Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Argentina, Iraq and the Global Dictatorship

Misiones, Argentina-- My partner Sarita and I have been in Argentina for almost four months now, visiting farmworker movements, organic producers and countless activist groups. As I begin to understand the history of the activist movement here I am becoming increasingly concerned about my country's involvement in foreign affairs. More importantly I'm concerned about what my responsibility is as a US citizen. My experiences here have helped me start to understand the connection between the US, the Argentina dictatorship and the Iraq war. It seems like a far fetched connection but let me explain.

Last week we visited the Agrarian Movement of Misiones (MAM). They have been organizing small scale farmers in the Misiones province of Argentina since 1971. When we arrived at their office the first thing they did was point to the pictures on their wall and explain, "that is our founder, he was assassinated, the lady next to him was disappeared and never found, this other picture is of a friend who was exiled for 8 years," and so on.

I'm getting used to hearing these kinds of stories as we visit activist groups. From the mid 70s to 1983 Argentina was under an oppressive military dictatorship. During this time over 30,000 people were killed or disappeared. It has left a deep scar in everyone who lived through the period. As MAM co-director Enrique Peczack explained it set the activist movements back 50 years.

Enrique's brother was the MAM founder who was assassinated. Enrique was disappeared for a year and jailed for eight. He wanted us to understand MAM's history so he brought us to his brothers grave. As we were driving out to MAM's organic mate cooperative we asked what the difference was between being jailed and disappeared. He stopped the truck in the middle of the road and let us know all the details. When he was disappeared he was in the jungle somewhere in a Nazi style concentration camp and no one knew where he was. Most of the time he was chained up with a bag over his head. He would go without human contact for weeks. Sometimes he was fed, sometimes not. He was beaten and tortured repeatedly. When he was jailed he was not treated much better but at least he knew where he was.

When I hear these gruesome stories first hand I can only think how glad I am this kind of thing doesn't happen in the US. But I know the US is far from being disconnected to torture and massacre. It is widely known that the US supported the Argentine dictatorship.

I would like to think that the dictatorship is over. However, I know the military dictatorship cleared the way for the globalized economic dictatorship. Had the activist community not been set back so far there might have been a stronger force to fight the privitizacion of the Menem years. And what was the largest public company sold off to the free market? YPF, Argentina's national oil company. It was the largest initial stock sell off in the history of the New York Stock Exchange. YPF was bought up by the Spanish company Repsol to become the second largest oil company in the world. Where there is oil, there is oppression. Now Argentina is a slave to the global free market economy.

I would also like to think that this is an isolated experience precipitated by random events. But I know that every country in Latin America has a similar story of oppression. Nor is this story limited to Latin America. The same thing is happening in Iraq right now. However, in Iraq US involvement is even more direct and the massacre even greater. The website www.iraqbodycount.org now says at least 21,000 civilians have been killed. I can only imagine the kind of scar that will leave in the people. And again this tactic of brutal destabilization will leave an oil rich country a slave to the free market economy.

Yet, what has been bothering me the most is that I am somehow implicated in all this. My friends in Argentina can't fight the US global empire. No matter how many times they blockade the highways, ransack the banks and oust presidents they still can't change their place in the global economy. Last week Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that he will not visit the US again until its citizens liberate the country. I feel that challenge weighing heavily on my shoulders.

However, it seems unlikely that the US activist community will take the drastic actions necessary to overthrow a tyrannical government. We don't feel the direct effects of US domination even if we are opposed to it. We don't have bombs falling on our cities and our families aren't being disappeared. Even though we are opposed to global economic and military tyranny we are still the major beneficiaries. Since we aren't feeling the brunt of the suffering we aren't able to take the drastic actions that other oppressed people take.

In Argentina when YPF was privatized massive groups of unemployed people started using the tactic of blockading highways. When unemployment hit 40% the widespread direct action started having an effect. National strikes and protesters raiding banks effectively shut the country down. Then on December 19 and 20, 2001 massive protests in Buenos Aires succeeded in overthrowing the president...And the next four that followed.

How many people in the US are ready to shut down highways or organize national strikes? Who wants to risk their jobs, families and freedom? Who is ready to face down police with live ammunition? Organizing a national strike would require widespread cooperation between all the major activist organizations in the US. Yet major organizations fear public opinion too much to take such drastic actions. Bush's largest opponent MoveOn.org, with 3 million members, won't even issue a statement against the Iraq war. TrueMajority is a little more radical, they distributed a pen that shows how much money is being spent on the war. They even make activism easy for you, click "reply send" and your representatives recieve a form letter. Is that what activism has come to in the US? "Reply send" activism?

I'm not angry at the activist community. I'm not ready to blockade the highways either. That takes unity and confidence that we just don't have right now. It's just starting to feel like we've been put into checkmate.

2 Comments:

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At 3:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to see some Americans care a about what is going on.
Unfortunately, I believe the people won't stand up in the states, until you will be in serious problems, but at that point the US will be retrieving from world dominance to attend its own crises.
If a country like the states would be a bit, just a bit more social democratic, it would have public healthcare. I'm from Uruguay, a small republic, where a guy called Mitrione was sent by the US to teach how to torture. A real shame.
I encorage to read more and more about this things and try to do your best to help your country to became more democratic, which is primarily on the benefit of the American people. A country where social mobility now is lower than in Europe. I recommend you to read Eduardo Galeano, several of his books about latin america, can be a interesting reading.

Regards

Martin

 

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