Argentina: massive looting returns after 11 years
A wave of store lootings, the first in Argentina since 2001, started on Dec. 20 when people with covered faces broke into six supermarkets in San Carlos de Bariloche, in the southwestern province of Río Negro. At the request of local authorities, the center-left government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sent 400 members of the Gendarmería militarized police to the city, which is best known as an Andean ski resort popular during the Southern Hemisphere's winter. The national government blamed small criminal gangs, while local authorities said anarchist groups were responsible.
The looting spread to other provinces within hours and continued at least through Dec. 22. Two people were killed and 130 were arrested on Dec. 21 in Rosario, a major city in the northeastern province of Santa Fe; at least 25 stores were looted, and some were set on fire. One of the victims was shot, while the other died from injuries suffered when a display window was smashed. There were 117 arrests in Campana and neighboring Zarate in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. Later on Dec. 21, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to stop hundreds of looters in parts of the city of Buenos Aires, including the Virreyes, San Fernando and Lomas de Zamora neighborhoods. There were also incidents in the northeastern province of Chaco. The Argentine Confederation of Medium Businesses (CAME) reported that a total of 292 small and medium businesses were looted in 40 cities during the incidents on Dec. 20 and Dec. 21.
At least four stores were looted on Dec. 22 in San Miguel de Tucumán, capital of the northern province of Tucumán. One person, Ramón Rosario Acosta, was killed when hit by a truck; the driver had turned suddenly to avoid a crowd he thought was planning to rob his truck. It was unclear whether the victim was part of the crowd or a bystander.
The lootings were reminiscent of a "social explosion" that broke out in December 2001, resulting in some 40 deaths and the resignation of the government of then-president Fernando de la Rúa (1999-2001). But the looting 11 years earlier followed four years of recession, the collapse of the banking system and the country's default on $132 billion in public debts, the results of an extreme neoliberal economic program followed by former president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999). Analysts noted that the country has now had a growth rate of about 8% almost every year under the state-interventionist policies of President Fernández and her late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007).
Politicians close to President Fernández stressed that the looters had stolen goods like televisions and computers, not staples. "[C]arrying off a plasma [screen television] isn't about hunger, it's vandalism," Buenos Aires province governor Daniel Scioli said. He and others implied that political forces had organized the looting to destabilize the country. Argentina's largest union federation, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), and the more radical Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA) had sponsored a nationwide general strike on Nov. 20 and another action on Dec. 19 to protest the government's economic policies. CGT general secretary Hugo Moyano, formerly a Fernández ally in the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist), denied responsibility for the looting. "This is probably triggered by the difficult situation the people of Argentina are facing," he said. "I cannot imagine that this has been organized by someone."
Increases in food prices "are seriously affecting the most impoverished sectors," Néstor Pitrola, director of the Trotskyist Workers' Party (PO), told the Inter Press Service (IPS). Pitrola endorsed private banks' estimates that the annual inflation rate is now 30%, against the government's insistence that the rate is 9%. "The government is accumulating explosive circumstances, and we shouldn't be surprised if we have more of these social explosions," Pitrola said. However, he didn't discount the possibility that dissident Peronist factions might "be taking advantage of the situation of marginality" to stir up discontent. (BBC News, Dec. 21, Dec. 22; IPS, Dec. 22, via Rebelión, Spain; Terra, Argentina, Dec. 23)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 23.