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The December 2001 uprising was a period of civil unrest and rioting in Argentina, which took place during December 2001, with the most violent incidents taking place on December 19 and December 20 in the capital, Buenos Aires, Rosario and other large cities around the country.
The uprising was a predominantly middle-class uprising against the government of President Fernando de la Rúa, who had failed to contain the economic crisis that was going through its third year of recession. Since 1991, the Argentine peso was at a fixed exchange rate with the US dollar. The dollarization had been instrumental to overcome the chronic hyperinflation bursts of the late 1980s, but almost entirely deprived Argentina of control over its monetary policy, and a sudden revaluation of the dollar in 1997 ended up harming exports, which were the only important source of foreign currency at the time.
De la Rúa's economic policies suffered a severe blow in March 2001 when Economy Minister José Luis Machinea resigned from office. He was briefly replaced by the then-Defense Minister Ricardo López Murphy, who himself was forced to resign following negative reception to his shock program. After only two weeks in office, López Murphy was replaced by Domingo Cavallo, who had previously served as Economy Minister between 1991 and 1996, and who was widely credited to be the man that took Argentina out of hyperinflation.
Cavallo took to administer the country's economy, establishing new taxes and special agreements with certain sectors of the Argentine industrial establishment. He also took to restructure Argentina's massive foreign debt in an operation known locally as the megacanje ("mega-exchange", i. e. an exchange of debt bonds for others at more advantageous conditions). From the first moment, there were allegations of corruption and money laundering about the megacanje.
De la Rúa's political situation was also precarious. His arrival to power in 1999 had been possible thanks to the Alliance for Work, Justice and Education, a coalition formed by the Radical Civic Union and the FrePaSo, which managed to defeat the incumbent Justicialist Party (the Peronists) in that year's presidential elections. However, the Alliance (as it was known) failed to achieve a majority in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, and lost the provincial elections to the Peronists, who then remained in charge of large and critical districts such as the Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Santa Fe provinces.
The government coalition was strained from the first moment; the FrePaSo leaders resented being "junior members" of the government (being forced to that position after losing their bid to the Governorship of Buenos Aires), while the Radicals were divided between their left- and right-leaning factions (De la Rúa was a leader of the party's conservatives), especially regarding economic policy. In late 2000 a political scandal broke out when it was reported that SIDE, Argentina's intelligence service, had paid massive bribes to a number of senators to approve a controversial Labor Reform Act. The head of SIDE, Fernando de Santibañes, was a personal friend of De la Rúa. The crisis came to a head on October 2000 when Vice President Carlos Álvarez resigned, citing De la Rúa's unwillingness to tackle corruption.
The March 2001 crisis (see above) also caused the resignation of all the FrePaSo Cabinet ministers, leaving de la Rúa without political support. The congressional elections of October 2001 were a disaster for the government, which lost many of its seats in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies to the Peronists. The election results marked also a growing unrest within Argentina's voters, who took to cast millions of null or blank votes. The Peronists seized the opportunity to appoint Senator Ramón Puerta to be President Pro-Tempore of the Argentine Senate, a situation which added to De la Rúa's political weakness since in the Argentine system the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate is next in line for the Presidency after the Vice President. With no Vice President of its own, Puerta's designation meant that De la Rúa had a virtual Peronist Vice President.
Social unrest was also growing. Since the late 1990s, protest movements had formed in Argentina, notably the piqueteros ("picketeers"), initially made up of unemployed workers. The piqueteros blockaded major roads and highways demanding government subsidies and other welfare measures. They featured prominently during the March 2001 crisis.
This entire crisis came to a head on November 29, 2001, when Argentines took to banks and financial institutions to withdraw millions of pesos and dollars from their accounts. Had the withdrawal continued, Argentina's entire banking system would have collapsed.
The unrest started when Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo, introduced restrictions to the withdrawal of cash from bank deposits, intending to stop the draining of deposits that had been taking place throughout 2001 and had reached the point where 25% of all the money in the banks had been withdrawn. These measures were aimed at controlling the banking crisis for a period of 90 days, until the exchange of Argentina's public debt could be completed.
