The ‘piquetes’ in Argentina

29.Abr.03    Análisis y Noticias

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
> The “Piquetes”
-I think that the piquetes blasted away our sense of helplessness, but in a
new way. We shook the country out of the lethargic dream that Menem and his
politics were selling, like a bolt of bright new light. Together with many
other struggles, we woke the country from the sweet dreams of post-
modernity. They branded us with a name—the Piqueteros–but for us the
piquete became the only way in which we could talk with the rest of the
country, our way of telling them that there were other methods of struggle,
other ways to fire-up our lives with dignity.
-How did this idea arise? How did you get organized?
-The piquetes began in the interior, in Cutralco, Tartagal, Mosconi,
Santiago del Estero, and they spread throughout the country, blocking the
trade routes that fed the most important cities. Once that had started,
people started to take the piquetes seriously as a way fighting, even here,
in Buenos Aires, but there were tremendous arguments over the plans; over
whether it was correct to ask for the work plans or not . Some said that we
were only up to reformist self-help schemes. Instead of getting embroiled
in that argument, we decided to put it into practice. At that point our
organizing had only reached the level of church groups, but we were always
talking about a greater struggle. We were always talking about taking over
the Municipality, raising the stakes, and then there was the first road
blockade. The first was somewhat improvised, and some of our compañeros
were arrested. But, little by little, it started to come into evidence that
a new way of fighting had been developed.
The most important thing, however, was that our numbers started to grow; we
started to build productive workshops, to enable people, to teach what we
were learning, all of those things that are so much more important than the
blockades. The blockades are only the most visible element, and so it seems
that they are all there is to see, but the struggle is really what we had
been doing before. In reality, we only started the blockades once we had
already gotten organized.
Yet the press still insists in disparaging us, talking about unemployed
hoodlums, masked criminals, entirely marginal people, bums…
-It’s important to make it clear that from the beginning all of the left,
including the progressives, accused us of begging, self-help, reformism,
and did not see what the central demands of the organization entail: work,
dignity, social change. It was obvious that many things went beyond the
plans; even if many organizations did not, because once they had gotten the
plans they would call it quits.
The piquetes have changed a lot. At first, in the first blockades, we kept
our faces completely uncovered, we did have some rocks, kept hidden, and we
did not reveal them because we did not want to frighten people. It was a
process; we suffered escalating repression and we started to cover our
faces, so that we could not be identified. We only used violence as self-
defense. We did not start to throw sticks and stones in order to attack,
but to defend ourselves. It is also essential to point out that the
piquetes and the plans are just another factor in our struggle; they are
not fundamental.
-The plans are the reality that allows us to organize ourselves. Clearly,
we can’t take control over a factory. We are very different from other
kinds of organizations, groups that do very real work, because we cannot
use the neighborhood organizations as an “excuse” that leads to other
-There were some hard moments in the first blockades, but things changed
after Mosconi . From then on the consciousness of our compañeros changed.
At first we had to insist that everything was going to be alright, we had
to struggle to keep our compañeros from being frightened, and more often
than not we had to keep our sticks and our slingshots hidden. We had strong
disagreements on whether to keep our faces covered or not. It took time for
people to understand that we needed some kind of self-defense, that the
security compañeros could not show their faces to the militias. In the
blockades that we did with the congress of La Matanza, the people of the
CTA would demand that we remove our hoods. We took that to the assembly,
and the assembly decided that we might as well abandon the piquete if we
were forced to go unmasked. The system considers the blockades as crimes,
they are illegal, but to us they are entirely legitimate. We finally
understood this, and it changed our organization fundamentally.
-We understand that what makes you different from other organizations of
the unemployed is that you organize workshops, projects, task groups, that
you have a burgeoning collective life: how does this difference manifest
itself in the conception of the piquetes?
-I have been to other piquetes and our organization is different to theirs,
our security criteria are different, and our compañeros have a different
notion of discipline. It would be very surprising to catch one of our
compañeros drinking at one of our piquetes; that someone is asked to leave
because he is a security risk. There have been a lot of changes in the
neighborhoods, in the lives of our compañeros, because you have to keep in
mind that these were compañeros who, a year ago, would take 30 pesos in
bribes for their vote, who were forced to steal in order to survive.
