Argentina, a country trying to shake off fear

Argentina, a country trying to shake off fear

By Naomi Klein

At the corner of Avenida de Mayo and Chacabuco, where HSBC's glass facade is now encased in reinforced steel, as impenetrable as the polarized sunglasses of police officers standing guard outside, Argentina's past and present collide one against the other.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA. How do you commemorate the anniversary of something that is impossible to define? That was the question that tens of thousands of Argentines faced on December 20, 2002, as they marched from every corner of Buenos Aires to the historic Plaza de Mayo. It was a year since the first Argentinazo. The Argentinazo was not exactly a riot, although seen on television it definitely looked like one, with looters raiding supermarkets and mounted police attacking crowds; and the 33 people who died in the country. Nor was it a revolution, although it more or less resembled one, with the angry crowds storming the seat of government and forcing the president to resign in disgrace.

But, unlike a classical revolution, the Argentinazo was not organized by an alternate political force that wanted to take power. And, unlike a riot, it pulsed with an unequivocal and unified demand: the immediate removal of all corrupt politicians who have grown rich while Argentina, once the envy of the developing world, plummeted into poverty.

In reality, the argentinazo was just as the word sounds: a chaotic explosion of argentinez, during which hundreds of thousands of people, suddenly and spontaneously, left their homes, took to the streets, beat their pots and pans, they yelled at the benches, fought with the police, sped up their motorcycles, sang soccer hymns and got the president to flee his palace by helicopter. Over the course of the next 12 days, the country would go through five presidents and fail to meet its obligations to pay its $ 95 billion foreign debt, the largest default in history.

Now, a year away, the crowds fill the Plaza de Mayo again and this is undoubtedly a significant day but what exactly is commemorated? Is it the celebration of a national revolt against corporate globalization, a sentiment that seems to be spreading through Latin America? Just when the Labor Party takes power in Brazil and the privatization programs are stopped in their tracks from Mexico to Peru, is it the beginning of El Argentinazo: Second Part, a movement that looks forward and that will replace the failed recipes of the Fund International Monetary Fund (IMF) with something better?

Finally, December 20, 2002 is not a day of jubilant celebration or very convincing fists-in-the-air. Instead, the atmosphere is one of mourning, and nowhere is it as noticeable as on the corner of Avenida de Mayo and Chacabuco, in front of the HSBC Argentina bank headquarters, a heavy 28-story building with Darth-tinted windows. Vader. It was on this same piece of asphalt that Gustavo Benedetto, 23, fell precisely a year ago, killed with a bullet that came out of the bank. The man who was charged with Benedetto's murder and who had been in a group of police officers caught on video shooting through the tinted windows of the bank? This is Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Varando, head of security at the HSBC building. He is also a retired elite military officer who was active during the 1970s, when 30,000 Argentines were "disappeared," many of them kidnapped from their homes, brutally tortured, and then thrown from airplanes into the muddy waters of the Río de la Plata.

From the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, Argentina was a profoundly undemocratic place, governed by a succession of boards that, while allowing limited elections, prevented the populist Peronist Party from running for its candidates. It was in this context that leftist students and workers began to organize into guerrilla armies. Many of these activists thought they were initiating a socialist revolution, although for Juan Domingo Perón, who encouraged them from his exile in Spain, the militias were only a means to hasten his glorious return as a paternalistic leader. The largest armed faction of this growing opposition was the Montoneros, a youth movement that borrowed the populist policies of Evita and the guerrilla warfare theory of Che Guevara. Despite the fact that such cells never posed a serious threat to national security, the Argentine army used a series of guerrilla attacks against military and business targets as a pretext to declare a campaign against the left. The generals called the action "a war on terror," but the name that endured was dirty war.

Between 1976 and 1983, Argentina was ruled by a crooked military regime that combined fundamentalist Catholic social control with a fundamentalist free-market economy, banning rock music and storing billions of dollars in loans and investments from foreign banks and multinational companies. . The generals made it their own mission to cleanse Marxist or other "subversive" thoughts from each of the schools, workplaces, churches, and neighborhoods. They also assumed that they had the right to obtain personal gain from this crusade, and they extracted not only from public funds, they also robbed the people they tortured and killed; their houses, possessions and even children (finally, the State was forced to pay compensation to many of the families' victims).

Until today, the generals deny almost everything and, thanks to an official pardon from the State, the murderers of that time walk free. The despised Leopoldo Galtieri, who led Argentina to a disastrous war for the Malvinas Islands, died a few days ago and took many secrets to his grave. However, since the military dictatorship ended, extensive investigations have yielded evidence of abuses during and after the dirty war. Through a thorough search of these investigations, Argentine human rights groups discovered that Varando, the man HSBC placed in command of its security operations, was part of a group of military personnel accused by relatives of the disappeared of war crimes during an attack on the La Tablada military barracks in 1989.

