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Repression in Argentina in the Shadow of War

ralpho y rafa | 22.03.2003 19:14

In the shadow of the war in Iraq, the government in Argentina has declared war on grassroots politics in Buenos Aires. The global focus on the US-led war against Iraq is providing a smokescreen for a crackdown on progressive social movements
everywhere, and in this moment specifically on the ‘okupas,’ the occupied (squatted) social centers of Argentina.

4.21.03 Buenos Aires. The war is on. The call rings from every media outlet in the world, and the media-space that can be profitably allocated for war coverage is practically unlimited. It is more or less clear to almost everyone, depending on what media one relies on, that the civilian population of Iraq is in mortal danger. Millions of people of conscience all over the world are in solidarity with the people of Iraq, but in the meantime the terrible predicament of Iraq’s civilian population is not the only face of the war. There is also a spirit of brutalopportunism rearing its head in the domestic policies of governments near and far from the conflict in Iraq. This logic shows itself in the escalation of force used in the repression of domestic dissent, and it can be witnessed in Israel, in the US itself, and as far away as Argentina, among countless others. The global focus on the US-led war against Iraq is providing a smokescreen for a crackdown on progressive social movements everywhere, and in this moment specifically on the ‘okupas,’ the occupied (squatted) social centers of Argentina.

In the shadow of the war in Iraq, the government in Argentina has declared war on grassroots politics in Buenos Aires. Seemingly every community space, residential squat, and cultural center is under threat of eviction, and more evictions are actually being carried out every day by the Federal Police – most often illegally. The crackdown is most intense in the areas with the highest density of these spaces: the neighborhoods of La Boca and San Telmo. Two of the thriving occupied social spaces of La Boca are currently slated for eviction within two weeks: the cultural center of Tierra del Sur (host to free daily workshops on everything from puppetry to Brazilian martial arts), and the social center Lezama-Sur (the home of the local neighborhood assembly as well as the host of an
office of Indymedia Argentina). Two days ago, a house that had been occupied by the piquetero group MTL, just two blocks away from Lezama-Sur, was forcefully and illegally evicted by the police. A group of 40 local residents responded during the raid with peaceful protest, and in turn were answered with multiple beatings by police. Seven people were arrested, clearly displaying the police tactic of targeting activists: each of the seven were members of Lezama-Sur or Tierra del Sur. A peaceful solidarity protest outside of the police station followed. Three of the seven remain in jail today.

This morning, a recently occupied social center in San Telmo was the target of police crackdown. Occupied by MTD (arguably the most progressive of the piquetero groups) on Feb. 24, the historic building – the oldest in Buenos Aires - was in ruins, mostly roofless, and filled with rubble, having been neglected for years until that date. In the intervening month a prodigious work of cleaning, salvaging, and renovation by MTD members and neighourhood residents turned the space into a thriving social center, featuring a communitarian kitchen and bakery, with an organic garden on the way. At 9:00am on 21 March, a lightning-fast police raid forced its way into the building wearing full face masks and brandishing machine-guns. The mostly sleeping occupants were wakened at gun point, and women and children forced into the street. Four males were arrested. A group of approximately 40 individuals gathered outside the police station in the afternoon, conducting a peaceful solidarity demonstration and awaiting the release of the prisoners.

That morning marked the second second eviction in three days. None of the local activists have slept much. The community here requests that activists all over the world spare some small part of their attention for what is happening here. As the occupation of buildings has been a new tactic of resistance for many who have become involved in the past year, so this type and intensity of police repression is frighteningly novel. Much support and help is needed, as it is needed in so many places, that not everything that has been painstakingly built up over the last several years be destroyed in the shadow of the war. It is important that these social experiments live on, that the laboratory of direct democracy and collective struggle that Argentina has become should endure. Like anywhere, this is as crucial as it is difficult. It requires a broad network of solidarity to order to survive the assaults of government repression. The easiest way to help is to translate news from Indymedia Argentina into any language possible, and post widely. While the community here is well aware that that embassies of the United States
demand a lot of attention in this moment (witness the militant actions of 21-3 against the embassy here in Buenos Aires), the direction of some militant attention towards Argentinean embassies could go a very long way towards letting the government know that *international attention is indeed on Argentina,* even in the shadow of the war.

The timing of our response to the situation here is crucial. The activist community here widely believes that the escalation of repression will only worsen in the immediate future. There are many ominous signs, including the new display of automatic weaponry by eviction units. Many are frightened: at the eviction of the MTL house two days past, a police officer drew his gun and took aim at an unarmed activist from Tierra del Sur. No shots were fired, but the message - of potential violence by a police force long schooled in the use of deadly force against unarmed civilians – is well noted by all. Two days later, the newspapers of Buenos Aires are full of information about the war on Iraq, and devoid of any mention of the domestic war against the neighborhoods and against the neighbors. As we raise our voices all over the world against the brute atrocity of George Bush’s war on a civilian population already so without hope, let us also spare some of our attention and energy for the wave of criminal repression that many of our governments will attempt to advance
in its shadow. We stand with the vast majority of the people of the world in opposition to war on Iraq. A call now goes out for all of us to maintain our vigilance, against each of those who would take advantage of the noise and spectacle of that tragedy in order to perpetrate

Lucha! Sueña! Resista!
Oppose the War! Fight the Evictions!

ralpho y rafa