Argentina: Down with Duhalde's murderous government!

More than 50,000 people marched in Buenos Aires on Thursday, June 27 to the Plaza de Mayo to protest against the brutal police repression meted out to the piqueteros on the previous day, and especially the cold blooded murders of Maximiliano Costequi and Darío Santillán by the forces of the state.

More than 50,000 people marched on Thursday, June 27, on the streets of Buenos Aires to the Plaza de Mayo to protest against the brutal police repression suffered by thousands of piqueteros (militant unemployed workers) on the morning of the previous day when they were organising road blocks on the main access routes to the capital, demanding decent jobs and unemployment subsidies for the unemployed. Two young piqueteros belonging to the Unemployed Workers' Movement (MTD) in the towns of Guernica and Lanús, Maximiliano Costequi and Darío Santillán, were cowardly murdered by the police, one shot in the chest the other in the back. Furthermore, the offices of the Communist Party and United Left in Avellaneda, a town next to Buenos Aires where the killings took place, were also raided by the police.

In the demonstration, the biggest in Argentina since March 24 this year (on the anniversary of the 1976 military coup), one could fell the mood of deep anger, the intense hatred of the police killers and against this government which is making people hungry.

In the last few weeks, reaction had started to raise its ugly head through a strategy carefully designed by the highest authorities of the government and the state apparatus, with the aim of scaring off the most militant sections of the piquetero movement and the youth. They were also trying to get a social base amongst the petty bourgeoisie for their plans of increased repression in the context of a the worsening social situation.

The attacks by groups of thugs against neighbours in the popular assemblies has intensified, as well as actions of intimidation (threats and beatings) against the most active elements in the assemblies and activists of some of the left parties. Just a few weeks ago, high school student Mario Moreno, an activist in the struggle against the student pass (a movement which fights for a reduction in the price of public transport for students), was attacked by three men who marked three As on his chest with a knife, a reminder of the name of the sinister fascist organisation Triple A which was active against working class and student activists in Argentina in the 1970s. The more reactionary sections of the press, the radio and the TV in the days before the piquetero day of action were screaming hysterically against the "violence" of the piqueteros and demanding tough action against them. The day before the road blocks on June 26, the government had warned that it would use all the means at its disposal to prevent them and warned of a "plot" by left extremist groups to overthrow the Duhalde government.

The piqueteros organised 12 different roadblocks on the main access routes and bridges to the capital. There were no incidents in any of them with the exception of the one in Puente Pueyrredón, which links up Avellaneda and Buenos Aires. The government and the police consciously prepared a trap against the piquetero columns from the Anibal Verón Unemployed Workers' Coordination (CTD Anibal Verón), which organises mainly the piquetero movement in the industrial belt in southern Greater Buenos Aires and were in charge of this particular roadblock. The CTD Anibal Verón has been one of the more militant sections of the piquetero movement.

The police strategy was clear: violent repression, up to killing people; to introduce police provocateurs amongst the piqueteros who would smash local shops and public buildings in the area so that the piqueteros could be accused of violence and vandalism, in order to present them as anti-social and lumpen elements in front of public opinion, and thus justify the "trigger happy" policy of the police. The piquetero movement has been so far the most militant section of the Argentinean working class (because of the role of the trade union bureaucracy in stifling and temporarily paralysing the majority of workers in industry and transport). The government therefore wanted to teach them a lesson in order to paralyse the struggle of the more militant piquetero organisations and isolate them from the rest of the working class. This plan was carried out to its smallest details.

Even before the road block actually started in Puente Pueyrredón, the police started the repression with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. Groups of police provocateurs disguised as piqueteros started to smash everything they could. One of them produced an Itaka (shotgun), stopped a collectivo (bus), ordered everyone out and set it on fire. The clashes lasted for no more than 20 minutes, but at the train station in Avellaneda the cadavers of two young piqueteros were lying on the floor one next to the other, in a pool of blood and surrounded by police officers. More than 90 people were injured (7 from lead bullets) and 160 were arrested, some of them were also injured and were arrested at gun point inside Fiorito hospital were they had been taken for first aid.