A report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, finalized in 1997, states that two prisoners at the La Tablada base, Iván Ruiz and José Alejandro Díaz, were "disappeared" when they were under surveillance by Jorge Varando. . Varando says he transferred Ruiz and Díaz to another officer, and then when that officer was killed in action, he believed the prisoners had escaped. However, thanks to a subsequent amnesty, there was never a thorough criminal investigation into the La Tablada events. Today, in connection with an incident that has nothing to do with it, Varando is awaiting the judicial process for the murder of Gustavo Benedetto.

At the corner of Avenida de Mayo and Chacabuco, where HSBC's glass facade is now encased in reinforced steel, as impenetrable as the polarized sunglasses of police officers standing guard outside, Argentina's past and present collide one against the other. Benedetto's alleged assassin worked for a foreign bank, one of the same banks that swallowed up the savings of millions of Argentines when, in early December 2001, the government declared it was freezing bank withdrawals. And while the accounts remained insured, the peso began a free fall. When, a year later, the bank freeze was partially lifted and account holders were able to access their money again, their savings had lost two-thirds of their value.

Despite banks like HSBC blaming the freeze on the government, the move was a response to the fact that private banks had helped their wealthiest clients extract around $ 20 billion from Argentina over the course of the year. from the previous year, a large amount of it without paying taxes. At the same time, there was no prohibition on taking capital out of the country. There was a particularly dramatic moment last January, when police raided an HSBC branch, and other banks, looking for evidence that hundreds of armed vehicles were used to transport billions of US dollars in cash, undeclared, to the Airport. Ezeiza International. Foreign banks claimed that authorities were looking for scapegoats to blame for the economic crisis, and HSBC Holdings Ltd says its locally incorporated subsidiary has always acted in accordance with Argentine law. According to the prosecutor, the investigation of the accusations of "fraud against the State, and illegal association" continues, and to date no charges have been filed.

Time is at the center of the allegations against foreign banks: the cash exodus took place just days before the government froze all withdrawals, and led to the widespread belief that banks, unlike Argentines who were taken by surprise, had been given the whistle that the freeze was imminent. This point is important, because for many of Argentina's most prosperous families and businesses, the banking fiasco and devaluation made them richer than they were before: now they pay their employees' salaries, expenses and debts in pesos. devalued; But thanks to the banks, your savings are safe, stored outside the country in US dollars. This is a high-profit arrangement.

The country of the disappeared

After the $ 20 billion in "missing" capital was discovered, there was so much public anger that several foreign bankers face charges under Argentina's "economic subversion" law, which prohibits acts that sabotage the country's economy. However, this hurdle was overcome last May when a coalition of banks, led by HSBC, successfully lobbied for the law to be repealed.

This incident was linked to another controversy, which involves bribery, legislators and foreign banks. In August, The Financial Times published allegations made by bankers and diplomats that Argentine lawmakers had solicited bribes from foreign banks in exchange for voting against legislation that would have cost financial institutions hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The banks say they rejected the offers. After the article was published, several banks suffered a new incursion by the Argentine police, this time to search for evidence of the reported bribery request and to discover the source of the allegation. Among the locations that were raided were HSBC headquarters and the private residence of a high-ranking HSBC spokesperson.

There has been speculation as to whether the raids were politically motivated, as revenge against the banks that made the bribery allegations public. When Mike Smith, president of HSBC Argentina, testified at a court hearing on the scandal, he said that he had no specific knowledge of the incidents described in The Financial Times and denied that HSBC had paid any bribes. He also said that soliciting bribes in exchange for favorable laws was common practice in Argentina. This investigation is also ongoing.
Gustavo Benedetto was only one of the 33 people who died violently during the Argentinazo of 2001. But his story, haunted by the ghosts of history that remains, without a doubt, modern, has become a symbol for a country that now he tries to understand his relentless economic crisis. How can 27 children die of hunger a day in a country that is by nature so abundant that it once fed much of Europe and North America? How can a nation where workers used to buy houses and cars, and earned the highest wages in Latin America, now have the highest unemployment rate on the continent and a lower average wage than Mexico? Benedetto thought that his government owed him answers to those questions, which is why he went to the plaza that day in December.

Once upon a time there was a country called Argentina ", writes the journalist Sergio Ciancaglini," where many people disappeared and where, years later, money also disappeared. One thing is related to the other. "Ciancaglini argues that anyone who wants to understand what happened to the missing wealth must first travel to the past, to discover what happened to the missing people. Since the Argentinazo there has been an explosion of grassroots groups who embark on such a journey, in a kind of national forensic detective mission, which links the economic interests of the dictatorship of the generals with the policies that, years later, led the economy to ruin. hope) is that when these pieces finally fit together, Argentina can finally break the cycle of state terror and corporate looting that has enslaved this country, like so many others, for too long.

