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G20 Left Argentina More Militarized, But Also Mobilized Against Neoliberalism

As global capitalist elites met to consolidate their power, social movements did the same.

Members of the human rights organization "Madres de Plaza de Mayo" and other left-wing groups demonstrate against the G20 summit, which took place on November 30 and December 1, 2018, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Against the catastrophic summit of the G20 held in Buenos Aires on November 30th and December 1st, the Confluencia Fuera G20 — FMI (Confluence against the G20 and the IMF) organised a week of action to repudiate the presence of the G20 and the IMF in Argentina and create spaces of convergence to continue building grassroots alternatives to neoliberalism.

An achievement nothing short of inspirational considering the advance of neo-fascism in the continent, the increasing repression and criminalization of social movements, the militarization of territories and the exhaustion of a fragmented Left following Latin America’s progressive cycle.

The G20: a Farce That Is No Laughing Matter

As expected, the final declaration of the G20 summit held in Buenos Aires did not provide any ground-breaking solutions to address the systemic crisis we are currently experiencing — and for which the neoliberal policies of the G20 countries, the IMF and the transnational companies they support are directly responsible for.

To cite only one example, the measures decided by the G20 countries — responsible for 78% of emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — will actually exacerbate climate change. In other words, we are miles away from this year’s G20 slogan: “building consensus for a just and sustainable development.”

The summit was made into a laughing stock by local media, as its unfolding was filled with diplomatic incidents: the official Argentinian delegation arriving late to greet Macron on the tarmac — who began shaking hands with the airport staff wearing yellow vests (imagine the irony) — while another Argentinian delegation mistook Xi Jinping with a member of his staff. Merkel arrived a day late after her private plane broke down and Trump incessantly humiliated Macri who was desperately trying to get in his good graces.

The cherry on top was probably the Wi-Fi collapsing during the press conference held the first day of the summit that hosted 2500 outraged international journalists. As laughable as it was, this farce of a summit cost millions of euros to a country that is going through one of its deepest socio-economic crisis since the peso collapsed last August, with inflation rates close to 50%, poverty rates approaching 30%, unemployment reaching 12% and an average loss in real salary of 15 points against inflation.

The G20 summit did not just leave behind disastrous environmental policies, funny memes and a hole in the public budget (to be compensated with further cuts in the public sector). It left Argentina much more militarized than before with over 20,000 police officers and new high-tech anti-riot equipment — all of which will be used to discipline future resistance movements.

This is especially worrying as the current Minister of Security, announced on Monday the implementation of a decree — denounced by human rights organisations — allowing armed forces to shoot whenever they felt they were facing an “imminent threat” without having to provide any justification. In addition, the Argentinian government carried out an incessant intimidation campaign against the social movements and organisations behind the week of action against the G20 by portraying them as terrorist organisations — under close surveillance — planning violent acts.

The Macri administration even accused ATTAC of money laundering (ATTAC known world-wide for its non-violent activism against tax evasion). Two militants from the Confederation of Workers of the Popular Economy (CTEP) were killed by the police in a protest a week before the G20 and fear was continuously spread by trolls on social media through false testimonies of people begging for everyone to stay home. Meanwhile, the government shut down all transports in the city centre and declared a Bank Holiday on November 30th to ensure less people would attend the demonstration.

The Week of Action Against the G20

Despite this campaign of fear, intimidation and repression, the Confluence against the G20 and the IMF organised over 50 activities between November 26th and December 1st (without counting the acts of solidarity in other cities of the world).

The Confluence is an (inter-)national alliance of social, political and territorial movements and organisations, unions, cooperatives, movements of women, feminists, afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, LGBTQI+, migrants, amongst others, created in September 2018 to federalise and internationalise the resistance against the G20 and the IMF.

The activities organized by the Confluence consisted of various workshops, conferences, creative acts of civil disobedience, a fair of the solidarity economy, a music festival, a massive demonstration on November 30th and a two-day “People’s Summit” — one of the highlights of this week of action.

