By GERRY FOLEY
The long-drawn-out crisis in Argentina has rebounded with a vengeance as a result of a failed attempt by the government to “restore order” by police repression. The new explosion is coming in the context of spreading social turmoil in a number of key Latin America countries. This includes, not least, Brazil, Argentina’s neighbor and main trading partner, the largest country in Latin America and the ninth largest economy in the world.
In Venezuela also, social unrest seems rapidly headed toward a showdown. In its June 29, issue, the authoritative Paris daily Le Mondereported that the wealthy suburbs on the hills around the capital city of Caracas have become reactionary armed camps.
On the other hand, on June 29, a million people reportedly rallied in defense of the populist president Hugo Chavez. The Mexico City dailyLa Jornada described the demonstration as a “sea of dark faces,” since the poor in Venezuela are largely Black or mulatto.
Chavez, who is far from a socialist, has been trying to reassure the Venezuelan ruling classes and imperialism, but apparently with little effect. It is not Chavez that they are afraid of. They know that their rickety capitalist system can be overthrown quickly, if what they call the “mob” ever gets out of hand.
Protesters killed by Argentine cops
In Argentina, the “forces of order” evidently decided to make an exemplary display of force at a demonstration of a thousand unemployed who were blocking streets in a Buenos Aires suburb, June 26. Two young protesters were shot to death. The official cover story was that the march had been “infiltrated” by gunmen.
However, not only numerous witnesses but also photographers were able to establish what really happened. The chief inspector of the police, Alfredo Franchiotti, had ruthlessly gunned down a 21-year-old demonstrator, Dario Santillan, as he was trying to aid another demonstrator, Maximiliano Costeki, 25 years old, who had been shot in the chest.
The British Guardian reported the witnesses’ account in its June 29 issue: “While Mr. Santillan was kneeling over Costeki, witnesses say, the chief inspector burst in wielding an automatic rifle, heading a group of armed policemen. ‘Don’t shoot,’ begged Mr. Santillan as he got up to run away, only to be shot from behind by Mr. Franchiotti.
“They said Mr. Santillan, bleeding copiously, was dragged outside the railway station by Mr. Franchiotti’s men and that the officer hurled insults at him.”
Pictures taken by a number of photographers confirmed the witnesses’ account and totally destroyed the police story. La Jornada reported June 29: “The sequence filmed by a photographer from Clarin [one of the two major Buenos Aires dailies] was conclusive. It showed Santillan next to a youth who managed to flee trying to help the wounded Costeki, and then in front of him is Franchiotti with another two officers aiming a shotgun at him.
“Then Santillan got up and tried to run away, you see him fall, shot in the back. You still see him alive pleading for help as Franchiotti approaches him and shakes him and then tries to get him to walk. But since he can’t walk, they drag him out to a newspaper kiosk. Then you see Franchiotti again with his shotgun trying to see if Santillan is dead or alive.”
The police must have finished off Santillan, as well as Costeki. Another cameraman got a picture of a police bullet casing lying next to Santillan’s body. La Jornada reported that tests had shown that the two demonstrators killed were shot at point-blank range.
The police atrocity was obviously part of a premeditated attack on the mass movement. La Jornada reported June 26: “Reactions continued in various quarters to the statements of Chancellor Carlos Ruckauf, who told a group of officers at the Higher War School that he ‘would not hesitate’ to sign another decree like the one he signed in 1975, as a minister in the government of Isabel Peron, to order military intervention and the ‘annihilation’ of subversion.'”
The repressive assault on the mass movement that was started by the regime of Isabel Peron was continued and extended by the military government that took power in 1976. The military regime proceeded to wage a large-scale “dirty war” for more than a decade, which claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people. The issuance of such a threat by Ruckauf was, thus, extremely sinister.
In the June 27 issue of their weekly paper, Politica Obrera, the largest of the Trotskyist groups, stressed the killings were obviously planned: “It was a premeditated crime, because repeatedly government spokespersons have been stressing the need to reinforce the actions of the provincial police against the blocking of roads through the intervention of the police with the support of the army.
“On many occasions, the head of the army, Brinzoni, has warned that the military is ready ‘to act’ against rebellion or social ‘unrest.’ Last week, Ruckauf went to see the air force commanders to try to persuade them to support a military coup d’etat.”
Any observer with a little knowledge of Argentinian history would know that the bourgeois authorities are thinking about a drastic crackdown. The country has been in turmoil for many months, with violent protests against a galloping economic crisis.
The Buenos Aires daily Clarin estimated in its June 28 issue that the devaluation of the peso has already cost Argentine savers more than $66 billion, equivalent to one-half the country’s GNP. The unemployment rate is running over 30 percent.
The British Guardian noted June 29 that there are now frequent reports of school children fainting at their desks because they have not eaten in days. The population is desperate, and the bourgeois politicians are discredited to a degree unprecedented within living memory. Obviously, therefore, the rulers are desperate also.
However, the guard dogs of the Argentine capitalist class misjudged their time, as did the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, when it tried in mid-April to overthrow Chavez. The June 26 murders in Buenos Aires provoked a massive reaction. Tens of thousands of protesters marched on the presidential palace, demanding the resignation of Eduardo Duhalde, who replaced Fernando de la Rua-driven from office by a mass demonstration in December.
Duhalde beat a hasty retreat, denouncing the police repression as “an atrocious manhunt.” The three police officers directly involved in the killings were arrested. The command staff of the Buenos Aires police were forced to resign and over a hundred policemen were suspended. The minister of the interior of Buenos Aires province resigned.
La Nacion, one of the two main Buenos Aires dailies, lamented that the police force had been “decapitated.” Certainly, the capitalist rulers of Argentina have suffered a major setback that dims their prospects for controlling the social upsurge. But there is no question that the crisis in Argentina is heading for a showdown, as appears now in other countries of the region as well.
The bourgeois politicians are discredited, but the mass movement has not yet achieved a unified leadership and organization to pose a strong enough alternative to the established institutions. A race for time is underway in Argentina, and the mass movement will have to pay a terrible price if it loses it.
Lula takes lead in Brazil polls
But the crisis in Argentina is no longer isolated. In its June 26 issue, Le Monde reported that “in the last two weeks, the Brazilian financial markets have become hysterical. A few days ago, the national currency, the real, hit an historic low.”
The polls are showing the Workers Party candidate for president, Luis da Silva (“Lula”) with a commanding lead, striking fear into the hearts of the Brazilian bourgeoisie.
Lula has been making every effort to reassure the capitalists, as has Chavez in Venezuela, including taking a right-wing capitalist as his running mate-but to no avail. The bourgeoisie has good reason to fear that the working people will see a victory for him as a victory for themselves, and they may get out of control.
In Uruguay, meanwhile, in mid-June, the currency lost 28 percent of its value after the government abandoned the fixed rate. In the southern Peruvian cities of Arequipa and Puerto Maldonado in recent weeks, there have been mass uprisings against the plans of the demagogic Toledo government to privatize utilities.
Mexican financial experts are now saying that Mexico is not immune to the sort of crisis surfacing in southern Latin America because, like Argentina in recent years, it has been financing the state out of sales of state industries, and all the major formerly nationalized industries have now been privatized. Moreover, Mexico is suffering from the weakening of the U.S. economy, to which it is closely linked.
Its last issue, Politica Obrera pointed out that it is not the Argentine crisis that is spreading, but that the contradictions of dependent capitalist economies are exploding everywhere for the same reasons. It seems clear that more and more blowups are on the way in Latin America, which may be followed by bloody capitalist crackdowns if the masses are unable to create an effective leadership in time to lead them in a determined assault on their panicked gangster ruling classes.