Although people could still use their money via credit cards, checks and other forms of non-cash payments, the enforcement of these measures caused delays and problems for the general population and especially for businesses. Massive queues at every bank and growing reports of political crisis contributed to inflame Argentina's political scenario.
In this context, certain factions of the opposition, as well as interest groups who wanted a devaluation of the Argentine peso, seized the opportunity to fuel public anger and replace the government.
De la Rúa's position had become unsustainable. An attempt by the Catholic Church to mediate between the government and the opposition in mid-December failed. Between December 16 and December 19 there were several incidents involving unemployed activists and protesters which demanded the handing-out of food bags from supermarkets. These incidents ended up with outright looting of supermarkets and convenience stores on December 18, taking place on Rosario and the Greater Buenos Aires areas. This was of historical significance, as the previous Radical administration of Raúl Alfonsín had been forced to resign after a wave of looting in 1989.
Throughout the day new lootings took place, and the Government believed that Peronist agitators were fueling the protests, especially in the province of Buenos Aires. This came after noting that the lootings often took place in Peronist-governed towns, and that the Buenos Aires Provincial Police (which ultimately answered to Buenos Aires Governor Carlos Ruckauf, a top Peronist) was strangely mild in restoring order. With violence mounting across Argentina's major cities, President De la Rúa began to consider alternative measures to restore order.
The first option considered was to deploy the military to contain the violence. However, Argentine legislation forbids military intervention in domestic security matters unless the police and security forces are overwhelmed, a situation quickly pointed out by the Chairman of the Joint General Staff and the Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The military also pointed out that they would only intervene if their deployment was authorized by a law voted in Congress, something impossible given the Peronist majority in both Houses. The Argentine military was unwilling to take the blame if violence grew worse, learning from what had previously happened when President Isabel Perón issued an executive order commanding them to fight the subversive guerrilla movements of the 1970s (see Dirty War).
With military intervention no longer an option, De la Rúa resorted to declare a state of siege (essentially a state of emergency) throughout the country, deploying the Federal Police, the National Gendarmerie (border guard) and the Naval Prefecture (coast guard) to contain the growing violence.
Later that night, De la Rúa addressed the nation to announce the state of siege and to call the Peronists to negotiate a "government of national unity". Following the broadcast, spontaneous cacerolazos ("pot banging") took place throughout Buenos Aires and other major cities, signaling the middle-class' own unrest. December 19 concluded with the resignation of Domingo Cavallo, who had lost whatever support he had within the government. Groups of protesters mobilized throughout Buenos Aires, some of them arriving to Plaza de Mayo, where there were incidents with the Federal Police forces.
This day is documented on video by the group Gotan Project in the song Queremos Paz.
What had begun as rioting by unemployed and leftist-leaning groups had turned into a middle-class protest with the cacerolazos, and the resignation of Cavallo did nothing to calm down the situation. The De la Rúa administration had agreed with the military to participate in an emergency handing-out of food, however, the plan failed due to lack of cooperation from the Ministry of Social Development.
Throughout the morning, groups of protesters converged on Plaza de Mayo despite the state of siege. The Federal Police, acting under orders from the government, proceeded to try to control the protests. An attempt by a federal judge to halt police operations was disregarded, and the situation worsened with the arrival of new groups of protesters.
As violence expanded, President De la Rúa tried to impose censorship on all news outlets from Buenos Aires. The idea was to use the state of siege to force the television networks to stop transmitting current events and broadcast emergency programming. This plan also failed because De la Rúa's own Media Secretary refused to carry out his instructions.
Meanwhile, there were violent incidents between the police and protesters throughout the country. The most notorious ones took place at the Plaza de Mayo, where five people were killed. Some claim that the deaths were provoked by covert elements of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police in an attempt to further destabilize De la Rúa.
With his options steadily being reduced, De la Rúa went onto national television at 4 p.m. to offer the Peronists to join the government and try to bring some peace to the country. At that time, a caucus of Peronist governors was taking place at a country villa in the province of San Luis. Three hours later, Humberto Roggero, head of the Peronist bloc of the House of Deputies, announced that the Peronist Party would not be a part of a "government of national unity".