Peoples’ Summits (often called “counter-summits”) are essential instances providing platforms of collaboration and exchange among movements, collectives and organisations to discuss the concrete realities and struggles by peoples affected by the neoliberal system and to foster alliances — whether local, regional or global — in the construction of grassroots alternatives.

This one was first held in the University of Buenos Aires before taking the debates in the public sphere on the Congress Square. More than 5000 people participated from all Latin-America and a couple of European countries — though the majority of attendees was from Argentina.

It brought together different assembly-style forums on feminisms, corporate power, debt, migration, food sovereignty, the commons and sovereignty, health sovereignty, self-managed economies, popular education and the advance of neo-fascism and militarization in the region. The Peoples’ Summit ended with a closing act, during which Nora Cortiñas, one of the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, read the final declaration synthesising the results of these two days of collective discussions.

(Inter-)national Feminists at the Forefront

After the Second International Women’s Strike of March 8th, the World Social Forum in Brazil last April, the campaign for free legal abortion in Argentina and the #EleNão mobilisations against Bolsonaro in Brazil, Latin-American women, feminists and queer activists have played a key role in the campaigns against the G20 and the IMF. This is especially the case of the Feminist Forum against the G20 which participated both autonomously and transversally to the spaces of the Confluence.

This collective is a diverse, international and transversal alliance of feminists, women workers, activists, trade unionists, migrants, indigenous women, afro-descendants, peasants and the queer community. It emerged out of the Feminist Forum against the WTO held last year in Buenos Aires, as a process of collective grassroots feminist construction.

Since then, the Feminist Forum worked the entire year to build its own agenda of activities leading up to the G20 — voicing their repudiation of the hetero-patriarchal capitalist system, expanding (inter-)national ties with other feminist collectives, offering feminist tools to understand and build alternatives to the current advances of neo-fascism and the intensification of violence against women — especially against women of colour and queer communities.

They also organised two days of actions to denounce the “empowerment” discourse of the rich, white, entrepreneurial women of the Women’s 20 affinity group of the G20, which met early October in Buenos Aires to provide market-based recommendations to the leaders of the G20 on how to better including women in the world economy.

For the week of action, they put together their own agenda with an international seminar about feminist perspectives on the current financial, political and technological turbulences, a launch of a campaign called “our bodies our territories” denouncing processes of capitalist expropriation and the criminalization of defenders of women’s and LGBTQI+ rights, an Assembly of Internationalist Feminists against the G20 sharing their experiences of feminist resistance from the entire world as well as an Ethical, Popular, Anti-racist and Feminist Tribunal against the G20.

During this Tribunal organised on the Congress Square, the audience intervened to denounce crimes against women, women of colour, migrant women and queer communities. After gathering all testimonies, the jury condemned the criminal, perverse and deathly alliances between capitalism, patriarchy, racism and (neo-)colonialism embodied by and expressed through the G20 and the IMF.

Alliances leading to the destruction of Nature, the precariousness of peoples, the militarization of all spheres of life, the criminalization of protests, the feminization of poverty and the war against women — especially women of colour — and queer communities.

In addition to their own agenda during the week of action, the Feminist Forum was also strongly involved in the processes of the Confluence against the G20. Having this simultaneously autonomous and transversal stance allowed the Feminist Forum to manoeuver and organise their activities in non-mixed spaces whilst influencing — and feminising — the Confluence, which, because of its diversity and the politico-militant cultures in Argentina, were not the most feminists — to say the least.

As repeated by feminist movements, there cannot be a successful fight against capitalism without simultaneous fights against patriarchy, racism, neo-colonialism and anthropocentrism.

The presence of many women and feminists in general inside the Confluence helped navigate these militant spaces that are still prone to machismo, mansplaining (men explaining things to women in condescending ways), word monopoly and vertical, ego-protagonist behaviour. None of the activities of the week of action would have occurred had it not been for the majority of women and feminists in these spaces taking charge of coordinating the organisational, logistical, communication and care work it required.

The too-often ignored and silenced sexual division of labour — including of militant labour — needs to be recognized if we are to move beyond the currently devastating socio-economic system. As repeated by feminist movements, there cannot be a successful fight against capitalism without simultaneous fights against patriarchy, racism, neo-colonialism and anthropocentrism.

