The trace of the looting of 2001 remains in the Argentine popular classes

People wait in line to receive food distributed by the Argentine military during a day of mandatory quarantine due to the coronavirus in the La Matanza neighborhood in Buenos Aires (Argentina), in a file image. EFE / Juan Ignacio Roncoroni

La Matanza (Argentina), Dec 18 (EFE) .- The premises of the Classist and Combative Current (CCC) of La Matanza, the most populated district of the province of Buenos Aires, is an incessant coming and going of people. Trucks, vans and private cars arrive in ten-minute intervals, without stopping, loaded with food and merchandise for the most deprived neighbors.
“Now there is more food and the government knows that we are unemployed,” Silvia López, a woman from the La Juanita neighborhood of Matanzas, told EFE when comparing her current life with that of twenty years ago. “2001 was terrible. We had a very, very ugly time.”
Hunger, need and despair are the terms most used by the inhabitants of La Matanza to talk about what happened in December 2001, when a wave of looting of supermarkets and small businesses devastated many districts of the urban belt of Buenos Aires, one of the regions poorest in the country.
The situation of the popular sectors was unsustainable at that time: the restriction on the withdrawal of money from the banks (the so-called “corralito”) and the interruption of social assistance prevented these people from accessing the most basic resources, and hunger consequently, it soared.
The first looting began on December 14, first in the provinces of Santa Fe and Entre Ríos and then in other parts of the country, especially in the districts that surround the capital, such as Avellaneda, Quilmes, Moreno and La Matanza.
Silvia López openly admits her presence in those looting. Deprived of any type of state aid, she says that she did it for her children, so that they could eat, with no other intention than to survive.
“I needed to go to a supermarket with the looting, but not to bring material things, but food. The boys had to drink milk and eat bread, so I had to be there,” he says.
Marta Palacios, one of the social referents of the neighborhood, remembers how neighbors who had some kind of business “lowered the blinds” to prevent robberies. Many were unsuccessful.
“Some looted what is noodles, sugar, merchandise, and yet there were others who mixed with those same people, and what did they do? Break counters, grab televisions from supermarkets … That is not necessary,” laments Palacios.
On December 19, the Government of Fernando de la Rúa (1999-2001) decreed the “state of siege” and thousands of residents of La Matanza left for Route 3, which connects Buenos Aires with Tierra del Fuego, to march towards the federal capital, while looting spread even more through the Buenos Aires suburbs.
The police response? Rubber and lead bullets, especially in the protest on December 20, according to Juan Carlos Alderete, national coordinator of the CCC and current deputy of the ruling Frente de Todos, told EFE.
“About 8,000 comrades went out to walk and there we suffered the worst repression, with 610 wounded from a rubber bullet and three wounded from a lead bullet,” says Alderete, one of the main promoters of that march, for which he was accused before the Justice to provoke a “coup”, a maxim that he flatly denies.
Norma Postelaro was also on the highway that December 20, which she describes as an “anthill” of people: “the route was all bullets and patrol cars, they did not allow us to pass,” says the woman.
Faced with an impossible social situation to manage, President De la Rúa resigned and two days later, on December 22, the looting ended, which caused a score of deaths, according to figures from the Center for Legal and Social Studies, as well as hundreds of injured and thousands of arrests.
Two decades after those events, the districts that make up the urban belt of Buenos Aires remain in a state of enormous vulnerability: 45.3% of its population lives below the poverty line and another 13.5% is indigent, according to the latest official data.
However, for the residents of La Matanza today the situation is more favorable than in 2001, thanks to the provision of food by the State and the constant flow of social aid, but other endemic problems persist, such as galloping inflation or the lack of of work.
“Today we can say that the State is present, but the blanket is still short, because other measures must be taken to solve the work. Work not only dignifies us as people, it is also the computer of our families,” Alderete underlines.
While they await the benefits of an incipient “economic recovery”, the inhabitants of La Matanza will continue to contain each other as companions, as they did in December 2001.
Javier Castro Bugarín

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