional remedies seem worthless, as the country's currency is steadily plummeting in value on the foreign exchange markets. People are queuing outside money changing shops for hours, desperate to change their pesos into dollars, before their cash becomes worthless. The government, in yet another desperate attempt to appear in control, put restrictions on the exchange rate, but this further infuriated the IMF because it is another artificial control of the markets. In response, Doug Smith, a Wall Street analyst, said, "The only thing that's going to stop this is for them to come up with some announcements that are credible and get the IMF behind them instead of trying to put Band-Aids on every situation." Yet there are no credible announcements to be made, and the wounds are too deep for Band-Aids.

A certain kind of language has become common currency recently. The head of the IMF, Horst Koehler, has declared that "... without pain, [Argentina] won't get out of this crisis." President Bush called on Argentina to make some "tough calls" before even thinking of the much-desired financial aid, and President Duhalde himself said that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

Is this tough talk laying the groundwork for a military coup? After all, Argentina has had its fair share of these over the last century. But given the residual illegitimacy of the military, stemming from the decades of dictatorships, it seems that this option is unlikely, and besides, no one wants to take power and inherit the current situation, not even the military. In fact, it seems that there may be dissent their ranks - one officer told reporters, "Even if the situation turns to anarchy or civil war, if they ask me to intervene, my principal concern will be making sure my orders will be obeyed by my men."

More likely than another coup, or CIA-funded force invading to "restore order" (common practice in Latin American history), another form of outside intervention will be attempted. "Somebody has to run the country with a tight grip," write two professors of economics in a Financial Times article brilliantly entitled, "Argentina cannot be trusted." The article goes on to suggest that Argentina "must surrender its sovereignty on all financial issues," it must accept "...radical reform and foreign, hands-on control and supervision of fiscal spending, money printing, and tax administration," preferably from a "...board of foreign central bankers," from "...small disinterested countries." To phrase it another way, it would be like Belgian, Danish, and Swiss bankers coming in to run the British Central Bank and Inland Revenue Service.

Despite shocking poll results saying that 47% of the population agrees that large parts of Argentina's government should be entrusted to international experts, there is such distrust in banks that it seems unlikely that the arrival of more foreign bankers will calm people's nerves. As Enrique Garcia, president of the Andean Development Bank, said recently, "People in the streets feel that instead of being part of the solution, the banking sector is part of the problem."

The spirit on the streets and in the assemblies is that people can govern themselves. Another poll showed that one in three people had attended an assembly, and that 35% say the assemblies constitute “a new form of political organization." The spirit of direct democracy and self-organization has never felt as strong as it did as we watched the assemblies unfold in the long, warm Buenos Aires evenings. President Duhalde may say, “It is impossible to govern with assemblies," and believe that "the democratic way to organize and participate is through voting," but the people of Argentina have taught themselves through practice the real meaning of democracy, and the vacuous words of politicians now fall on deaf ears.

One evening, after attending his local assembly, a middle aged man who was active in the resistance against the military dictatorship, turned to us, and said in a soft, confident voice, "In the last month we have achieved more than we did in forty years. In four short weeks we have given ourselves enough hope to last us another forty years."

So a choice does exist, despite the government's blind adherence to the demands of the IMF. Argentina can choose between sovereignty and occupation, between the local desire of people and the global demands of capital, between democracy and empire, between life and money, between hope and despair.

next part: Watch this Space | Que se Vayan Todos | Argentina