Breaking up with the "don't mess up"

Gustavo Benedetto loved to read books on history and economics. According to her older sister, Eliana, "I wanted to understand how such a large country could have ended up in such a mess." Gustavo dreamed of being a history teacher, but that was a goal for a more optimistic time. When his father died in March 2000, Gustavo had to look for a job, any job, with which to support his mother and sister. It was a bad time to look for work. In La Tablada, the post-industrial suburb where the Benedettos live, most factories had already closed. The best job he could find was as a supermarket clerk in a nearby shopping center.

But at least he had a job. Despite the fact that the world press discovered the Argentine economic crisis until relatively recently, in neighborhoods like La Tablada it was a fact for at least six years before. In the mid-1990s, when the IMF portrayed Argentina as a miracle of economic growth and an example of the riches that awaited poor nations to open their doors to foreign investment, unemployment was already reaching alarming levels. This is a pattern that has been reproduced many times in Latin America, in countries that have carried out similar free market reforms; today, only Chile survives as a supposed "success story", while more than 50% of the Argentine population has already fallen below the official poverty line.

Strangely, when Argentina had less wealth on paper, fewer Argentines went hungry. Many complex economic factors contributed to this change, from changes in agricultural export crops to plummeting wages in the industrial sector. But there were also some simple changes that played their part, such as the fact that neighborhood markets sold food on credit in difficult times: a little bit of grace that disappeared when Argentina became a showcase for globalization and those small stores were replaced by foreign-owned hypermarkets the size of Aztec temples, with names like Carrefour, Wal-Mart and Día, the Spanish-owned chain where Gustavo Benedetto was finally able to get a job.

So it was probably no coincidence that, in the days before the Argentinazo, many of the hypermarkets found themselves under assault, looted by crowds of unemployed men, their faces covered in T-shirts turned into makeshift ski masks. When Gustavo showed up for work at Día on December 19, the atmosphere was unbearably tense - no one knew if this concrete castle would be the next to be raided by hungry and angry crowds. At noon, the manager decided to end the suspense and closed early.

When Gustavo got home, he turned on the television. What he saw was a country in open revolt, with protests emerging from all sides. Throughout the day and all night, he was changing from one channel to the next, but by 10:40 pm, all the channels showed the same image: President Fernando de la Rúa, his face, sticky with sweat, he read, stiffly, a prepared text. Argentina, he said, was under attack from "groups that are enemies of order and that are going to spread discord and violence." He declared a state of siege.

For many Argentines, the president's statement sounded like the prelude to a military coup, and that was a fatal mistake by the de la Rúa government. Gustavo looked at the live images of the Plaza de Mayo that was filled with people. They beat pots and pans with spoons and forks, a wordless but noisy rebuke to the president's instructions: Argentines would not renounce basic freedoms in the name of "order," they declared. They had tried it before under the board, and it had ended badly. And then, a single rebellious exclamation came from the crowd of grandmothers and students, motorcycle messengers and unemployed workers; his words were directed at politicians, bankers, the IMF and all the other "experts" who claimed to have the perfect recipe for Argentina's prosperity and stability: "Let them all go," they said.

That night, Gustavo slept fitfully. The next morning when he got to work, the store was closed, so he went home and turned on the television again. It was then that he felt an impulse that he had never felt before: he wanted to join a political demonstration. Suddenly, Gustavo Benedetto, a quiet guy who hadn't protested against anything in his entire life, jumped off the couch, turned off the TV and told his mother that he was going downtown.

On the way to the bus stop, Gustavo asked several of his friends from the La Tablada neighborhood if they wanted to join him in being part of this story that they witnessed on their television screens. But he couldn't find anyone: most of the people in La Tablada were already fed up with the story. During the 1970s and 1980s, this working-class neighborhood was literally caught between fire from the army and guerrillas: at that time, several leftist cells were active in the area, and it was also home to the No. 3 Mechanized Infantry of La Tablada, a large military base where alleged human rights abuses took place. In La Tablada, the dirty war was even dirtier than in other places, with parents running into their children's murderers at the corner store. And since any kind of contact with a leftist was enough to get you labeled as a collaborator, the safest thing you could do was retreat to your home: doors were closed on former friends seeking refuge, blinds quickly closed when there was a Commotion outside, the volume of the radio was turned up to drown out the screams in neighboring apartments. In La Tablada, as in other places in Argentina, the inhabitants learned to live faithfully under the philosophy of the times of terror: "Don't get involved." It is an attitude that has survived to this day.

