Two hectic weeks in Argentina, against the agreement with the IMF

31 March by Eric Toussaint


It has to be noted that in March 2022 the political and social life in Argentina was largely polarized by acceptance or rejection of the 22nd agreement between Argentina and the International Monetary Funds.

A little background: Relations between the IMF and Argentina have been stormy. After the Second World War, the government of Juan Domingo Perón refused, in the name of the country’s sovereignty, to allow his country to join the IMF and the World Bank. It was the dictatorial regime that overthrew Perón that joined the IMF and World Bank in 1956. In 1976, when another military dictatorship began the extermination of the radical left and the bloody repression of the labour movement, the IMF supported the military with financial and political backing. In the 1980s and 1990s, the IMF played a harmful role in the spread of neoliberal policies. In 2001 the IMF’s actions unwittingly helped to provoke a huge popular uprising to reject its policies and overthrow the government in power. In 2018, the IMF tried to save the day for the neoliberal government of Mauricio Macri by lending it the largest credit in its history: 57 billion (of which 45 billion was disbursed very quickly). In 2019, the Frente de Todos, which claims to be a Peronist coalition, came to power by denouncing this IMF credit and promising to free the country from the IMF’s impositions. President Alberto Fernandez and his government did not keep their word and engaged in an interminable negotiation with the IMF which just ended in March 2022 with a harmful agreement, the 22nd agreement with the IMF since 1956!!!

Here is a chronological account of events in which I took part during my stay in Argentina in March 2022. I will not repeat here arguments I have developed in my various contributions since they can be found in interviews and articles published on the CADTM website and in several media. You can find an historical account of the last twenty years in terms of debt and a description of actions organized from December 2021 to February 2022 here
http://www.cadtm.org/Argentine-La-lutte-contre-la-dette-et-le-FMI-L-importance-de-la-mobilisation (English version to be added).

The main part of my programme focused on the opposition to the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

http://imf.org
and the denunciation of the odious and illegal nature of the debt this institution claims from Argentina. It has to be noted that in March 2022 the political and social life in Argentina was largely polarized by acceptance or rejection of the 22nd agreement between Argentina and the International Monetary Funds.

I arrived on the morning of Tuesday 8 March 2022, a day of world-wide mobilizations for the rights of women.

The participation to feminist mobilizations was massive: over 100,000 women (including 60,000 to 70,000 in the capital) were mobilized throughout the country, with a strong proportion of young people.

Before participating in the feminist demonstration in front of the national parliament and presidential palace later in the day, I was interviewed live for five minutes in a mainstream programme on a private channel (C5N). I was invited by one of the few anti neoliberal journalists accepted on mainstream media, Alejandro Bercovich. He had already invited me in November 2019.

On Wednesday 9 March, I delivered a lecture on the debt system to some fifty participantsin the building of ATE, the Association of Civil Servants https://www.cadtm.org/Conferencia-Sistema-Deuda-su-impacto-en-Argentina. The moderator was Eduardo Lucita, a member of the movement called Left-wing Economists (EDI), who had taken a large part in organizing the events in which I was to participate in Buenos Aires. My talk was followed by two responses, one by MP Myriam Bregman of the Party of Socialist Workers, also a member of the FIT-U (Front of the Left and of Workers - Unity) and one by Beverly Keene, the main coordinator of the big coalition of sociak and political movements called Autoconvocatoria por la Suspensión de Pagos e Investigación de la Deuda.

Next, around 9.30 p.m. we went to the square in front of the presidential palace and the national parliament where some 500 demonstrators, mostly young people from popular classes organized by various movements (mainly FOL) had decided to spend the night so as to put pressure on the MPs who were debating the agreement signed by the Argentinian government with the IMF. They had come with tents and had set up a field kitchen.
We were invited to speak up after the screening of a documentary by Alejandro Bercovich on the action of the IMF and the impact of neoliberal policies. It deserved watching.