When he heard the Peronists' response, De la Rúa decided to resign from office. The situation on Plaza de Mayo (right in front of the Casa Rosada, the Presidential Palace) was still too violent for De la Rúa to leave by car to his official residence at Olivos. Thus, the President's security detail decided to take him out of the Casa Rosada on board an Air Force helicopter. The images of De la Rúa's "escape" by helicopter were broadcast throughout the country. The violence slowly abated. By the end of the day, 26 people had died, five of them in Buenos Aires. The President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, Ramón Puerta, took over as Interim President, until Congress could appoint a successor to De la Rúa.
Rodríguez Saá Administration
According to the Acephaly Act, Puerta would only be President until the Legislative Assembly (a joint session of the Senate and the House of Deputies) convened and appointed a new President from either one member of Congress or a provincial governor to complete the resigning President's period.
The Peronist governors assembled at San Luis -arguably the most powerful men in Argentina at the period- were divided on who to nominate. There were three "natural candidates", who were the governors of the three largest provinces: Carlos Ruckauf of Buenos Aires, José Manuel de la Sota of Córdoba and Carlos Reutemann of Santa Fe. As a temporary arrangement, the governors decided to nominate Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, Governor of San Luis. The Peronists' easy majority in both houses of Congress ensured that Rodríguez Saá was elected on December 22.
Rodríguez Saá was to be President for only three months, until Presidential elections were held in March. De la Rúa's term expired in 2003, but some argued that only a President legitimated by popular vote would be able to bring Argentina out of the crisis. However, Rodríguez Saá didn't seem at all satisfied with being a caretaker President.
From the first moment, Rodríguez Saá embarked on ambitious projects aimed at giving him popularity. In his inaugural speech, he announced that Argentina would default on its foreign debt, an announcement received by rousing applause from the members of Congress. He then proceeded to announce the issuing of a "third currency" (alongside with the peso and the dollar) to boost consumption. Later on, Rodríguez Saá announced that he would extradite every former military officer charged with human rights abuses during the Dirty War who was requested by foreign courts. Another measure was to stand down the state of siege.
There were also some unpopular designations to the Cabinet. The most notorious one was the appointment of former Mayor of Buenos Aires Carlos Grosso, arguably one of the most corrupt figures in Argentine politics. Rodríguez Saá also courted the powerful Peronist trade unions in a move that was recognized as an attempt to wrestle power from the other Peronist governors.
New riots and cacerolazos took place on Buenos Aires, with some protesters entering the Congress Palace and burning furniture. On December 30, Rodríguez Saá called for a summit of Peronist governors at the Presidential holiday retreat of Chapadmalal, 12 miles south of Mar del Plata. Of the fourteen Peronist governors, only five attended. Realizing that he lacked support from his own party, Rodríguez Saá returned to his home province to announce his own resignation to the Presidency after barely a week in office.
Designation of Eduardo Duhalde
Ramón Puerta refused to take over as interim President again, resigning as President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. With no President, Vice President or President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, the Presidency of Argentina was placed in the hands of the next-in-line: Eduardo Camaño, who was the Speaker of the House of Deputies.
Camaño was to take over until a new Legislative Assembly was convened. The Assembly convened on 1 January 2002, and debated extensively before designating Senator Eduardo Duhalde as President almost at midnight.
Duhalde was one of the top leaders of the Peronist Party. However, many had thought that Duhalde's political career was ruined after his defeat in the 1999 presidential elections. In an ironic twist of events, Duhalde was called to complete the term of the man who beat him in the elections, Fernando de la Rúa. This was not to be a provisional presidency, as Duhalde was designated to complete the interrupted term of De la Rúa until the 2003 presidential elections.
With regard to the economy Duhalde and his Economy Minister Jorge Remes Lenicov decided on an even more extreme freezing of the bank deposits, which was then coupled with the so-called pesificación ("peso-ification", a forced transformation of all dollar-denominated accounts into pesos at an arbitrary fixed exchange rate), and a regulated devaluation. The fixed exchange rate system was abandoned soon afterwards, which was followed by a large depreciation (Further reading : Economy of Argentina )
The General Confederation of Labour of the Argentine Republic (in Spanish: Confederación General del Trabajo de la República Argentina, CGT) is a national trade union centre of Argentina founded on September 27, 1930, as the result of the merge of the USA (Unión Sindical Argentina) and the COA (Confederación Obrera Argentina) trade union centres. Nearly Two out of three unionized workers in Argentina belong to the CGT, and it is one of the largest trade unions in the world.
