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Letter Home, February 15
More Cacerolazos
I'm writing this in a public locutorio, surrounded by
pre-teen boys who are all playing attack video games
and shouting to each other back and forth about
"killing terrorists." This for some reason makes me
think of my own president Bush, who seems to be
finding terrorists all over the place with the same
fervor as this kid who shouting next to me.
Funny, isn't it? Seems like the more of 'em you kill,
the more they just keep popping up all over the place.
Yesterday I read that the FBI considers our very own
home-grown organization the Earth Liberation Front,
who has a history of damaging the equipment of
corporations who want to cut down trees, one of the
"most dangerous terrorist groups in the country."
So now I guess you don't even have to have a foreign
accent to be a terrorist.
Down here in Argentina, we all read about the CIA
naming Argentina as one of the Latin American trouble
spots. I hear rumours that the U.S. is also now planning a nuclear plant
of some kind in Patagonia, in the South of Argentina.
That should really help calm things down here, you
Meanwhile I continue to watch, listen and participate
in the changes occurring here. The citywide
cacerolazos, which initially started out as a
spontaneous outburst, are becoming a regular Friday
evening event, with thousands of people gathering in
their barrio with kids and dogs and then marching to
the Plaza de Mayo, chanting, singing, dancing, banging
on pots and pans. And during the week, there are
continuing protests in front of banks and industries,
and the private homes of corrupt officials, as well
as roads being cut by the unemployed workers called
piqueteros. Though people continue to be nervous
about marching to the Plaza because of the past
violence and deaths there, the last few cacerolazos
have occured without incident. In fact, in one of
them, a young man who threw a bottle at the police was
chased down and surrounded by an angry but nonviolent
crowd who prevented him from provoking any further
Watching the neighborhood assemblies evolve has been a
fascinating observation of direct democracy at work.
My own, Colegiales, (web site: started about six weeks ago,
when a guy named Fede spray painted "Assembly Meeting
tonight 10:00PM on the sidewalk. Six people showed
up. Now we average about two hundred, everyone
spilling out onto the street, into the intersection.
Commissions and subgroups and workshops have evolved
from that first meeting, and neighbors have been
coming together not only to solve immediate situations
like how to get food and medicine to people who need
it, but also to discuss the overall direction of the
assemblies, and their relationship to the existing
government. For the moment, the majority consensus on
the latter point seems to be "let them come to us if
they want to, the sons of bitches." For many, the
idea of the assemblies is to build power from the
bottom up, and some have compared themselves to
existing movements like the zapatistas, who have no
intention of "taking over" the state. It's a young
movement, with as yet a lot of questions still being
As such, people in the assemblies and commission
meetings have a tremendous need to talk, which means
meetings can sometimes go on for hours without
anything at all getting "accomplished", everyone
talking and shouting over everyone else. At a recent
meeting the "talking stick" was suggested to get
everyone to slow down and pay attention to each other.
Since we were in a cafe, we used a cappucino spoon.
It seemed to work; the atmosphere changed
dramatically, and people actually listened to one
another, though there were occasional flurries of
everyone talking at once, and at one point the
cappuccino spoon went flying across the table.
My assembly, which is in a small neighborhood
bordering on several larger ones, contains people of
all ages and classes, from the 74 year old Peronista
who identifies himself as "definitely working class"
and remembers the speeches of Evita in the Plaza de
Mayo (" She was the real freedom fighter, not Peron")
to the woman in her forties who insists that the
assemblies, as a largely "middle class" movement
differentiate themselves from the working class
piqueteros and their tactics,
to the 21 year old woman who wakes up every Thursday
morning thinking "Oh boy, another neighborhood
assembly! I wonder what will happen tonight!"
Fear continues to be a big topic of conversation.
Recently, one friend, Anibal, who lost his brother
during the dictatorship, says the older generation is
fearful because they remember the deaths and tortures
of the proceso and the younger generation is fearful
because they were born in an atmosphere of fear. The
rumours and overall insecurity of the situation here
don't help much to alleviate the fear. Recently
someone emailed a picture of a dead body to some
members of the assembly along with the words "Up with
the Military". And someone else received an email
about English mercenaries being sent in to foment
civil war. I'm also hearing talk of U.S. marines hiding out
in people's homes.

It's difficult to know what to believe in
a country where all your money has been taken from you
by your own bank, if you are lucky enough to have any
money. "The banks used to have signs in them that
said, 'Your money is safe with us' one woman said
recently. 'I notice they have taken those signs
Meanwhile the prices of food and other articles have
shot up overnight as a result of devaluation, in some
cases doubling, while salaries continue to be cut and
often paid a month or two late. Unemployed
professionals I know are giving up the apartments they
can no longer afford, and moving in with friends.