Those who took the floor were journalist Alejandro Bercovich; Julio Gambina of ATTAC-CADTM Argentina; myself as spokesperson of the CADTM international network; Beverly Keene, spokesperson of Autoconvocatoria; Alejandro Vilca, a former garbage collector in the province of Jujuy in the north of the country, elected MP for PTS in the national parliament in 2021; Claudio Lozano, director of the public Bank, Banco de la Nacion Argentina, former national MP (he had come to Athens in June 2015 to support the presentation of the debt audit to the Greek parliament) and finally Isaac Rudnic, one of the leaders of the political movement Libres del Sur.

On Thursday 10 March in the morning, for 50 minutes, as part of a television programme, I answered questions asked by Julio Gambina (ATTAC-CADTM Argentina) and Eduardo Lucita (member of Left-wing Economists – EDI). The programme was recorded for Barricada TV https://www.barricadatv.org/ with studios in a “recuperated factory”. Usinas recuperadas is the name given to factories abandoned by their bosses in 2001-2003 and occupied and run by their workers. In this recuperated factory, workers organized in a cooperative carry on the production of steel products while part of the building was turned into TV studios. Barricada TV broadcasts every day, with a news programme and various reports. The programme we recorded was complemented with images from archives and newsreels and broadcast on the same evening, just after the news https://www.barricadatv.org/?p=18981 .

After the recording, I went to the presidential palace with Julio Gambina and Eduardo Lucita, for the third time in three days. This time, the square and adjacent streets were crowded with demonstrators opposing the agreement with the IMF. There were at least 30,000 people, the organizers mention 50,000 to 60,000. The vast majority of demonstrators belonged to the poorest layers of the population. They stood under the flags and banners of about a hundred organizations. The most important groups belonged to the piqueteros movements, [1] to Polo Obrero, the FOL, Barrios de Pie and anti-capitalist political parties. All radical left-wing organizations were present, those included in the FIT-U (PTS, IS, MST, PO) and many others.

96% of right-wing MPs (i.e. the right-wing opposition) approved the new IMF credit, while only 62% of MP on the presidential side did. The 4 FIT-U MPs also voted against

In the night between Thursday 10 to Friday 11 March, the low chamber validated the agreement with the IMF though one third of the MPs who so far had supported president Fernandez’ policies had either voted against or abstained. A majority was reached thanks to right-wing MPs who wanted the agreement to be approved since it legalizes the odious debt they had contracted with the IMF in 2018. The right-wing government had received $45 billion and president Alberto Fernandez decided to borrow the same amount to repay this debt. 96% of right-wing MPs (i.e. the right-wing opposition) approved the new IMF credit, while only 62% of MP on the presidential side did. The 4 FIT-U MPs also voted against.

On Friday 11 March at 10 a.m., I gave an interview to the paper Socialist Movement of Workers (https://www.cadtm.org/Argentine-Le-gouvernement-du-president-Alberto-Fernandez-a-commis-une-double ), then at 11, an interview for a Latin-American media with a daily newsletter sent to over 100,000 subscribers (https://www.cadtm.org/Argentine-Eric-Toussaint-et-pourquoi-la-dette-avec-le-FMI-ne-doit-pas-etre). Next I attended a meeting of ATTAC-CADTM Argentina with Maria Elena Saludas, coordinator of CADTM Latin America and Caribbean (CADTM AYNA); we reviewed the world situation, the activities of the alterglobalization movement, responses to the war in Ukraine,…

At 5 p.m. I was invited to introduce in twice 25 minutes the lessons to be drawn from the experiences in Ecuador 2007-2009 and in Greece 2015 in terms of our struggle against illegitimate public debts. There were some thirty participants, mainly people in charge of various political and social organizations.

It must be noted that indoor events are only slowly being resumed in Argentina and that strict health measures strongly limit the number of attending people.

Fortunately the situation is different for outdoor events such as demonstrations against the IMF.