However, Gustavo decided to break with that tradition. He had no way of knowing that the dictatorship's tactics were about to return to the streets of Buenos Aires. During the two hours it took him to move from the suburbs to the center of Buenos Aires, the police chief had sent the order to "clean the Plaza de Mayo." At first, riot squads used rubber bullets and tear gas, but they soon ran out and switched to lethal ammunition.

The police pushed the crowd to Avenida de Mayo and the crowd pushed back. Around 4 pm, a group of about 20 police officers were looking for a safe place to take refuge and reload their weapons. They chose the HSBC lobby, one of the safest buildings in the city because it also houses the Israeli embassy. A handful of protesters less than five, according to court documents, separated from the rivers of people that were heading towards the Plaza de Mayo and began to throw stones at the bank. A man broke a glass frame with a metal bar. The police and private security guards inside were scared and opened fire. According to the evidence that could later be heard in court, in the span of just four seconds a burst of at least 59 bullets was fired into the packed street. Just at that moment, Gustavo Benedetto was walking alone and, after having been in the center for less than an hour, he turned onto Avenida de Mayo. He was many yards from the bank when a lead bullet, fired from a 9mm gun, struck him in the back of the head. Fell to the ground; in an instant he was dead.

The telltale camera

HSBC may have been a good place for police officers to find refuge during the chaos of the Argentinazo, but when it comes to a crime allegedly committed from their lobby, a bank, with their security cameras monitoring every angle , offers little cover. HSBC's surveillance cameras, from entering the courthouse as evidence, clearly show police and bank security officers pointing and firing their guns through the glass. This evidence has led to a rare event in the annals of Argentine justice: the arrest of a former military officer on the charge of murder.

Jorge Varando is a graduate of the School of the Americas, a "counterinsurgency" training camp based in the southern United States. He stated that he did not shoot Benedetto and alleges that he acted appropriately, as a security agent defending the bank. In a recent radio interview, he was quoted as saying that he admitted to firing his gun, saying he did so "in complete peace of mind" and "to stop those who tried to enter the building." So far, HSBC has declined to comment on the case as legal proceedings are ongoing; he merely pointed out that his employee Varando has consistently maintained that he is innocent.

It is not yet clear whether Varando will be represented by an HSBC attorney when the case goes to trial, but the bank did have its own attorney during pre-trial hearings. HSBC is inevitably involved in some way, because the shooting took place from its premises, and its security cameras offer crucial evidence. But that evidence has proven problematic. When the Court recreated the crime, equating the video of Varando firing his gun with the place where Benedetto was killed, it soon became clear that someone had changed the angle of the main surveillance camera, and this made it extremely difficult to match the camera. reconstruction with the original video of Varando shooting through the glass. Banking staff say the camera angle was accidentally changed during a routine cleaning.

And the case has drawn even more interest because every month since the murder, friends and family have put up a makeshift memorial to Gustavo Benedetto in front of the bank and every month the monument is mysteriously removed and Gustavo's name is erased. Finally, this practice ended last November, when a television crew stalking the HSBC building at 3 am, filmed how two federal police officers arrived in a car with no particular signs and destroyed the concrete and ceramic monument with some levers. The agents were suspended.

The mirage of Menem

Until relatively recently, Argentina followed a policy of official amnesia, regarding the crimes of the dirty war. Of course, nongovernmental human rights organizations still produced numerous scathing reports; the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo were still marching; and the children of missing parents still showed up, from time to time, outside the homes of ex-military men to throw red paint. But before the Argentinazo, most middle-class Argentines viewed such actions as macabre rituals from a bygone era. What had they not received the memo? The country had "advanced" or at least was supposed to have, according to former President Carlos Menem.

Menem, a Ferrari-driving free-market supporter who is the Argentine fusion of Margaret Thatcher and John Gotti, was elected in 1989, with the economy in recession and inflation on the rise. He declared that many of Argentina's economic problems were the result of his predecessor's botched attempts to bring the dirty war generals to justice. Menem offered an alternative: instead of going backwards, towards the hell of the nameless graves and the lies of the past, he said, Argentines should blank the board, join the global economy and then put all their energy into achieve economic growth.

After pardoning the generals, Menem began an enthusiastic program of what here in Latin America they call "neoliberalism": that is, massive privatizations, layoffs in the public sector, "flexibilization" of the labor market, and business incentives. It cut federal meal programs, cut the national unemployment fund by nearly 80%, laid off hundreds of thousands of state employees, and declared many strikes illegal. Menem dubbed this rapid free-market reconstruction "surgery without anesthesia," and assured voters that once the short-term pain subsided, Argentina, in the words of one of its promotional campaigns, would "be born again."