-Our common development, our formation, holds all of this together. That’s
its bedrock. Nobody imposes a drinking ban, or stops a compañero from
drinking; we talk about these things at the assemblies. Basically, the
coordinators don’t get to decide whether drinking is forbidden or not,
rather, we look for a consensus; we discuss the reasons why it might not be
prudent. That’s the great difference; it’s not because you happen to wear a
hood, or carry the biggest stick.
-When did you get the first plans, the ones that helped you to organize?
-In 1997, as soon as we started marching onto the Municipal Hall, we got 50
plans. We didn’t do any blockades then, we marched to the Department of
Labor. So, we got our first plans through our actions on the Municipal
Hall. We achieved autonomy in the handling of the plans after two blockades.
-This idea, to transform this relationship with the State: was this a
conscious decision at the time?
-Yes, and this is what made us different to other organizations, now there
are many organizations that are beginning to do the same thing. The
problem, basically, was that the municipality would put pressure on the
compañeros to keep them from organizing. 120 workers got work under the
State’s plan; only 5 or 6 of them are still part of the MTD. We soon
realized that it made no sense to promote a project that would extend the
process we wanted to redress.
-We have discussed the heterogeneity of the piquetero movement on several
occasions. How do you explain this heterogeneity?
-Our difference to that of other movements is becoming increasingly
apparent, that is, above all, because many others still work in the
classical way: they say, “we seize power from above and then we change
things;” while we say: from below, without any desire to seize power, we
struggle. Those other organizations see themselves as political actors and
they have revolutionary strategies; we see ourselves, like the
Subcomandante Marcos says, as rebels seeking social change. For example,
they say that what we call popular education de-forms people rather than in-
forming them. They don’t make any attempt to tie popular education to
political education, on the contrary. We were below, at the bottom, and we
don’t want to rise, we want to stay there, we will always be rebels.
We are at the bottom and we don’t want to come up. We have a lot of
compañeros that stand out, but none that aspire to lead. We all lead, all
of the time.
-In any case, these differences won’t let us lose sight of the fact that we
have to organize, that we have to coordinate and articulate, that it is
necessary to go on discussing things and coming to agreements, struggling
together. We are not saying that we know the truth and the others don’t. We
know that we build things differently; but these differences can be
coordinated, just as long as we keep raising the call for social change,
for dignity, and that we don’t take advantage of people, say, by using them
to win elections.
-I have heard some piquetero compañeros complain that they
felt “useless,’ “forgotten,” “left behind,” in their everyday lives, yet,
at the blockades they feel different; “empowered,” they feel that “they
have a choice.”
-It’s true; it’s a liberated zone, the only place where the cop won’t treat
you like trash. There, the cop says to you, “pardon me, we come to
negotiate.” That same policeman would beat you to death if he saw you alone
on the street.
-It’s true that you feel yourself to be in control of an area during a
blockade, but I believe that the compañeros are aware that organizing
empowers them; that it is not only the blockade, but the organization that
makes you strong. For example, today the compañeros are putting up signs on
the street, they put up MTD signs, with an small arrow, indicating how to
get to the shelter [galpon]. These are the strong signs of an emerging
-People say that some of the compañeros have a purely pragmatic
relationship with the movement; that they only come to get the plan. How
does this actually work out in the piquetes?
-The majority of the compañeros that join the movement–more than eighty
percent–start out only because they have concrete necessities. They need
something to eat, they don’t have groceries, they don’t have work; they
have nothing. At first they come for the plans, but once there is a real
process, things change, they begin to feel the excitement and the need to
get organized. But yes, some compañeros only go because the assembly voted
that those failing to attend the blockade don’t get a plan.
-Some say that taking to the streets is a way of saying “no” to a
model, “no” to a system. I think that this can be understood in two
different ways: in the first we speculate that the model failed and that
you represent the moment when the victims stand forth, like
with “Farinello,” whose “people” never step out of their role as the
witnesses of misery: those that are “left-out,” those that beg, the
impoverished, the forgotten. But, there is another way to see the issue,
one where the model did not fail, where exclusion simply does not exist
because there is no place of inclusion, where exploitation is merely a
desirable variable in the system. Things being as they are, we feel that
the stance taken by most of the people that participate in the piquetes is
not that of the victims, rather, they present a very clear subjective
desire to work and think actively.
-We don’t want to be included. At least, I know that I don’t want to be
exploited ever again, to have Fortabat or Macri as bosses again, that’s for
sure. I have not struggled just to return to exploitation. I believe,
personally, and I believe that many compañeros share this belief in regards
to themselves, that I am not made to be included, but this is something
else altogether.