On Saturday 12 March, I was invited by a political organization called Corriente Politica de Izquierda (Left-wing political current) to develop an analysis of the political situation in the world on the one hand and the doctrine of odious debt on the other. There were about twenty people in charge of this organization, from various provinces.

In the evening I gave a talk in a public library in a popular district in front of some twenty participants. I analyzed the policies of the Argentinian government, the agreement with the IMF, and historical instances of debt repudiations.

On Monday 14 March in the morning, I recorded a TV programme with people at the head of the Federacion Judicial Argentina, a trade union for workers at the ministry of justice. It lasted 50 minutes and was posted in the evening on Facebook and other social networks.

At 3 p.m. I gave a live interview on Radio Sur, to criticize the agreement with the IMF. At 3.30, I gave a long filmed interview for the paper and website of the political organization Izquierda socialista (Socialist Left), a member of the FIT-U. I was interviewed by former MP Juan Carlos Giordano.

At 4.30, I was invited to a public session at the Argentinian parliament (https://www.cadtm.org/Audiencia-Publica-en-Diputados-Las-consecuencias-del-Pacto-con-el-FMI). It was organized by the four MPs of the FIT-U (Myriam Bregman, Nicolás del Caño, Alejandro Vilca and Romina del Pla). Only 80 people had been allowed in.

Nora Cortiñas, a legendary figure among the mothers of the May square, spoke first. She moved us all. Still an indefatigable fighter for the respect of human rights at 92, Nora called for a continued mobilization against the agreement with the IMF.

Newt MP Myriam Bregman gave me the floor for twenty minutes to show that the debt contracted with the IMF was odious and illegal. I also explained what alternative strategy should have been followed by the government if it had wanted to be true to its commitments to the people to be elected in 2019.

About ten other speakers took the floor: Alejandro Olmos Gaona (who had participated in the adit of Ecuador’s debt in 2007-2008), Romina del Pla (PO MP, FIT-U), Juan Carlos Giordano (former IS MP, FIT-U), Myriam Bregman (PTS MP – FIT-U), Beverly Keene (Autoconvocatoria), Claudio Katz (member of the left-wing economists, EDI, Nicolás del Caño (PTS MP, FIT – U),…

At 2 p.m. on Tuesday 15 March, I was invited in the Senate by a dozen MPs and senators belonging to the group Frente de Todos (Front of All), which supports president Alberto Fernandez. They wanted to know my arguments about the possibility of not paying the debt claimed by the IMF and what consequences this could have. I answered that I had read the text in which they explain why they had voted against the IMF credit. I added that while I was glad they had opposed validating the agreement, I still didn’t agree with them on the claim that a debt necessarily has to be repaid. I told them it wasn’t enough to say the negotiations had resulted in a bad agreement. They should have defended the notion that a debt audit with citizens’ participation had to be set up from the start of Alberto Fernandez’ presidency, i.e. in December 2019; they should have said that Argentine should have repudiated as odious and illegal the credit granted by the IMF to the former government in 2018. I then set out what arguments could have been used and what alternative policies should have been implemented. They listened carefully. Shortly afterwards, they decided to give a large echo to our meeting. All media mentioned it. They wanted to show that they still opposed the agreement and that consequently they would vote against it when it was to be approved in the Senate. And this is indeed what they did.

The Kirchnerist parliamentarians who met with Eric Toussaint in the office of Senator Oscar Parrilli (bottom right)

42% of senators on the presidential side voted against the agreement with the IMF (out of the 33 Senate members belonging to Frente de Todos, 13 voted against). It was only approved thanks to right-wing votes since in the Senate a two third majority was required. 32 right-wing senators who had supported former president Macri joined the 20 members on the presidential side to make sure the agreement was adopted.

42% of senators on the presidential side voted against the agreement with the IMF (out of the 33 Senate members belonging to Frente de Todos, 13 voted against). It was only approved thanks to the vote of 32 right-wing senators

The fact that right-wing votes were needed exposes the agreement’s true objective, namely make sure that the odious debt contracted by the right-wing government in 2018 is repaid and simultaneously undermine part of the popular support Alberto Fernandez’ governement can still rely on.

