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Q&A ----- Argentina .the situation

Interview by Scott Harris. | 15.01.2002 19:33

Popular Revolt in Argentina Demands
Economic as Well as Political Change
Interview by Scott Harris.

*Interview with Beverly Keene,
coordinator of Dialogue 2000 in
Buenos Aires
from the nationally syndicated radio newsmagazine
"Between The Lines"

Popular Revolt in Argentina Demands
Economic as Well as Political Change
Interview by Scott Harris.

*Interview with Beverly Keene,
coordinator of Dialogue 2000 in
Buenos Aires

Argentina has gone from a nation in deep economic crisis to outright
economic and political collapse over the past several weeks. After
massive street protests and food riots resulted in the deaths of more
than 30 people, President Fernando De la Rua resigned, an act repeated
by several other unpopular politicians in line for office. Argentina's
fifth president in two weeks is Eduardo Duhalde, a former vice president
and governor of Buenos Aires province. He began the process of devaluing
the peso, which for 11 years had been pegged directly to the value of
the U.S. dollar.

In recent weeks, a coalition of groups under the banner of the National
Front Against Poverty had organized the participation of 3.5 million
struggling Argentines in a series of meetings that demanded alternatives
to the neoliberal economic policies prescribed by the International
Monetary Fund and Washington, which many blame for the country's current
crisis. Among the list of demands to fight poverty and unemployment was
a call for an immediate end to repayment of Argentina's $155 billion
foreign debt.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Beverly Keene, coordinator of
Dialogue 2000 in Buenos Aires, who examines the popular uprising
demanding political change in the wake of Argentina's economic collapse.

Beverly Keene: Indeed it is a hopeful sign in the fact that people did
finally say enough. A lot of very ordinary people who were very touched
particularly by the banking restrictions had been affected by the
declining economic situation by the recession the country has been in
for about four years now. Certainly there was, in a sense, a straw that
broke the camel's back when a series of looting incidents began to take
place in the areas surrounding the city of Buenos Aires. The government,
which was then under the presidency of Fernando de la Rua, a government
which had been for some time now under a good deal of pressure, decided
to declare a state siege as a way of controlling the looting incidents
that were taking place. In a sense, people just responded in a very
spontaneous way to what they had been saying all along and what protests
had been expressing for many weeks, just a sense of people not being
heard at all by their government. These are very, very strongly felt
issues in Argentina and it's very encouraging at this point that many,
many people -- many thousands of people have come out on the streets and
said, "enough is enough!" We are working now in many ways throughout the
country to see that kind of mobilization continues, that people continue
to take an active role in controlling,, in a sense, what are the acts of

One of the major reasons why this government and even prior governments
lose political credibility and enormous amount of legitimacy is because
people also see, on a day-to-day basis that economic policy -- the kinds
of policies that affect them very directly in terms of levels of
unemployment, health care, the kind of access they have to education,
housing, any kind of public service -- that the decisions made about
those kinds of policies are not made by our government; they are not
made by the Argentine Congress. They are being made elsewhere. They are
being made in the boardrooms of banks, at the IMF, at the U.S. Treasury
Dept. So people feel that political disenfranchisement. They know that
just by voting, they don't have the kind of say-so that their vote
should mean in terms of the political future of the country. And that's
an important aspect of the kind of illegitimacy that grows and grows.

Between The Lines: Would it be fair to say that there is a political as
well as a social revolution going on in Argentina at the same time this
crisis has arisen?

Beverly Keene: I think it's fair to say that there is certainly an
enormous crisis of political legitimacy. How that crisis is going to be
resolved is more uncertain today than at any time in the past, which is
to say that a lot of protest doesn't by and of itself make for change.
It certainly may change the balance of forces and open the possibility
for real change in the structures that are creating the kinds of
situations the face of which people are protesting. There are some real

One of the things that happened in Argentina just a week before the
major outburst began was a popular consultation where trade unions,
human rights organizations, churches, many, many different kinds of
social groups all came together over many months and conducted a
campaign throughout the country to build support around the idea of, in
essence, shifting the focus of economic policy. Putting people's basic
needs, in particular, those of children and those of the unemployed --
putting those needs first and establishing as government policy a
minimal subsidy to all children, to all elderly and to all of the
unemployed. Just three or four days before the outburst began, we had a
three-day popular consultation where more than three million Argentines
came out to our very informal polls and voted, and said, "Yes, we want
to change economic policy." So that's an indication that there are
proposals, there are alternatives and there is a capacity, certainly to
come together behind those kinds of proposals. But a lot has to be done
still, in order to make those kinds of initiatives and that kind of
movement become government policy.

For more information on issues of economic development, debt and policy
alternatives visit the Jubilee movement's Web site at:

See related links and listen to an excerpt of this interview in a
RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at:

Interview by Scott Harris.