The CGT during the Infamous Decade
The CGT was founded on 27 September 1930, the result of an agreement between Socialists and Revolutionary Syndicalists, to which the Communists later joined themselves, leading to the merge between the Unión Sindical Argentina (USA), which had succeeded to the FORA IX (Argentine Regional Workers' Federation of the IXth Congress), and the Confederación Obrera Argentina (COA).
During the Infamous Decade of the 1930s and subsequent industrial development, the CGT began to form itself as a strong union, competing with the historical anarchist FORA V (Argentine Regional Workers' Federation of the Vth Congress). The CGT was then mainly present in the railroad industry (in particular in the Unión Ferroviaria and La Fraternidad). It was headed by José Domenech (Unión Ferroviaria), Ángel Borlenghi (Confederación General de Empleados de Comercio) and Francisco Pérez Leirós (Unión de Obreros Municipales). CGT became the Argentine affiliate of the International Federation of Trade Unions (an organization that both USA and COA had been members of for shorter periods).
The CGT split in 1935 over a conflict between Socialists and Revolutionary Syndicalists, leading to the creation of the CGT-Independencia (Socialists & Communists) and the CGT-Catamarca (Revolutionary Syndicalists). The latter re-founded, in 1937, the Unión Sindical Argentina. However, in 1942 the CGT again split, into the CGT n°1, headed by the Socialist railroader José Domenech and opposed to Communism, and the CGT n°2, also headed by a Socialist (Pérez Leirós), which gathered Communist unions (construction, meat, graphism) and some important Socialist unions (such as the retail workers' union led by Borlenghi and the municipal workers' union led by Pérez Leirós).
The CGT following the "Revolution of '43"
After the coup d'état of 1943, its leaders embraced the pro-working class policies of the Labour Minister, Col. Juan Domingo Perón. Again the CGT was unified, due to the incorporation of many unionists who were members of the CGT n°2, dissolved in 1943 by the military government.
When Perón was separated from the government and confined on Martín García Island, the CGT called for a major popular demonstration at the Plaza de Mayo, on 17 October 1945, succeeding in releasing Perón from prison and in the call for elections. Founding on the same day the Labour Party (Partido Laborista), the CGT was one of the main support of Perón during the February 1946 elections. In 1947, the Labour Party merged into the Peronist Party. Afterwards, the CGT became one of the strongest arms of the Peronist Movement, and the only trade union centre recognised by Perón's government. Two CGT delegates, the Socialist Ángel Borlenghi and Juan Atilio Bramuglia were nominated Minister of Interior and Minister of Foreign Affairs, respectively. Colonel Domingo Mercante, who was perhaps the military officer with the closest ties to labor, was elected Governor of Buenos Aires (a key constituency).
The number of unionized workers grew markedly during the Perón years, from 1 million to 6 million (all belonging to the one of the CGT's 2,500 affiliated unions). His administration also enacted or significantly extended numerous landmark social reforms supported by the CGT, including: minimum wages; labor courts; collective bargaining rights; improvements in housing, health and education; social insurance; pensions; economic policies which encouraged import substitution industrialization; growth in real wages of up to 50%; and an increased share of employees in national income from 45% to a record 58%.
From the 1950s to the 1980s democratic transition
After the Revolución Libertadora military coup in 1955, which ousted Perón and outlawed Peronism, the CGT was banned from politics and its leadership replaced with government appointees. In response, the CGT began a destabilisation campaign to end Perón's proscription and to obtain his return from exile. Amid ongoing strikes over both declining real wages and political repression, AOT textile workers' leader Andrés Framini andPresident Arturo Frondizi negotiated an end to six years of forced government receivership over the CGT in 1961. This concession, as well as the lifting of the Peronists' electoral ban in 1962, led to Frondizi's overthrow, however. During the 1960s, the leaders of the CGT attempted to create a "Peronism without Perón" - that is, a form of Peronism that retained the populist ideals set forth by Juan Perón, but rejected the personality cult that had developed around him in the 1940s and 1950s. The chief exponents of this strategy were the Unión Popular, founded by former Foreign Minister Juan Atilio Bramuglia (who, as chief counsel for the Unión Ferroviaria rail workers' union, had a key role in forming the alliance between labor and Perón), and UOM steelworkers' leader Augusto Vandor, who endorsed the CGT's active participation in elections against Perón's wishes and became the key figure in this latter movement. Vandor and Perón both supported President Arturo Illia's overthrow in 1966, but failed to reach an agreement with dictator Juan Carlos Onganía afterward.
