Argentina: Stagnation and Resistance

September 25, 2007

When Argentina's Minister of Economy, Martinez de Hoz, returned to Buenos Aires at the end of February after spending a week on a big-game hunting safari in South Africa, he found that his economic program had gone sour. Although the Argentine military junta is attempting to put on a good face, there is no doubt that the economy of the country is on the rocks. Inflation continues to run rampant, reaching over 170% during 1977, with the latest estimates for 1978 running over 15% per month. Industrial production is down and consumption continues to decline, largely as a result of the incredibly depressed wage levels of the Argentine working class. Last year it appeared to some that things were going well for the junta. Mainly as a result of a record grain harvest, a positive trade balance had allowed the Argentine Central Bank to accumulate substantial monetary reserves. But this year agricultural experts are projecting a drastic decline in the wheat crop. So serious is the problem now that the government estimates that almost one million tons of grain will have to be imported to cover internal consumption. Since Martinez de Hoz has based his economic policy largely on increasing agricultural exports, this situation is certainly bad news for him and other members of the military government. More bad news is also on the way. Foreign bankers and managers of multinational companies are no longer so sure of the prospects for success of the rigid economic measures imposed in the River Plate region. Immediately after the coup of March, 1976, an international consortium of banks provided loans of over $1 billion to the junta in order to roll over payments on the huge foreign debt for a period of 24 months. The two years are now up, and new debt renegotiations are again due. But the terms of the necessary new loans offered by the bankers will not be so sweet this time. Meanwhile, the economic program has been thwarted in its attempt to decrease the public deficit by selling those state- owned enterprises that are money-losers. As noted recently by Business Week, foreign firms are hardly interested in acquiring unprofitable companies. The multinationals, rather, are pressuring to buy up the money-makers, such as state-owned meatpacking firms (recently sold) and the always profitable public petroleum enterprise, YPF. As during the last military regime of 1966-73 the trend is inevitably towards the denationalization of industry. The junta's occasional proclamations of right-wing nationalism are nothing more than a cover for a sell-out to foreign financial and corporate interests. Still, the military government has been successful, at least temporarily, in imposing one major plank of its economic program: freezing wages and freeing prices. But, while theoretically designed to stimulate new investment, these measures have been applied so rigidly that they have caused the real wages of Argentine workers to drop to less than 50% of their 1960 levels. The average working class family can no longer subsist without putting the "young ones" out to work. This is reflected in a recent statement by the Minister of Education who conceded that over 45% of school-age children have abandoned school. They roam the streets of Buenos Aires, Rosario, Cordoba and other cities looking for part-time jobs. RESISTANCE To support these negligible, and even negative, achievements of the military regime in the economic sphere, the Argentine people have paid a terrible price. In the brief period since the coup, some 10,000 have been murdered, a further 30,000 have disappeared, and some 20,000 more are rotting in jails and concentration camps throughout the country. Yet, despite the intensification of economic exploitation and political repression, the Argentine working class remains firm in its opposition to the military junta and its fascistic plans to sell out the nation. Popular resistance ranges from sabotage to refusing cooperation, to armed actions. This resistance culminated last October and November in massive strikes involving hundreds of thousands of workers. The strikes had wide popular support. [See pictire in pdf. (VIDELA)] On October 11th, over 10,000 auto workers struck the Renault plant in Cordoba demanding wage increases forbidden by the government. Though the army occupied the factory, arrested some 200 "agitators," and threatened further reprisals, the strike lasted six days with the workers returning to work only when their demands were met. Meanwhile, on the 15th, La Opinion reported that a street battle between the army and a squad of the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) had occurred and also told of a demonstration by over 600 relatives of political prisoners in front of the National Congress in Buenos Aires. And the very day the Renault strike ended, La Razon reported two other strikes: postalworkers in Mar del Plata and service station attendants in Buenos Aires. That same day was also marked by several bombings and armed attacks on the railroad lines of Buenos Aires, La Plata and Berazategui. At least one of these attacks stopped service for several days. On the 20th, the manager of industrial relations at YPF was gunned down by an unidentified assailant. The company had just denied wage increases to its workers. On the 25th, the head of quality control at the Lazadur enterprise, which had recently arbitrarily fired 800 workers, was killed. The next day, the press reported a bomb explosion in the office of the Minister of Labor, General Tomas Liendo (who escaped uninjured), and the killing of an Air Force major, several police officers in the Buenos Aires area, and even an advisor to General Jorge Videla, the chief of the ruling military junta. Strike activity continued unabated in the weeks which followed. The press reported further work stoppages by workers in communications, oil, banking, rails, light and power, metals, meatpacking, subways, docks, airlines, glass, among others. On November 10th, it was estimated that, despite the repression unleashed by the government, over 200,000 workers were being affected by the strikes. At the same time, the strikes were ably reinforced by armed actions. Thus, on November 1st power lines were attacked and cut and rail lines obstructed; and on the 5th, rail lines were blown up. These are only a few of the examples of resistance by the Argentine people, a massive and constant resistance which has continued into the early months of 1978. They are the examples which escape the strict censorship of the press which is enforced in that country today. They demonstrate the determined and militant opposition of increasingly broad sectors of the Argentine people to continued exploitation and repression at the hands of a government controlled by the military. SOLIDARITY Yet, it is likely that the final victory of the Argentine people against this tyranny will be achieved only after a long and hard struggle. Argentina is of great concern to those who retain imperialist designs in the region. As General Gordon Sumner, president of the Inter-American Defense Council, phrased it in October 1977: Argentina is the anchor of the continent, and more specifically of the Inter-American system. This country is necessarily important for anyone who studies the strategy of the Free World. Argentina is the battle front of the hemisphere, and its strategic routes in the South Atlantic are vital for the future of oil shipments. This is why solidarity work with Argentina is so important. It is conceivable that when the struggle there reaches such intensity as to threaten the overthrow of the system, U.S. or other foreign troops will intervene. At that point, international solidarity with the Argentine resistance, already significant around such human rights issues as the release of political prisoners, could become, as it often has elsewhere (most recently perhaps in Viet Nam and Angola), indispensable that nation's fight for selfdetermination. Introduction by Julian Martel, a long-time student of the Argentine political economy recently forced to leave the country because of the continuing political repression there. From "Resistance" on adapted by NACLA-East from materials received from Movimiento Anti-imperialista por el Socialismo en Argentina (M.A.S.A.). For more information and details concerning solidarity work, contact M.A.S.A., P.O. Box 134, Time Square Station, N. Y., NY 10036.

Tags: Argentina, economic crisis, Jorge Videla, repression, resistance

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