Que se Vayan Todos

Capital Retreats

One of the most visible changes in Buenos Aires since we were last here is the number of "cartoneras". These are the poor who collect paper and cardboard from the streets for recycling. In February we saw a few of them. Now on nearly every block of the city there are groups of cartoneras scouring the waste bins and bags of rubbish with their bare hands to find scraps of paper or cardboard to sell to recycling companies. As darkness falls the streets are filled with small groups of them pushing shopping trolleys loaded up with enormous white bags bulging with paper. In the morning they are gone. All that remains are trails of rubbish spilling from the bin bags that have been opened.

Over half the country's population has now fallen below the poverty line. Hunger continues to spread to places where it was previously unheard of and unemployment is so endemic that there is a now a popular TV game show where contestants compete for a job. Sony and Time Warner are currently trying to outbid each other in an effort to buy the show and take it worldwide.

Banking restrictions remain, and the ahorristas continue to pressurise the courts and attack banks to get their savings back. Now they even have a leader, a trashy TV comedian turned political activist. Banks are still protected by steel sheeting. But the repeated visits of the ahorristas armed with their hammers and kitchen utensils have left thousands of dents and marks on the steel, vivid traces of continuing rituals of resistance.

The Red Global del Trueque, the barter network, is expanding all the time. It now has 7 million people participating in it, credits are even accepted on some railway lines and many families rely on it for 90 per cent of their needs.

Businesses are closing down everyday. In many cases the directors, unable to pay debts, simply disappear. This happened to some of the factories that are now being self-managed by the workers. They literally came into work one morning to find no managers and after waiting several days for the management to turn up, decided to run the factories themselves.

A book written by participants in the neighbourhood assemblies was being printed at a well-known self-managed printing firm in Buenos Aires when the police arrived to evict the building. A call went out to the local assembly, and literally as the book was coming off the presses they were forcing the police away and securing the building. Across Argentina, capital and the state is in retreat. The spaces that it leaves wide open are rapidly being filled by a multitude of creative social endeavours.

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