The 1968 split between the CGT-Azopardo and the CGT de los Argentinos
In 1968, the CGT divided itself into the CGT-Azopardo, which gathered proponents of collaboration with the military junta (also named "participationists", they included the general secretary of the CGT Augusto Vandor, as well as José Alonso and the future general secretary of the CGT-Azopardo José Ignacio Rucci), and the CGTA (CGT de los Argentinos), a more radical union headed by the graphist Raimundo Ongaro. The CGTA, which also included the Córdoba Light and Power Workers' leader Agustín Tosco, notably participated to the Cordobazo uprising in 1969, during which it called for a general strike. The military junta then jailed most of its members, who were also close to the Grupo Cine Liberación film movement and the Movimiento de Sacerdotes para el Tercer Mundo, a group of priests close to the Liberation Theology.
Following the failure of a 120 days strike at the Fabril Financiera, and the reconciliation between Augusto Vandor, leader of the "participationists", with Juan Perón, the CGTA witnessed many of its unions joining the "62 Organizations," the Peronist political front of the CGT. Perón and his delegate, Jorge Paladino, followed a cautious line of opposition to the military junta, criticizing with moderation the neoliberal policies of the junta but waiting for discontent inside the government.
Despite this, in 1969, the CGTA still boasted 286,184 members, while the Nueva Corriente de Opinión (or Participationism), headed by José Alonso and Rogelio Coria boasted 596,863 members and the CGT Azopardo, headed by Vandor, boasted 770,085 members and the majority in the Confederal Congress.
Assassinations of the leadership and conflict with the far left
The 1969 assassination of UOM Secretary General Augusto Vandor, and that of the CGT Secretary General, José Alonso, in 1970, created a power vacuum that left Vandor's conservative successor at the UOM, Lorenzo Miguel, at the CGT's leading power-broker. He leveraged his influence to advance a rival within the UOM, José Ignacio Rucci, as the new Secretary General of the CGT. The pragmatic Miguel thus turned a rival into an ally, while impeding the more combative Light and Power workers' leader, Agustín Tosco, from rising to the powerful post.
Rucci maintained good relations with the dictatorship and earned the aging Perón's friendship. The next years were blemished by often bloody internal disputes and the fight against the leftist Montoneros, however, and in September 1973, a commando killed Secretary-General Rucci. The Montoneros, who neither claimed responsibility nor denied it, were accused of Rucci's death, and the event triggered an escalating conflict between left and right-wing Peronists spearheaded by the Montoneros and the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance, respectively.
In 1975 the CGT affiliated itself with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) opposed to Communism. Following the March 1976 coup, 10,000 factory delegates, on a total of 100,000, were arrested. During the Dirty War of the second half of the 1970s, many of the CGT's leaders and activists disappeared. At first temporarily suspended, the CGT was then dissolved by the junta. Despite having been outlawed, the trade unions reorganized themselves into two factions, one supporting frontal opposition to the dictatorship, and called first "the 25" then the CGT-Brasil, led by Saúl Ubaldini, and the other supporting negotiation with the military, named at first CNT and then CGT-Azopardo (led by Jorge Triaca). Both the CGT-Brasil and the CGT-Azopardo were named after the streets on which the headquarters were located. The CGT-Azopardo negotiated with the military dictatorship the control of the medical-care health-insurance organisations (obras sociales).