After this meeting at the Senate, still on Tuesday 15 at 4 p.m., in the building of the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, I attended the presentation of a board game on the issue of debt. It works on the same principle as a pedagogical tool that is often used by the CADTM in Belgium, a game called Sudestan. The game presented on that day by those who had devised it focuses on debts owned by the popular classes.

In the evening, from 5.30 onward, the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation had organized encounters around the topic “a feminist approach to debt”. Véronica Gago and Lucía Caballero, the two authors of the book Una lectura feminista de la deuda, had accepted to ask me a couple of questions and to comment on the action of the CADTM. The number of available seats was again limited for health reasons. There were thus about thirty women and a couple of men in the room. There were around twelve interventions and really interesting questions, notably on the impact of private and public debt on women’s living conditions and on their capacity to exert their rights. Most interventions came from young women who have been very active in recent feminist mobilizations and are clearly against the agreement with the IMF.

On leaving the meeting, on the way to the underground, Julio Gambina, Eduardo Lucita and I could see several thousands of piqueteros who had decided to spend the night in small tents in a park in front of the ministry for Social Affairs. Nearby were large police forces.

On Wednesday 16 March, I participated in a meeting with leaders of the four organizations that form the FIT-U. They played an essential part in mobilizing tens of thousands of people against the agreement with the IMF. I explained how the CADTM international network functions and we also discussed the international situation and the current war in Ukraine.

Next I gave an interview to a journalist from the daily paper Pagina 12, Raul della Tore, who had already interviewed me at length in early December 2019 when Alberto Fernandez was setting up his government.

At 6 p.m. I gave an online talk to directors of small and medium-size companies, among which many cooperatives (https://www.cadtm.org/La-experiencia-internacional-de-deuda-con-el-FMI ). The talk and debate were again on how it would have been possible not to sign the agreement with the IMF and what the consequences would have been. There were about forty participants.

Thursday 17 March I was a guest on the morning show of a popular radio programme hosted by Cinthia Garcia, a journalist who had been laid off under the Macri government. She now stands on the side of vice president Cristina Fernandez, who was president from 2007 to 2015. Cristina Fernandez is against the agreement, even though she has not openly campaigned against it. The interview I gave on that morning at 8.30 was widely listened to and largely echoed the opposition of MPs on the presidential side I had met two days earlier.

On Thursday afternoon, I gave an interview to Martin Mosquera, in charge of the Jacobin America Latina journal.

At 10.30 p.m., I gave a live interview about alternatives to the agreement with the IMF on an alternative radio https://ar.radiocut.fm/audiocut/elcirculorojo-conversaciones-con-eric-toussaint/.

On Friday 18 March, university lecturers Emilio Taddei and José Seoane interviewed me for an academic journal and for the tricontinental.

Next in the afternoon I participated in a meeting with the political organization Marabunta, which is connected with the 4th International, just like Democracia socialista.

In the evening, just after a significant speech by president Alberto Fernandez, who spoke live on all the news channels, I was interviewed live at 10 p.m. for some 15 minutes in the studios of the private channel IPM noticias and developed alternatives to the policy proposed by the current government.

Eric Toussaint on a TV set to comment the speech of President Alberto Fernandez.

In the course of the following days right-wing media sharply critized my position (see this video from minute 25th).

My stay ended on Thursday 24 March with my participation in a huge demonstration of more than 200 000 people in the anniversary of the military coup of 24 March 1976.

Pagni, a prominent right-wing journalist, showing and criticizing a lecture by Eric Toussaint, who is in the company of FIT-U Congresswoman Myriam Bregman (left) and Beverly Keene


Translated by Christine Pagnoulle




Footnotes

[1As a rule piqueteros (i.e. those who do the picketing of roads, public squares, etc.) are unemployed people living in poor districts. They fight to improve their living conditions, for instance their social allowances. They set up communal restaurants, carry out self-training events. They are well organized.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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