The middle-class inhabitants of Buenos Aires, many of them embarrassed by their complicity or complacency during the dirty war, enthusiastically took up the idea of ​​living in a new country without a past. "Don't get involved", the mantra of the terror years, gave way to "First of all, me first", the mantra of high capitalism; under this cause, neighbors are competition and the market comes before anything else, even before the search for justice and the rebuilding of the shattered communities. In the years that followed, the Buenos Aires of the nineties got into a spree of consumerism and job promotion that the New Yorker or Londoner most addicted to shopping and work would look small. According to government figures, between 1993 and 1998, total household spending increased by 42 billion dollars, while spending on imported goods doubled, in the same five years, from 15 billion dollars in 1993 to 30 billion in 1998.

In the swanky neighborhoods of Recoleta and Palermo, residents bought not only the latest imported electronics and designer clothes, but also new faces and new bodies. Buenos Aires was soon competing with Rio de Janeiro for the title of the capital of cosmetic surgery, with a plastic surgeon claiming to have 30,000 clients. The Argentines clearly wanted to be remade, like their country as its president, who periodically disappeared, and then reappeared with his face stretched out and claiming that a bee had stung him.

For a while, the masks and costumes of the nineties looked astonishingly real. During that decade, the national GDP increased by 60% and foreign investment was pouring in. But just as Enron shareholders were not careful to look closely at the ledgers as long as their profits rose, foreign investors and lenders in Argentina did not see that Menem's thin and mean government was sunk in a 80 billion dollars deeper debt in 1999 than the government had in 1989. Or that, mainly thanks to layoffs in privatized companies, unemployment had risen from 6.5% in 1989 to 20% in 2000.

In short, "Menem's miracle," as Time Magazine effusively called it, was a mirage. The wealth that flowed in Argentina in the 1990s was a combination of speculative finance and one-time sales: the phone company, the oil company, the railroads, the airline. After the initial infusion of cash and greased palm trees, what was left was an emptied country, expensive basic services and a working class that did not work. It also left behind a deregulated financial sector, old west style, which allowed the richest families in Argentina to draw 140 billion dollars in private wealth out of the country and deposit it in foreign bank accounts, an amount greater than GDP or the external debt.

Freeze salaries with recoil

As Argentina's wealth disappeared, destined for bank accounts in Miami and the stock market in Milan, the collective amnesia of the Menem years also began to disappear. Hoy, casi 20 años después de que la dictadura de la junta terminó, y con los viejos generales muertos o muriéndose, los fantasmas de los 30 mil desaparecidos de repente aparecieron. Ahora embrujan cada aspecto de la crisis actual del país. En los meses que siguieron al argentinazo, el pasado parecía estar tan presente que era como si el tiempo se hubiera colapsado y el terror estatal hubiera sido cometido ayer. En las cortes y en las calles surgió un debate nacional, no sólo sobre cómo fue que tantos se habían librado de ser castigados por sus crímenes, sino también sobre las razones por las cuales el terror había tenido lugar: ¿por qué murieron esas 30 mil personas? ¿En nombre de los intereses de quién murieron? ¿Y cuál era la conexión entre aquellas muertes y las políticas de libre mercado que le habían fallado tan espectacularmente al país?

En aquella época en que los estudiantes y los sindicalistas eran arrojados de Ford Falcon verdes y llevados a centros clandestinos de tortura, había poco tiempo para preguntas respecto de las causas profundas y los intereses económicos. Durante los años del terror, los activistas argentinos tenían una sola preocupación: mantenerse vivos. Cuando grupos como Amnistía Internacional comenzaron a intervenir y apoyarlos, ellos también estaban preocupados por la supervivencia cotidiana. Los investigadores rastreaban a las personas desaparecidas y después pedían su liberación, o al menos la confirmación de su muerte.

Hubo, sin embargo, algunas excepciones, individuos que fueron capaces de ver que los generales tenían un plan económico tan agresivo como sus planes sociales y políticos. En 1976 y 1977, cuando el terror estaba en su punto más sanguinario y bárbaro, los generales presentaron un programa de "restructuración" económica que resultaría ser una probadita de la globalización empresarial cortagargantas de hoy. Recortaron a la mitad el sueldo promedio nacional, redujeron dramáticamente el gasto social y quitaron el control de precios. Los generales fueron espléndidamente recompensados por estas medidas: en esos mismos dos años, Argentina recibió más de 2 mil millones de dólares en préstamos extranjeros, más de lo que el país había recibido en los pasados seis años. Para cuando los generales regresaron el país en 1983, habían incrementado la deuda externa nacional de 7 mil millones de dólares a 43 mil millones.

