Argentina: Sparking off a Chain Reaction

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Javier Carles reports from the streets of Argentina.

Tuesday, 18 December
IMF and US rejects financial help to Argentinia's government. Lootings of shops and supermarkets begin in provinces such as Rosario, and quickly spread. The reaction of the De La Rua government is to deny that there is any crisis and that the situation is under control but the looting continues.

Wednesday, 19 December
Some supermarkets begin to organise food distribution in the poorest areas to avoid looting. Bags of food are thrown from the backs of trucks into the hungry crowd. In some cases the resulting chaos aggravates the situation. By the afternoon looting has spread throughout the country and has reached the outlying areas of Buenos Aires. The De La Rua government declares a 'state of emergency', giving free reign to the police to use maximum force to suppress the protests.

The first deaths are reported from Cordoba and Rosario as the police wade in. In the early evening De La Rua appears on television demanding order be restored. The reaction of the people in the capital is astonishing. No sooner has the broadcast finished than people in the many barrios across Buenos Aires begin to take to the streets, banging pots and pans in protest. Within minutes, hundreds of thousands are on the streets building burning barricades.

At 11pm the television reports that a handful of people are protesting at the Plaza de Mayo outside the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada. They call on people to join them. Within one hour thousands fill the square demanding the resignation of Domingo Cavallo, the economics minister. With the whole capital in turmoil, Cavallo's resignation is announced but the protesters are now demanding the whole government goes. The police use rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators but while they succeed in clearing the Plazo de Mayo, the demonstrators head for the Congreso, the huge square outside the country's parliament building. The demonstration completely fills the square and all the surrounding streets. People are chanting now for De La Rua's resignation. At 3am the police charge into the square, beginning what the Argentinian media call the worst repression since the military dictatorship.

Thursday, 20 December
People again begin to gather at the Plaza de Mayo, while others, together with the political parties of the left, meet at the Congreso. The police attempt to repeat the tactics of the night before by launching a completely unprovoked attack on the protesters. What follows is called by the press the 'battle for the Plaza de Mayo'.

This time, instead of retreating, the people stand their ground. The police use huge volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets together with horses and armoured water cannons to push people back from the square. It often appears they have succeeded only for tens of thousands to flood back. In the surrounding streets the battles grow bloodier and the first deaths of protesters are reported. All of this is being shown live on television.

At 3pm the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, renowned for their defiance under the military dictatorshop, arrive for their weekly march at the square. They are soon joined by other protesters. After a few minutes, they too come under attack from the police. Despite the repression, the battles go on all day. By early evening five demonstrators are reported dead but still running battles with the police are taking place. There is talk of an indefinite general strike being called for the following day. But before this can happen the government collapses. De La Rua appears on television offering the opposition Partido Justicalista (PJ) a government of national unity. With an eye to the protests on the streets, they turn this down and within an hour De La Rua too has resigned. Protesters are greeted by the spectacle of De La Rua being lifted by helicopter from the roof of the Casa Rosada. In the two days of these mass protests, the official figures list 22 dead although the real figure is undoubtedly higher.

22 December

PJ proposes Rodriguez Saá for presidency

28 December

Thousands of people march through the capital back on the streets and the Plaza de Mayo, clapping pots and pans in protest at the robbery--'They rob our wages and they rob our savings!' The masses chanted 'Thieves! Thieves!'

Night 28 to 29 December

Spontaneously people made their way to the Plaza de Mayo and the Congreso. They stormed both Casa Rosada and Congreso, looted Congreso and started fires until they were driven out by police.

29 December

All ministers put their resignation on the table but these are rejected by President Saá the following day. Some local neighbourhoods begin to organise themselves holding local meetings in the barrios. Such self organisation is currently spreading from barrio to barrio.