Argentina: Turbulent Piquetero Protests Continue, President Signs Fiscal Austerity Law

Article excerpt

Violence at protests by jobless Argentines has caused concern on both sides of the demonstrations, straining links between President Nestor Kirchner and the movement of poor and unemployed people known as piqueteros. Business groups and members of Kirchner's administration have called for a harder hand against piqueteros, while the group has alleged police involvement in the recent murder of one of its leaders. The piquetero protests, which have blocked highways and led to scuffles (see NotiSur, 2004-03-12), come on top of large-scale marches against crime in Buenos Aires, where massive numbers of marchers showed their discontent with the government's failure to contain criminal activity like murder and kidnapping.

Jobless demand justice in murder of piquetero leader

Organizations of the unemployed, human rights groups, and trade unions in Argentina called a march for July 2 to protest the recent murder of a social activist, and they alleged there were attempts to create a climate of violence and destabilization in the country. They termed the June 25 killing of Martin Cisneros a "political murder" and announced a strike and a march "for life and to stop the attempts to create a climate of violence and destabilization" in Argentina.

"We will continue working, to deepen the changes promoted by the government [of Kirchner] and to build a broad front of organizations that represent the new majority," activist Luis D'Elia, with the Federacion Tierra y Vivienda (FTV), said at a press conference.

The remains of piquetero leader Cisneros, killed in his home in the early morning hours of June 26 by a drug trafficker who was detained shortly after the killing, were laid to rest the following day in Buenos Aires. Cisneros worked in a solidarity kitchen and in other projects for the most needy in the southern part of the capital city.

At the same time as the burial, federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide began an investigation into the FTV's occupation of the police headquarters in the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires. A group of piqueteros who support the Kirchner administration took over the police station for more than ten hours to repudiate the killing of Cisneros. In the police station, the piqueteros found photographs in which federal police appeared together with naked prostitutes as well as free passes to local night spots, materials that were delivered to the undersecretary of security of the nation.

After the occupation of the police station, Justice Minister Gustavo Beliz ordered the immediate resignation of the heads of the La Boca police headquarters.

The same day, thousands of jobless people occupied the Puente Pueyrredon, which joins the federal capital and surrounding metropolitan area, and marched to the Plaza de Mayo to commemorate the second anniversary of the police killing of two activists during a demonstration on the bridge.

The piqueteros accused former President Eduardo Duhalde, who governed Argentina between 2002 and 2003, of being "politically responsible" for the police killings of activists Maximiliano Kosteki and Dario Santillan, in a text read at the Plaza de Mayo.

FTV leader D'Elia said that "Duhaldismo [followers of Duhalde] is capable" of being involved in the death of his group's activist. D'Elia accused the drug trafficker, Juan Carlos Duarte, of being guilty of Cisneros' death and also accused the police of being connected with the murder.

The previous week, about fifty demonstrators from the radical leftist group Quebracho went over the barricades at the principal seat of the general headquarters of the Army in Buenos Aires and began a protest at the Patio de Armas against sending troops from Argentina to Haiti as part of UN peacekeeping forces.

Kirchner rejects calls for greater force

Businesspeople have called for "pacification" of the jobless protests, saying escalations in violence were creating tensions that would stymie the incipient economic recovery in the country (see NotiSur, 2004-02-27) and cause withdrawal of foreign investment. …