El 24 de marzo de 1977, un año después del golpe, el periodista de investigación argentino Rodolfo Walsh publicó una Carta Abierta de un Escritor a la Junta Militar. Estaba destinada a ser uno de los escritos más famosos en el rubro de las cartas latinoamericanas modernas. En ella, Walsh, miembro del movimiento juvenil de los Montoneros, rompió con la censura oficial a la prensa al emprender un recuento detallado de la campaña de terror de los generales. Pero había una segunda parte de la Carta Abierta, la cual, según el biógrafo de Walsh, Michael McCaughan, fue suprimida por el liderazgo de los Montoneros, muchos de los cuales, aunque fuesen militantes en sus tácticas, no estaban tan enfocados como Walsh en la economía. La mitad perdida, recién publicada en el libro de McCaughan, True Crimes, trasladaba el enfoque de los abusos a los derechos humanos de los militares a su programa económico; con Walsh declarando, un tanto heréticamente, que el terror no era "el mayor sufrimiento infligido sobre el pueblo argentino, ni la peor violación a los derechos humanos que han cometido. Está en la política económica de este gobierno, donde uno descubre no sólo la explicación de los crímenes, sino también una mayor atrocidad que castiga a millones de seres humanos a través de la miseria planeada".

De nuevo, Walsh ofreció un catálogo de crímenes: "Congelar los salarios a culatazos mientras los precios suben a punta de bayoneta, prohibir todo tipo de negociaciones colectivas, prohibir las asambleas y las comisiones internas, ampliar los días laborales, incrementar el desempleo … una política económica dictada por el Fondo Monetario Internacional, siguiendo una receta aplicada indiscriminadamente en Zaire o Chile, en Uruguay o Indonesia".

Minutos después de enviar por correo las copias de su carta, Walsh fue emboscado por la policía y muerto a tiros en las calles de Buenos Aires.

Más difícil de matar, sin embargo, ha sido la descripción de Walsh de una lógica económica que sobrevivió a la dictadura, una lógica que guió al escalpelo de la cirugía de Menem sin anestesia y que sigue guiando cada misión del FMI en Argentina, el cual parece siempre pedir más recortes a la salud pública y la educación, mayores tarifas a los servicios básicos, más ejecuciones de hipotecas. Pero Walsh no lo llamó "buen gobierno" o "prudencia fiscal" o "ser competitivo a nivel global" él lo llamó "miseria planeada".

Walsh comprendió que los generales no estaban librando una guerra contra "el terror", sino una guerra contra cualquier barrera a la acumulación de riqueza de los inversionistas extranjeros y sus beneficiarios locales. Cada día que pasa prueba su presciencia. Los juicios civiles continúan desterrando evidencia fresca de que las empresas extranjeras colaboraron de manera cercana con la junta en su exterminación del movimiento sindical en los setenta. Por ejemplo, el pasado diciembre, un procurador federal presentó una demanda criminal contra Ford Argentina (una subsidiaria de Ford). Alegaba que la compañía tenía dentro de una de sus plantas un centro militar de detención a donde se llevaba a organizadores sindicales. "Ford [Argentina] y sus ejecutivos estaban en connivencia en el secuestro de sus propios trabajadores y creo que deberían de rendir cuentas al respecto", dice Pedro Troiani, un ex obrero de la Ford que declaró que los soldados lo secuestraron y golpearon dentro de la fábrica. Mercedes-Benz (ahora una subsidiaria de Daimler Chrysler) enfrenta una investigación parecida, tanto en Alemania como en Argentina, como resultado de alegatos de que la compañía colaboró con los militares durante los setenta para purgar una de sus plantas de militantes sindicales, dando nombres y domicilios de 16 trabajadores que después "desaparecieron", 14 de los cuales jamás fueron vueltos a ver. Tanto Ford como Mercedes-Benz niegan que sus ejecutivos hayan jugado algún papel en alguna de las muertes.

Y, claro, también está el caso de Gustavo Benedetto. A primera vista, no hay nada que conecte el asesinato de Benedetto al pasado y no hay punto de comparación entre la represión durante el argentinazo y el terror de la guerra sucia. Sin embargo, el caso Benedetto destaca el cambiante papel de los militares, el Estado y los intereses financieros, y el papel actual de los ex oficiales militares. En los setenta, Jorge Varando, el hombre acusado del asesinato de Benedetto, trabajaba para un régimen militar que abrió el sector bancario de Argentina a los bancos privados. En 2001, con las fuerzas armadas reducidas, así como el resto del sector público, él trabajaba de manera directa para uno de estos bancos. El temor es que el gran logro de dos décadas de democracia es sólo que el intermediario fue erradicado y que la represión fue privatizada. Los bancos y empresas en Argentina son custodiados por unidades de ex oficiales militares armados, que los protegen de los manifestantes públicos, y que despiertan preguntas difíciles sobre los compromisos que se hicieron durante la transición de la dictadura a la democracia.

