Fighting anti-protest laws in Argentina

Thousands demonstrated in Jujuy province, north-west Argentina, in late June in response to the government of Governor Gerardo Morales passing a constitutional change that removes basic democratic rights. 

Hundreds of people reportedly were injured by police, including a 17-year-old boy who lost an eye after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet. As they defended themselves, protesters chanted “Morales is trash, you are the dictatorship!

The constitutional change includes an extensive list of anti-protest and anti-strike laws, including a ban on roadblocks and occupying public buildings. 

Morales defended the move, telling the Buenos Aires Herald, “The right to manifest [protest] cannot impede other rights, and that is the debate connected to the consolidation of peace”. 

The amendment also removes midterm elections, meaning that four-year legislator terms will now coincide with the governor’s terms. Lengthening this period means that Morales, or whichever party is in government, can remain unaccountable for longer.

The change comes during a prolonged dispute between the provincial government and schoolteachers, who have gone on strike to demand better pay. Consumer price inflation in Argentina is estimated to be 42 percent according to INDEC, the National Institute of Statistics and Census. 

Instead of meeting the union’s demands, Morales tried to dock the pay of striking teachers. An executive decree, first proposed in collaboration with the constitutional change, was to fine those “remaining in public areas, disturbing the peace, hindering the free circulation of vehicles and/or pedestrians, causing fear in the population or illegally limiting in any way the free exercise of citizens’ rights”. 

But it was defeated because the teachers escalated their actions, forcing Morales to pay them for the days they were on strike.

The ban on roadblocks targets Indigenous activists who have been prominent in protesting against the destructive extraction of natural resources on their lands. For example, a lithium project at Salar Caucharí, mined by Lithium America Corp in Jujuy, rakes in billions while reportedly stealing drinking water

While sections of land are constitutionally recognised as belonging to Indigenous communities, land claims have come into conflict with the interests of foreign and Argentine capitalists who want to exploit the natural resources and buy public land for their holiday homes. 

Joe Lewis, a US billionaire, has come into media attention recently for privatising the only road to a public lake, and hiring a private army to prevent anyone from “trespassing” on his property. 

“The [constitutional change] harms us, it is pawning the future of our children, the legalisation of the looting of natural resources, the dispossession of our lands”, Jorge Angulo, a representative of Llankaj Maki, a Council of Indigenous Peoples, told media. “We defend our rights ... we defend water and territory.”

Police have attacked protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, and reportedly have used physical violence against detained protesters. According to various reports, more than 150 were injured and in police custody by 20 June. 

Other sectors, such as sugar workers and public sector workers, came out to support the teachers. Solidarity demonstrations spread to many provinces, with workers from all sectors striking to fight the constitutional change. 

The newspaper Pagina12 quoted professor Juan Carlos Córdoba referring to a strike in another province: “The strike was forceful, we have been registering compliance between 85 and 90 percent”.

The protesters have called for general strikes across the province and the country. Far left and Trotskyist organisations, such as members of the FIT-U (an alliance of Trotskyist parties of varying currents), have been intervening into the struggle. 

The more militant sections from the FIT-U have been calling on the nationally organised trade union centres, the General Confederation of Labour and the Workers’ Central Union, to call general strikes. 

The protests have forced the federal government to distance itself from the Jujuy provincial government. “The right to protest and to strike are fundamental labour rights protected not only by our constitution, but also by international treaties ... [and we are] requesting these provisions be declared unconstitutional”, said Labour Minister Raquel “Kelly” Olmos.

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