By GERRY FOLEY
The economic and social crisis in Argentina took another turn for the worse in the last month of April. On Tuesday, April 23, the country’s populist (“last chance”) president, Eduardo Duhalde, had to accept the resignation of his minister of economics and his team.
Although a new minister was soon appointed, the entire episode was a resounding declaration of the failure of the government’s plan for at least stopping the country’s economic meltdown.
Economics Minister Remes Lesnicov resigned immediately after returning from negotiations with the International Monetary Fund in the United States, and the day after militant demonstrations prevented the national parliament from adopting the president’s plan to confiscate the accounts of Argentine savers and replace them with bonds payable in 10 years.
Claiming that his plan was the last chance to save the country’s economy, Duhalde had threatened to resign if the parliament did not adopt it.
However, on April 22 the legislators found themselves besieged by demonstrators and were forced to suspend the parliamentary session, preventing the adoption of Duhalde’s economic measures.
According to an April 24 statement from the Socialist Workers Movement (MST), the second largest Trotskyist group in Argentina, this was the immediate cause of the resignation of the president’s economic team. It was an indication that his government does not have the political strength to impose the draconian austerity program demanded by the IMF and the country’s major capitalists.
The MST statement also noted a new upsurge of workers’ struggles in the week preceding the fall of Duhalde’s economic team. In particular, there was a wave of teachers’ strikes in several provinces protesting against the government authorities’ failure to pay their wages. The IMF’s dictates call for cutting public expenditures to the bone and beyond, and obviously the largest category of essential government workers are teachers.
In the province of San Juan, thousands of mobilized workers seized the provincial ministries. In Buenos Aires, there was a pot-banging demonstration to commemorate those shot down by the police during the Dec. 20 demonstrations that toppled the previous openly neoliberal government.
“The specter of looting returned,” the Mexico City daily La Jornada wrote in its April 24 issue, “when unemployed workers demonstrated in several places in the southern part of the [national] capital, especially in the Buenos Aires suburbs of Loma de Zamora and Quilmes, where they marched on supermarkets to demand food.”
At the same time, Duhalde declared a bank holiday that deprived Argentinians of access to their bank accounts, leaving even employed workers often virtually penniless. Stores began refusing to accept payment by credit and debit cards. For the mass of the population, the banking services they have depended on are collapsing.
In the same week, a large foreign bank, the Canadian Scotia group, shut down-leaving its depositors without their money and its employers without their jobs.