New Surge in Argentina’s Social Crisis

By GERRY FOLEY

The economic crisis in Argentina took another jump at the end of March, as the peso at one point plunged to four to a dollar. The government barely managed to bring it down to three at the end of trading before the Easter holiday-and probably not for long. Even at this shaky plateau, Argentines have already lost two thirds of the value of their savings.

The hyperinflationary spiral that the devaluation of the peso was expected to touch off has apparently begun.

Savers returned to turbulent lines in front of the banks trying to recoup what they could. Looting of supermarkets by hungry crowds resumed. In the city of Rosario a famished crowd pounced on a truck transporting cattle and slaughtered the animals right there, dividing the meat among themselves.

In its editorial, Prensa Obrera, the weekly newspaper of Politica Obrera, the largest Trotskyist party, noted, “Less than a week ago, the president of the central bank and the minister of economics agreed that if the dollar went above 2.5 pesos and there were no agreement with the IMF, the government’s entire economic plan would be inviable.”

The editorial referred to the calls for a coup d’etat raised in capitalist circles, specifically in the March 25 issue of the business magazine Ambito Financiero, which declared, “there is no solution without a state of siege.” But it pointed out that the mass revolt in the country has reached the point where a coup would be a perilous undertaking. Former President de La Rua tried to declare a state of siege in December and found himself driven from office by huge infuriated crowds.

As fate would have it, March 24 is the anniversary of the last military coup that launched a “dirty war” against the left and the workers’ movement, which cost the lives of 40,000 people.

The March 22 on-line journal of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), another Trotskyist organization, noted that the finance minister, Remes Lenicov, told an IMF representative that the unemployment rate is now 33 percent. Some 600,000 jobs have already been lost this year alone; 40 percent of the population of the country is now estimated to be living below the poverty line.

On March 17, the first national assembly of people’s assemblies met in Buenos Aires, combining representatives of the people’s assemblies in Greater Buenos Aires with those from the big cities of the interior. Over 3000 people participated. The MAS journal pointed out that at one time in the Greater Buenos Aires area, one in every three persons was involved in the local people’s assemblies and in the pot-banging demonstrations.

The MAS journal said that the movement had reached a crossroads, where the number of assemblies was increasing and there were more and more attempts to federate them, but at the same time the absolute number of those involved was less. The movement had prepared for a new expansion.

In addition to a series of economic demands, such as nonpayment of the national debt and the expulsion of the IMF from the country, the national assembly of people’s assemblies called for a government based on the people’s assemblies, the unemployed, and the employed workers’ organizations.

March was also marked by a series of marches called by the national assembly of piqueteros [the neighborhood organizations of the unemployed] on Feb. 17. Initial reports indicate a high level of mobilizations throughout the country.

Although the ground is getting hotter and hotter under their feet, the Argentine capitalists are still taking advantage of the crisis to make piratical profits and therefore aggravating the decline. For example, the government agreed to pay the debts owed to exporters in dollars (700 million worth). In the plunge of the peso, it was forced to borrow this money from the exporters at higher interest rates in order to try to stop the rise of the dollar, thereby offering them a huge windfall.

As unemployment and poverty are rising disastrously, so are prices. One of the cruelest exactions is a 50 percent increase in the cost of medicines.

Even in the most extreme circumstances, the capitalists put enriching themselves above the minimum social responsibility. And the imperialist financial institutions are not showing any higher level of altruism. They seem to have decided to let the Argentine economy collapse as a lesson to other Third World countries crushed by debt of what happens when they stop paying tribute to the capitalist financial centers.

So, far neither the Argentine nor imperialist capitalists seem to have learned anything from the sad fate of the cattle captured by a crowd of hungry people outside Rosario. But if the mass movement continues to deepen and organize itself, they may have more disturbing prospects to think about-that is, a furious and desperate people will take their cash cows out of their hands and begin putting these enterprises into the service of the people who do the work.