MAR DEL PLATA, ARGENTINA - The week of November 1-5 the Argentine beach town of Mar del Plata has become the primary site of a 25 year struggle between neo-liberalism and social movements. Bush has come to Argentina, with thousands of security, to attend the IV Summit of the Americas whose theme is Creating Jobs to Reduce Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance.
Argentines, who have largely rejected the neoliberal invasion that led their country into economic crisis in late 2001, have mobilized against Bush and the financial system that he represents. As the Nestor Kirchner Administration hosts the official Summit of the Americas behind miles of fences, the Peoples´Summit has brought together social movements, labor, piqueteros, non-profits, and community groups from Argentina and the Americas to strategize a more just form of Latin American Integration.
The Peoples´Summit, an enormous to-do which has taken up half of the city, two stadiums, and the universtiy, has provided the space for dialogue on how to build an anti-imperialist hemispheric movement. Reproductive, indigenous, and human rights, alternative production models, challenging imperialism, youth movements, genetically modified (GMO) crops, and building autonomy were some of the main themes of the event.
There is also a growing divide of what the role of progressive and leftist governments will be in building alternatives to the neo-liberal model. Many social movements, especially the autonomous-oriented piquetero groups from Argentina do not believe that the progressive leaders of Latin America will truly represent their interests or give them more than small pay-offs. Other groups, mainly the parties that are aligned with Kircher, see hope in an alliance with Lula, Chavez, Castro, Vazquez of Uruguay, and Evo Morales, if he wins the upcomming Bolivian elections.
The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was the ghost that haunted the Summit. Although the agreement was not passed by its January 2005 deadline, it is still on the US agenda. Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico, suggested that the FTAA was inevitable provoking a response from Brazil claiming that the FTAA was not on the agenda. The strongest oppostion to the proposed-agreement comes from Venezuela, the MERCOSUR countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and social movements throughout South America. This IV Summit adressed the growing rejection of the neo-liberal model by progessive leaders in Latin America and, now there is now a counter-proposal on the table. ALCA (the FTAA in Spanish) has suffered some blows from social movement in the Americas, and a few years ago, the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez propsed ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para las Americas.) The proposed-agreement was initially disregaurded but, is now beginning to gain genuine political clout. Cuba and Venezuela have signed onto this model of Latin American integration by Venezuela exchanging oil at below-market level prices for a variety of services, mostly medical, which Cuba provides. The economic terms of this counter-proposal for Latin American integration are still unclear, although the claims are that it would be a model that is based in solidarity, not competition. The people´s summit hosted three separate workshops on ALBA, one which focused on Telesur, a Latin American sattelite television station as an integral part of hemispheric integration. Chavez also adressed the Peoples´Summit after a concert where Cuban musician Sylvio Rodriguez, among many others, played to a stadium packed full of people.
Chavez has become a hero to many labor groups and political parties who were waving the Venezuelan flags with fervor. For others, ALBA is an empty proposal that will be discussed among ´progressive´ political leaders and will not truly empower poor people or change the dominant economic model. In Venezuela, there are community health projects, employment plans, education programs and national restructuring and redistribution processes being initiated by the Chavez government and grassroots community groups. However, many of the other ´progressive´governements of Latin America have not made large structural economic or political changes which empower the poor. Social movements are skeptical of any integration model in which politicians exclude poor communities from the debate. Within social movements and communities in Argentina there is a large distrust of government and an understanding of the compromises many progressive leaders make to stay in power.
Argentina, the second largest producer of GMO soy in Latin America, is currently selling Venezuela industial farm equiptment in exchange for cheap oil. Much of this farm equiptment will be used by newly formed cooperatives but, it will also be used for the farming of GMO soy, which Venezuela buys from Paraguay. Grupo de Reflecion Rural, which works for food soverignty and against GMO soy in Argentina, and its relationship to coroporate power, environmental degradation, militarization and human rights violations is challenging ALBA. Although like many groups, they support a Latin American integration built in solidarity, they oppose the inclusion of GMO soy in this agreement. As Chavez spoke to the masses, the groups brought a large banner that stated, CON SOJA NO HAY ALBA...With Soy, there is no ALBA.
In Mar del Plata, the People´s Summit culminated in street actions to protest Bush, the FTAA and neoliberalism. As the official Summit began, the actions were kicked-off with 7am march of 40,000 people, heading from the fence to the stadium, where Chavez spoke. After the concert, and the enthusiastic speech where Chavez claimed that Mar del Plata is the grave-site of the FTAA, another march departed the from the stadium. Autonomists, anti-imperialists, trostkyists, and piqueteros gathered in the streets to march towards the fence, which encapsulated the meetings and about eighty blocks of the city. Marching past closed down businesses and tons of graffiti reading fuera bush!, this group of over 10,000 people, with colorful signs, and huge banners headed towards the Summit.
As the march approached the fence the police fired tear-gas canisters, and some rubber bulletts. Although over 5,000 police were in town for this mobilization the majority were behind the fence. The streets were filled with people expressing their discontent for Bush and all that he stands for. Rocks were thrown through windows of multinational corporate businesses. Cellular phone companies, fast food chains, and banks were targeted as clear symbols of corporate neo-liberal globalization. Banco Galicia, located three blocks from the police line was set on fire with a Molotov cocktail. Elsewhere,other small scale explosives were used to start fires.
The message was clear, "Bush is not welcome here!" nor is an economic model that has led this country into crisis. Neoliberalism has failed to reduce poverty, create jobs, improve education, or foster democracy. Many hope that the FTAA will rest in Mar del Plata, and that its tomb will read Defeated by the People.
There were 86 arrests in Mar del Plata. Similar actions took place in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. When an older local couple who owns a small convenient store was asked what they thought of the action they replied, "Well, the banks had it coming to them."