-One of the things that we know with certainty is, precisely, what we don’t
want; getting organized makes this clear. To discover where we want to go,
what it is that we are building, that is what is uncertain, new, and this
is something that has not been closed-off, it’s unfinished, something that
we think anew every day. The organization is dynamic, it changes and it
reflects upon its changes. It’s true that the blockades are exciting, but
what is truly exiting about the organization is that it brooks no
dissociation between that excitement and our everyday lives. That’s where
the reality of the organization lies; the piquete can only express what we
have managed to build in our everyday life, otherwise it is useless. The
system has nothing to offer us in regards to this task, and we are forced
to build an alternate history.
We don’t demand things because we want to be included; we only demand
things in order to continue getting organized.
-How is a piquete agreed upon, how and where do you block the road; who
makes the decisions?
-Each and every zone reports on their situation. Then, depending upon each
neighborhood’s situation, a battle plan is proposed. We discuss whether we
will march or blockade. Each neighborhood assembly decides upon their
action first, then, at the table, we try to reach a consensus based upon
the choices made by the different assemblies. We begin to see what we may
be able to achieve as the proposals are presented. We never talk about the
specific location that we intend to block at the assembly, for security
reasons. We choose the method but not the details.
-In the assemblies we determine the roles and the zones. For example, we
determine which of the compañeros will take care of food, security and any
injuries. That is to say, the different zones coordinate particular
activities and then there is someone who is elected to serve as a nexus for
all these zones. In contrast, other organizations have leaders who decide
who does security; yet the location of the blockade and, therefore, the
security zone itself—in our experience it is security that decides where a
blockade will occur—remains unclear to the leaders. There are many
different kinds of organization.
-It seems as if security and the political criteria of the blockade always
respond to the internal needs of the organization, rather than to the
political conjuncture or to any possible external support.
- Yes, but these internal necessities entail much more than our “economic
needs.” For example, we blockaded because of the events at Mosconi; those
events implicated our identity, because if a compañero is affected in
Mosconi, well, that also concerns us, even if it is something that does not
seem to affect us directly in Solano.
-Likewise, we blockaded the Pueyrredon Bridge because the compañeros at La
Matanza were under the threat of repression; we said to the government, “to
repress over there, you’ll have to also repress over here.” We saw that
they were beating our brothers (despite D’Elia and Alderete), so we had to
come out to fight for them. Keep in mind, though, we do not build toward
the conjuncture. We are not interested in elections, whether people should
vote or not.
-Another example; when Patricia Bullrich organized an offensive, we
said, “we have to come out because they want they want to cut our plans,
they don´t want to renew them.” It was an attempt to put a stop to our
organization. What we never do is to come out when a super-structural power
tries to convene us, when an organization with a pre-determined political
agenda tries to mobilize us; we analyze and decide upon a situation
according to our own agenda.
- We don’t want to foreclose anyone’s space; we don’t want to be a
vanguard. We build because there is a reality that needs to be transformed,
and we organize and join-up with those that are changing their situation.
We are not interested in going to La Matanza to harangue and agitate, just
in order to gain space. We don’t conceive politics in that manner. Yes, we
believe that the base needs to be organized, but it is up to the compañeros
at La Matanza to organize their own area. We want to coordinate our
movement with those that are building theirs, but we don’t dispute them any
political space.
-It can’t be said, as others claim, that we are just a “base” movement. We
do have a political project. In fact, we do know how to read the current
political conjuncture, but our project occurs at the neighborhood level,
with the people. Our analysis is more comprehensive, precisely, because we
work in this manner. They can’t reproach us for lacking a strategy and a
guiding political structure; that’s a lie. The movement itself is a
political tool; all of us, all the compañeros in the movement, constitute
this tool and we all work on the analysis. When we are asked what our
political project is, we explain that it is this: politics from below, a
comprehensive politics from below. Our goal is the complete formation of
the person, in every possible sense. Everything counts, everything is
-We don’t believe that we need a national front, one that encompasses the
entire country, in order to succeed. I don’t believe that there will be an
alliance or a front that will take power; there will be many fronts.
> Situations Collective: A conversation with MTD Solano*
> situaciones@
> (Translated from Spanish by Ivan A. Ramirez)