Hoy, la historia de esa transición se rescribe en las calles. No hay un claro "antes" y "después" de la dictadura. En vez, el proyecto de la dictadura emerge como un proceso: los generales prepararon al paciente, después Menem llevó a cabo "la cirugía". La junta hizo más que desaparecer a los organizadores sindicales que podrían haber luchado contra los despidos masivos y los socialistas que quizá se hubieran rehusado a poner en práctica el más reciente plan de austeridad del FMI. El gran logro de la guerra sucia fue la cultura del miedo y del individualismo, la cual se quedó en barrios como La Tablada, donde Gustavo Benedetto creció.

Los generales comprendieron que su verdadero obstáculo hacia un control social completo no eran los rebeldes izquierdistas, sino la presencia de comunidades con lazos fuertes y la sociedad civil. Razón por la cual emprendieron la misión de "desaparecer" la esfera pública. En el primer día del golpe de 1976, los militares prohibieron todos los "espectáculos públicos", desde carnavales, pasando por el teatro, hasta las carreras de caballos. Las plazas públicas estaban estrictamente reservadas para los shows de fuerza militar y la única experiencia comunal permitida era el fútbol. Al mismo tiempo, los militares lanzaron una campaña para convertir a toda la población en informante: los periódicos estatales estaban repletos de anuncios que recordaban a los ciudadanos que era su deber civil reportar a cualquiera que pareciera que estuviera haciendo algo "subversivo". Y cuando la población se retrajo a sus hogares, el proyecto económico de la dictadura pudo ser continuado y profundizado por los sucesivos gobiernos civiles sin siquiera tener que recurrir a una engorrosa represión al menos hasta hace poco.

En los setenta, cuando las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo comenzaron a buscar a sus desaparecidos seres queridos, era común que estas valientes mujeres dijeran que sus hijos eran inocentes, que cuando se los llevaron "no estaban haciendo nada". Hoy, las Madres encabezan manifestaciones contra el FMI, hablan sobre el "terrorismo económico", y declaran con orgullo que sus hijos sí estaban haciendo algo cuando fueron secuestrados eran activistas políticos que trataban de salvar al país de la miseria planeada que comenzó bajo la dictadura y que sólo se ha profundizado bajo la democracia.

En los escombros de lo que quedó de Argentina después de diciembre de 2001, algo extraordinario comenzó a pasar: los vecinos asomaron la cabeza de sus departamentos y casas, y, en la ausencia de un liderazgo político o de un partido que le diera sentido a la explosión espontánea del cual eran parte, comenzaron a hablar unos con otros. A pensar juntos. A finales de enero de 2002, tan sólo en el centro de Buenos Aires ya había unas 250 asambleas barriales. Las calles, parques y plazas se llenaron de reuniones, la gente se desvelaba, planeaba, discutía, daba testimonios y votaba.

Muchas de esas primeras asambleas eran más terapias grupales que reuniones políticas. Los participantes hablaban sobre su experiencia de aislamiento en una ciudad de 11 millones. Los académicos y los abarroteros se disculpaban por no haber cuidado unos de otros, los gerentes de publicidad admitían que solían despreciar a los obreros desempleados, y que asumían que se merecían su difícil situación, y que nunca pensaron que la crisis podría llegar a las cuentas bancarias de la clase media cosmopolita. Y estas disculpas por las equivocaciones actuales pronto cedieron el paso a confesiones en lágrimas sobre eventos que databan de la época de la dictadura. Una ama de casa se paraba y admitía públicamente que, tres décadas antes, cuando escuchaba una historia más acerca de que el esposo o hermano de alguien había desaparecido, había aprendido a cerrar su corazón al sufrimiento, y se decía a sí misma "por algo será".

La mayoría de las asambleas comenzaron en vista de tanta miseria planeada, a planear otra cosa: alegría, solidaridad, otro tipo de economía. Se abrieron cocinas colectivas, se formaron bancos de empleos y clubes de trueque. Durante el pasado año, entre 130 y 150 plantas, en bancarrota y abandonadas por sus dueños, fueron tomadas por los trabajadores y transformadas en cooperativas o colectivos. En fábricas de tractores, supermercados, editoriales, fábricas de aluminio y pizzerías, las decisiones sobre la política de la compañía ahora se toman en asambleas abiertas, y las ganancias se reparten equitativamente entre los trabajadores. En los últimos meses, las fábricas tomadas han comenzado a crear redes y comienzan a planear una "economía de solidaridad" informal: por ejemplo, los trabajadores textiles de una fábrica tomada hacen las sábanas para una clínica de salud tomada; un supermercado en Rosario, transformado en una cooperativa, vende pasta hecha en una fábrica de pasta tomada; panaderías tomadas construyen hornos con tejas de una planta de cerámica tomada. "Siento como si al fin estuviera terminando la dictadura", me dijo un asambleísta cuando llegué a Buenos Aires. "Es como si hubiera estado encerrado en mi casa durante 25 años y ahora, al fin, estoy fuera".