The police chiefs and government spokespersons then started the second phase of the plan. They declared to the media that the deaths had been the result of clashes between different groups of piqueteros who were carrying arms, who were also responsible for the looting and that the police had only used rubber bullets in the repression.

Obviously, this farcical explanation convinced no-one, particularly when people knew of the raid in the CP and United Left offices in Avellaneda and the indiscriminate arrest of piqueteros outside Fiorito Hospital were they had gone to enquire about the state of the injured. From everywhere voices of condemnation started to arise. Knowing of the criminal record of the Buenos Aires police, indignation spread amongst workers, the unemployed, housewives and the youth. The strategy of the government had backfired.

It is clear that the government had miscalculated. At that point the most intelligent sections of the Argentinean ruling class understood that going down the path of open and bloody repression against the piqueteros could have the opposite effect: far from cowing the movement, it could actually increase the hatred amongst growing layers of the population against the Duhalde government, further weakening its position.

After a whole day of slandering and abusing the piquetero struggle, the press and the TV had no other choice but to reveal what many had witnessed: the murder of the two piquteros had been committed in cold blood by Inspector Franchetti (who was commanding the police operation) and his aides. The Clarín newspaper and the TV station Crónica (after having kept them in secret for more than 24 hours) released the pictures and the video that showed the moment at which the police murdered Darío Santillán. This was a clear message from this section of the ruling class to the government that, for now, these methods should not be used against the piqueteros. The "serious" media has shown once again its class character and its links with the government.

The "conspiracy" theory spread by the government collapsed in a matter of seconds, forcing them to a shameful retreat. They had to recognise that there had been "excesses" on the part of the police, but obviously they put all responsibility on the "incompetence" of inspector Franchetti. Duhalde, shedding crocodile tears, said that the police had carried out an "atrocious manhunt".

Franchetti and four of his men have been arrested and the whole of the commanding staff of the Buenos Aires police have either been sacked or have resigned. Now all it is in the hands of the judges. But no-one trusts Argentinean bourgeois justice, riddled with corruption and allied with political power.

The leaders of the main trade union organisations played a shameful role. Neither the "official" CGT, nor the "rebel" CGT of Moyano made any appeal to the workers to oppose this police provocation, because of their close collaboration with the Duhalde government. The leadership of the CTA union called for a national protest strike the day after the massacre, which was limited to those sectors where this union is strong, in amongst education, civil service and justice workers, and also joined the demonstration which had been called by the National Piquetero Block on Thursday, although, shamefully they did not lift a finger to make a serious appeal to their members to participate in it. The same was the case with the CCC (Class Struggle Militant Current). The leaders of both organisations are in fact playing the role of "left" crutches of the Duhalde government. Nevertheless the CTA has been forced to call for a national day of protest on July 3 against police repression.

The murders of Darío and Maximiliano cannot be left unpunished. They will be avenged, like many other fighters who have fallen before, by the Argentinean workers overthrowing this rotten capitalist system that releases bankers and employers, thieves of the people and responsible for the misery of millions of working class families, and murders those comrades who are asking for bread and work for their families.

I had the privilege of personally meeting Darío Santillán a few months back. He was a 21 year old completely dedicated to the cause of the oppressed, overflowing with such humbleness and honesty that I was moved. I remember how proud he was when he showed me the modest but firm advances made by the comrades from MTD Lanús in a plot of land that they had occupied from the local council a few months before. They had made concrete blocks and bricks, an oven to bake bread. He showed me the humble houses they had built themselves and their meeting places. In an open space he proudly pointed at the place where he wanted to build his house. We ate with other comrades. And he kindly took me to the bus stop were we said goodbye to one another.

Today his body rests under the earth, but the ideas that fed him from an early age, the ideas of social justice, a society freed from exploitation, a society really human and with solidarity, these ideas are still standing, feeding new layers of fighters and strengthening those who accompanied him to the end of his journey.

Buenos Aires,
June 28, 2002

This has been translated from the original Spanish.

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See our appeal on Friday: Two Piqueteros shot dead by the police - Urgent solidarity appeal