Which is why feminisms — for their catalytic, transversal, intersectional and internationalist narratives and practices — not only provide the tools to understand and resist against the devastating effects of our current system; they allow us to radically rethink our own practices and modes of organization — including within the most “progressive” spaces. The week of action against the G20 and the IMF was yet another proof of that.

The Demonstration of November 30th

On November 30th, around 50 000 people marched to the Congress Square to repudiate the presence of the G20 and of the IMF and their neoliberal policies. This protest was considered a success given the context of repression, the city being on lock-down and the absence of many strong unions such as the CGT.

As relieving as it was, the fact that the demonstration went on peacefully was a surprise to many, especially considering the atmosphere of repression, the depth of the current socio-economic crisis and the presence of the IMF in the country— whose responsibility for the devastating crisis of 2001 remains rooted in Argentinian collective memory. The situation was expected to escalate like it did during the last G20 summit held in Hamburg last year, when violent confrontations occurred between the police and the protesters attempting to disrupt the summit.

However, the Confluence always upheld a non-violent stance and never intended to prevent the G20 from happening. Indeed, from a strategic point of view — except for its symbolic dimension (like the 1999 battle of Seattle) — shutting down such forums bares little impact on moving beyond neoliberalism.

For example, it would not have prevented the G20 leaders to meet again and advance in their neoliberal, corporate agenda, especially through the use of bilateral free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties — a more common form of organising the current world trade system.

Furthermore, in the current context of militarization and repression, attempting to shut down the G20 would not have been only nonsensical; it would have been suicidal. It was neither possible (nor desirable) to replicate the attempts to shut down the G20 in Buenos Aires, like it was done last in year in Hamburg. This is because responses to the presence of neoliberal forums such as the G20 are place-based, contingent and context-specific. Indeed, Germany and Argentina are distinctive countries with regards to the culture of protests, the respect of human rights and the levels of police repression.

Bluntly put, Argentinian armed forces are in a position where they can repress and kill people with complete impunity. On the contrary, Germany would have faced an international scandal had any casualties arrived during the attempts to sabotage the G20 in 2017.

However, sharing these contingent experiences from different territories is both insightful and necessary as it nurtures future processes of collective strategizing whilst building alliances between movements, much like the people of Hamburg did by participating in the week of action in Buenos Aires and compiling their experiences from last year in a book dedicated to the people of Buenos Aires.

The Importance of Weeks of Action

A week of action is not just a weeklong event. It is an entire year (sometimes two) of work in national and international territories. It provides opportunities to raise awareness, provide information, link grassroots struggles to broader, more systemic processes and work towards the convergence of communities and movements fighting against the same socio-economic system and its agenda of exploitation, violence, destruction, poverty and inequality.

A week of action cannot be assessed only in terms of outcomes or of the number of participants. It should take into account all the “ant work” carried out throughout the year, the knowledges produced and disseminated throughout the entire process, the common agenda articulated for the future to come and, more importantly, the alliances, ties and affections created between peoples and the transformation of personal subjectivities throughout such processes of collective construction.

As we are entering a new phase of authoritarian neoliberalism marked by the advance of neo-fascism and new forms of capitalist, patriarchal, misogynistic, racist, statist violence in all spheres of life, it is essential that we continue strengthening ties between movements fighting these structures of oppression and advance in the construction of better worlds.

The capitalist elites of our system organise internationally to consolidate their power. Social movements should do the same in order to dismantle it, by simultaneously strengthening our militant roots in local territories whilst weaving tapestries of resistance transnationally.

As the G20 leaves Argentina, it does not leave behind only a militarized country; it leaves behind inspiring ideas, incredible memories and stronger ties between peoples who will continue articulating common transformative agendas locally, regionally and globally in the collective construction and strengthening of grassroots, systemic alternatives to neoliberalism.

I would like to thank all the inspiring people whom I had the chance of meeting and the honour of walking together with for the past two years on the collective roads to building an anti-capitalist, feminist, anti-racist pluriverse.

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