Neoliberalism, State Violence and Grassroots Resistance in Argentina

Since Mauricio Macri’s election in late 2015, a renewed neoliberal project has engendered intensified social conflicts. Wholesale public spending cuts, which have hit women hardest, and a return to a model of indebtedness and prescriptive economic policy by the IMF – from which the country has accepted a $57 billion loan – have plunged the country into economic crisis and dramatically increased poverty levels. Meanwhile, state protection of the interests of large-scale extractive industries and multinational capital has intensified persecution of local communities and criminalisation of indigenous peoples throughout the country. With Argentina hosting the G20 summit this year, the government’s alliance with international business has become ever clearer. Yet in this context, as institutional power is employed to advance a right-wing political project, a pattern of protest from below and new networks of resistance have taken centre stage in the struggle against neoliberal capitalism. In addition to the traditional political actors of the left, such as trade unions and human rights organisations, this wave of resistance includes feminist, indigenous and environmental groups, which have become stronger and more visible in recent years, drastically changing the landscape of both political activism and grassroots resistance.

A new wave of feminism

The feminist movement in Argentina is far from recent. Women in the country have been fighting patriarchal structures and advocating for rights for decades. However, the recent advance of neoliberalism calls for new, intersectional forms of feminism, as the economic and political model of inequality is affecting the lives of poor women, trans women, and non binary people the most. We can see this shift in feminist struggles by looking at the rise of the Ni Una Menos movement. Emerging in 2015, the cry “Ni Una Menos” was undebatable, fighting against the murder and rape of women across the country. But soon the movement started to broaden its borders and overcome its own limitations; it has realised the need to fight all types of machista violence, especially state violence and the marginalisation of women as a result of misogynistic policies concerning health, labour and the judicial system, among other issues. Thus the movement set out to dismantle the governing structures of power and challenge all layers of oppression in society. Ni Una Menos evolved from being a cry against the rape and murder of women and became a much broader struggle against the oppression of the LGBTQI community, the working class, migrants, and indigenous and afro-descendent women. Ni Una Menos is now an intersectional movement, fighting injustice and inequality on multiple fronts.  

The Ni Una Menos movement has migrated from Argentina to many other countries. It is networking around the world and campaigning in the Global North. The movement reached not just the UK but also Austria, France, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Germany, amongst others. The UK group, for instance, was born during the debates surrounding the law for the right to safe, legal and free abortion, and is now becoming a more organised group with permanent, popular and open assemblies and other gatherings to discuss issues that affect Latin American (and other) women and non-binary people as migrants in the UK.

The fight against extractivism

The extractivist model in Argentina shows its face in the form of mega-mining, monocrop agriculture, deforestation, and the intensification of fossil fuel extraction. These activities have not only led to grave instances of environmental degradation, but also a series of health crises, the displacement of communities, the demise of regional economies and the increased repression of protests that seek to preserve common goods. But as the consequences of an expanding extractivist model become more severe, the fight against extractivism also becomes stronger. Anti-extractivism can be loosely described as a movement uniting a range of actors such as campesino and indigenous movements, frontline communities, environmental activists and academics, who work on issues such as food sovereignty, anti-mining and anti-fracking, agroecology and the defence of water. The movement finds strength in a series of growing grassroots networks, gatherings and initiatives that are inclusive and decentralised in nature, and that foster exchange and mutual support.

The UAC, or Union of Citizen Assemblies, is a nation-wide network that is over 10 years old. It organises national meetings in order to work towards people’s self-determination with views to a type of regional development that is ecologically sustainable and that respects local cultures, identities and economies. Another such example was the first Latin American Summit of Water for the People, which took place in the province of Catamarca earlier this year. This independently-organised event of international scale sought to generate connections and propel a change of paradigm in our relation to the Earth, favouring one that values nature and life over profit. Crucial in the fight against extractivism is also the leadership of indigenous communities, whose lands and way of life are under threat due to the expansion of the extractive frontier.

State violence and indigenous resistance

Since the arrival of Cambiemos to power, the government has declared a low-intensity war on the working class, the poor, social movements and indigenous communities, in an attempt to further expand a neocolonial-neoliberal project. Such is the case of the Mapuche People. Patagonia, the land of the Mapuche People, is an area of geopolitical interest for foreign capital, favoured by the government’s external policy. Consequently, the Mapuche People have been subjected to political, economic and social disarticulation that seeks to expropriate their land and resources. They have been persecuted, criminalised and subjected to the violence of the state, from vicious media campaigns that seek to delegitimise their claims, to intimidation and violent repression of protest. In response to the violence inflicted on them, the stripping of their rights, and the negation of their culture and identity, the Mapuche people have fought back in numerous ways. By joining other local groups in the region, they have denounced the environmental damage caused by fossil fuel extraction and stood strong in the fight against megamining. Mapuche community leaders are also part of the Movement of Indigenous Women for Good Living (Movimiento de Mujeres Indígenas por el Buen Vivir), which has now worked for years to create an inclusive space of resistance for encounters between indigenous women from various nations. Their goal is to achieve recognition of their existence and unleash a public debate to decolonise history, territory, culture and identity.

An intersectional way forward

As Latin America undergoes a violent shift to the right, grassroots resistance and bottom-up initiatives are more needed than ever. The fight against neoliberalism necessitates responses that are intersectional and horizontal, and as a result more interconnected than ever. Such was the case during the 50,000-strong 33rd National Women’s Meeting in October this year in Chubut, Patagonia. The participation of the Movement of Indigenous Women for Good Living and other previously underrepresented groups shifted the paradigm and succeeded in making the event more inclusive: thanks to this pressure, there is a broad movement to change the annual event to be called the Plurinational Meeting of Women, Lesbians, Transvestites and Trans. It is in these forms of organising and building that we can achieve true strength.

Argentina Solidarity Campaign, November 2018

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