On 27 April 1979, "the 25" proclaimed the first of a series of general strikes against the dictatorship. In November 1980, despite their being proscribed, they re-formed the CGT, thereafter known as CGT-Brasil, and on 7 November 1980, the latter called forth the first open demonstration against the junta. The grievances were topped by both repression and by the policies of Economy Minister José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, who had enacted repeated wage freezes and free trade policies and had presided over declines in real wages and industrial output which particularly impacted the CGT. Amid a sharp recession, on 30 March 1982, tens of thousands responded to its call to demonstrate in favour of democracy on Plaza de Mayo, in Buenos Aires, and in other cities throughout the country. Thousands were subsequently detained, and two days later, greatly weakened, the military junta began the Falklands War, in an attempt to bolster nationalism feelings and unite the country behind its rule.
The CGT since the return to democracy
After the Falklands War, Raúl Alfonsín denounced the association between Labour and the junta, criticizing a "military-labour pact". After his election as President of Argentina in 1983, he failed on passing through the Senate a new law regulating trade unions and guaranteeing freedom of association. In his negotiations with the CGT, Alfonsín conceded the position of Minister of Labour to CGT man Hugo Barrionuevo.
Under Saúl Ubaldini's guidance, the CGT launched 13 general strikes during Alfonsín's government. In 1989, with an hyperinflation corroding the economy, the CGT introduced a 26-point programme to support Carlos Menem's bid to the Presidency, including measures such as declaring a unilateral external debt default. Justicialist candidate Carlos Menem won the 1989 elections on a populist campaign platform, but entrusted the Ministry of Economy to the Bunge y Born company, a major agribusiness firm. This turn led to a rupture within the CGT in late 1989, though following a 1991 conference in which concern over new Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo's free-market policies ruled the agenda, the CGT was reunited under an agreement to keep the union in a stance of conditional support for the measures, which had already been reigniting economic growth. The intransigent Ubaldini was replaced by Light and Power Workers' leader Oscar Lescano.
The move caused some dissent, however, and led to the establishment of the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA), led by Víctor de Gennaro, and to the development of a dissident faction led by Truckers' Union leader Hugo Moyano, the MTA. Menem's ample victories in the 1991 mid-term elections gave momentum to his agenda of labour reforms, many of which included restricting overtime pay and easing indemnifications for layoffs, for instance. Under pressure from the rank-and-file, Lescano called for a general strike late in 1992 (the first during the Menem tenure). Increasingly marginalized within the Justicialist Party, however, he resigned the following May in favor of Steelworkers' leader Naldo Brunelli.
The CGT endorsed Menem's 1995 re-election campaign; but following a sharp recession, the CGT, CTA and MTA reacted jointly in mid-1996 with two general strikes against the government's neoliberal policies, whose emphasis on free trade and sharp productivity gains they believed responsible for the highest unemployment rates since the great depression. Aside from these shows of force, the CGT, led by Construction Workers' leader Gerardo Martínez, remained conciliatory with the anti-labour Menem for the sake of the Justicialist Party. The party's defeats in the 1997 mid-term elections bode poorly for their chances in 1999 (elections they went on to lose).
Moyano's rapproachment with the CGT was again strained in the year 2000, when President Fernando de la Rúa's plans to make Argentina's labour laws more flexible distanced him from the CGT leadership led by Rodolfo Daer, whose conciliatory stance led to a "Rebel" CGT led by Julio Piumato. The collapse of de la Rúa's government in late 2001 made way for the parliamentary selection of former Buenos Aires Province Governor Eduardo Duhalde, whose alliance to MTA leader Hugo Moyano helped lead to the gathering of much of what remained of the CGT under his leadership. The reunited CGT elected Moyano Secretary General in 2004. Benefiting from a close alliance with the administrations of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner, Moyano has leveraged his capacity as head of the Council on Salaries (an officially-sanctioned advisory board) to secure a stronger collective bargaining position and frequent increases in the minimum wage.
In recent years, and in spite its strength as the only labour representative in many forums, the CGT has faced growing opposition from other trade unions, such as the CTA, or the left-leaning grassroots organisations of unemployed people known as Piqueteros (Picketing Men), groups first in evidence during the Menem years which have since become tenuously allied with the Kirchner administrations.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "December 2001 riots in Argentina" and "General Confederation of Labour (Argentina)", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.