La hija de la democracia

Rodolfo Walsh calculaba que tomaría 20 o 30 años antes que los efectos de la campaña del terror se desgastaran y los argentinos estuvieran al fin listos para luchar de nuevo por la justicia social y económica. Eso fue hace poco más de 25 años. Así que no pude evitar pensar en Walsh cuando conocí a Gabriela Mitidieri, una estudiante de preparatoria, confiada en sí misma, que, a excepción de su política, bien podría encajar en una audición para Academia de la Fama 2. Mitidieri nació en 1984, durante el primer año completo de gobierno electo en Argentina tras la dictadura. "Soy hija de la democracia", dice, con un dejo de sarcasmo dieciochoañero. "Eso significa que tengo una responsabilidad especial".

Así como ella lo ve, esa responsabilidad es vasta finalmente liberar al país de las políticas económicas que sobrevivieron a la transición de un mandato militar a uno civil. Sin embargo, parece impávida ante la tarea, o al menos no tiene miedo. Gaby, como la llaman sus amigos y familiares, se lanza a las manifestaciones portando unos pantalones cargo a la cadera y la mochila Blink 182 de su hermano, sostiene pancartas con sus uñas pintadas de negro y reta con la mirada a las líneas de policías, con sus ojos espolvoreados con brillantina azul.

Sus padres no comparten su audacia. Cuando las calles de Buenos Aires explotaron con el argentinazo de 2001, en el modesto hogar de los Mitidieri también tuvo lugar una explosión. El conflicto trataba sobre si la entonces diecisieteañera Gaby obtendría permiso para participar en las manifestaciones. Gaby estaba decidida a ir a la Plaza "Simplemente no podía aceptar ser una de esas personas que miran el mundo a través de una pantalla de televisión", dice ahora. Su padre, un superviviente de la guerra sucia, durante la cual fue secuestrado y torturado, físicamente bloqueo el camino de Gaby hacia la puerta mientras ella gritaba que él, entre todas las personas, debería entender por qué necesitaba estar en las calles. Sergio Mitidieri permaneció impasible tenía la edad de Gaby cuando se involucró por primera vez en política estudiantil y su juventud no lo había salvado ni a él ni a sus amigos, muchos de los cuales fueron asesinados en campos de concentración.

Como muchos de su generación, Mitidieri no regresó al activismo político después de que los generales se retiraron. El terror de aquellos años permaneció dentro de él, robándole la confianza decidida de sus días estudiantiles. Durante años, le dijo a Gaby que las cicatrices en su espalda y sus hombros provenían de accidentes deportivos. Hoy, aún no le gusta hablar del pasado; mantiene la cabeza agachada y trabaja duro para mantener a su esposa y sus cuatro hijos. Gaby dice que el miedo de su padre el hecho de que "viva con la idea de la muerte pendiendo sobre su cabeza" significa que la dictadura, ya sea impuesta por el terror externo o por el miedo interno, aún tiene agarrado al país. "La primera vez que me enteré sobre lo que le había pasado a mi padre", dice Gaby, "me preguntaba una y otra vez ‘¿por qué vivió? ¿Por qué dejaron que sobreviviera? Después leí 1984 y me dí cuenta de que él y otros sobrevivieron para mantener vivo el miedo, y para recordar a toda la población el miedo. Mi padre es una prueba viviente de eso".

Pero, sentada en el hogar de los Mitidieri, en el primer aniversario del argentinazo, me dio la impresión de que puede ser que Gaby, la autoproclamada "hija de la democracia", esté subestimando el poder contagioso de la democracia. En 2002, cuando anunció en la mañana del 19 de diciembre que se iba a unir a las manifestaciones para conmemorar el aniversario, su madre, callada, la ayudó a empacar su mochila: agua, un teléfono celular, un limón (ayuda a mitigar los efectos del gas lacrimógeno) hasta le prestó una bufanda. El padre de Gaby las miró empacar, se veía preocupado pero orgulloso.

Esa noche, la asamblea barrial local convocó a todos a salir de sus casas con cacerolas y sartenes para celebrar el día en que, un año antes, algo cambió a Argentina (aunque nadie ha podido explicar todavía exactamente qué fue). Y una cosa curiosa sucedió: los padres de Gaby aparecieron. Se quedaron a la orilla del encuentro, no hablaron con nadie pero estaban ahí.

"Aún tenemos miedo", me dijo Sergio Mitidieri, "pero también sentimos coraje. Es mejor luchar en las calles que estar callado en casa. Gaby me enseñó eso". * Autora de No Logo y Fences and Windows-Traducción: Tania Molina Ramírez. El Articulo fue publicado el 25 de enero de 2003 en el Diario ingles THE GUARDIAN. La investigación adicional fue realizada por Dawn Makinson y Joseph Huff-hannon – Publicado en LA JORNADA

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