Others have literally run out of food and are having
to depend on friends and or families to eat. The long
line of people in front of second hand store on
Cabildo selling off their vaccuum cleaners, microwave
ovens, casseroles, twenty year old cameras, and other
belongings gets longer every day.
And this is in Buenos Aires, where people generally
have it a lot better than in the provinces. Though
one man I met from Salta said he was going back there
because "here, it's just too hard. At least in Salta
if you get hungry you can get your gun and kill an
animal. " I figured he meant a wild animal, but
recently I have heard stories about people killing
cats and dogs to eat.
Politicians continue to be insulted and spit upon by
the regular folk. According to an article in one local
paper, La Nacion, the Argentine ambassador Carlos
Ruckauf was recognized by fellow passengers as he
boarded an airplane, who began to yell at him. As a
diplomat, Ruckauf of course responded
diplomatically--he made an obsene gesture to the crowd
and snarled, "If you don´t want to fly with
Ruckauf, you clowns can take another plane!"
This is the ambassador, folks.
Another target of rage and protest is the Supreme
Court, whose members not only have a long history of
cronyism and corruption but also are excused by law
from paying any taxes. . And banks, many of them
international, are not only getting spray painted by
angry neighbors, they are also being investigated by
government officials like Elisa Carrilo for "running
off with all the money", leaving the small time savers
to stand in line for hours only to be told at the
window that "there are no dollars left." In a recent
article in Pagina 12, Citibank was named as one of the
many banks who transferred huge amounts of dollars out
of their Argentine branches into places like the
Cayman Islands, New York, and Chile, emptying the
dollar deposits of small time savers, who now, if they
receive anything at all, will receive it in devalued
The IMF ("International Misery Fund") and
multi-national corporations are also coming under
increasing attack by the local populace. Many
Argentiens feel that over the past twenty years the
country has basically been "sold off" to international
corporations, who have done nothing to help the
Argentine economy. A recent op-ed article in the
Buenos Aires Herald suggested good-naturedly that the
solution to Argentina's debt was to simply turn the
country into a corporation run by "independant
advisors" and convert the debt into equity, backed by
land and "development potential". I'm sure this did
nothing to allay the Argentines fears that their
country is a prime example of globalization run amock,
a country which is being eaten alive by outside
This is probably why you see so many Argentine flags
around these days, why so many people are shouting
"Argentina Argentina" in the streets. It may be a
last ditch effort to save what's left. In a country
which has already suffered years of disappearances, it
must feel at times like the entire country is
disappearing from beneath the Argentine's
feet...public utilities have been sold to
multi-national corporations, money is disappearing
from the banks, children have grown up and gone away
to countries with better prospects, medicine and
routine medical equipment is disappearing from
hospitals, jobs are vanishing, food is disappearing
from the kitchen table.
Only the people are left. Even people who had planned
to emigrate to other countries can no longer leave,
because, well, "the money just isn't there." An
immigrant people who have historically looked to other
countries for their identity--Spain, Italy, England,
the U.S.,--are being forced to stay and make it work.
So, in the barrios, they continue to talk, organize,
listen. The barter economy continues to grow, people
are buying food together to save money, and now,
despite the dire circumstances, people have begun to
organize street festivals because as they say, "we
won't let them take our happiness away from us too".
And me? I have to admit that living through all this
with these people, and having what few dollars I own
in the corralito along with every one else, is making
me feel just a little bit Argentine. The other day at
the Plaza de Mayo cazerolazo, an old woman was selling
small Argentine lapel flags. I bought one and put it
on. At first, I felt a little ridiculous, but then I
saw a young Argentine with a t-shirt with the American
flag on it, and thought about all the emblems of my
culture that I had seen on people's bodies since I've
been in Latin America...not just the flag, but Nike
and Coke and Visa logos. So far, culture and its
emblems have filtered down from the rich countries to
the poor, or to put it more bluntly, from the U.S. to
just about everyone else. Maybe it's time for a
change. Maybe it¡s time for those of us in the "rich
countries" to learn from the countries where
capitalism and neoliberalism has clearly failed,
because who knows, we could be next.
The other day I ran into my friend Alejandro as he was
riding his bicyle across the intersection of Cabildo
and LaCroze. He stopped, and we talked for awhile
standing on the streetcorner in the warm evening air
about anarchism, and Buddhism. We both agreed that
the neighborhood assemblies as they are now taking
shape are very close to the original Anarchist
philosophy, which eschews a national state in favor of
local community power which forms and reforms itself
according to the dictates of the community. And
Buddhism? Well, honestly, I don't really remember
what we said, so it was probably something ungraspable
and Zen. Except I remember Alejandro,with his young
and serious and bespectacled face, did say something
about a certain kind of flower, which can only grow
in the mud, in the places where everything has become
rotten and broken down. And this flower, he said, was
very strong, and very beautiful.

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