A piquetero is a member of a political faction whose primary modus operandi is based in the piquete. The piquete is an action by which a group of people blocks a road or street with the purpose of demonstrating and calling attention over a particular issue or demand. The trend was initiated in Argentina in the mid-1990's, during the Administration of President Carlos Menem, soon becoming a frequent form of protest that still prevails on the south american socio-political scenario. Seventy percent of the piqueteros are women .
The word piquetero is a neologism in the Spanish of Argentina. It comes from piquete , that is, a standing blockade and/or demonstration of protest in a significant spot.
Origins of the Piqueteros
The piqueteros appeared first in June 1996 in the Patagonic town of Cutral-Co, province of Neuquen, when workers laid off by the state-owned oil company YPF (now privatized and part of Repsol YPF) blocked National Route 22. Like many other small towns throughout Argentina, Cutral-Co depended almost exclusively on the jobs provided by a single local company.
Piqueteros as a national phenomenon
During the latter half of the 1990s, as the Argentine economy lost competitiveness and exports markets due to the over-valued fixed exchange rate, and many former state companies were sold to private corporations, many Argentines lost their jobs. The piquetero form of protest soon spread to the impoverished neighbourhoods and de-industrialized towns of Greater Buenos Aires, starting in Florencio Varela and La Matanza, as well as other provinces. In 1997 there were 23 roadblocks in Buenos Aires Province, and a total of 77 in the whole country.
After a time, piqueteros began assembling in a more organized fashion, forming "Unemployed Workers Movements" . The protests began to include not only major road-blocking pickets, but also blockades of important streets in the cities or just outside of them, as well as bridges and accesses to economically critical spots . In some instances, government buildings were blocked and occupied by force.
The MTDs also began involving themselves in co-operatives for a myriad of purposes, such as barter markets for goods and services, small-scale food production, sewing workshops, food-ration distributing facilities, etc. A number of piqueteros now participate, support, or otherwise have ties with the recovered factory movement .
Piqueteros during the crisis
In 2002, two piqueteros, Dario Santillan and Maximiliano Kosteki, died during protests in the Pueyrredon Bridge in Buenos Aires. Judicial investigations and the Argentine press blame the Secretariat of Intelligence for participation in the organization of these events. On the second anniversary of the killings, a defacement of one of SIDE's bases was done in protest. Involvement of SIDE has not been proven so far.
In early 2006, Alfredo Fanchiotti and Alejandro Acosta, two policemen who participated in the repression, were convicted for murder. Relatives and comrades of the piqueteros killed that day claim that the prosecutor and the judge intentionally avoided looking for the politician that ordered and directed the repression.
Political involvement in the MTDs
The success of the MTDs soon attracted the attention of political actors, from two main fronts: old, traditionally fragmented leftist parties and movements, and the Peronist Party. During the late 1990s, piqueteros in Greater Buenos Aires came to overlap with the manzaneras, agents of the anti-Menem Peronist machine of provincial governor Eduardo Duhalde. By 2005, of the large MTDs in Buenos Aires have been mostly co-opted either by radical, intransigent left-wing ideological factions, or by the local Peronist municipal administrations, many of them linked to former Buenos Aires governor and then interim president Eduardo Duhalde, and others to supporters of current president Nestor Kirchner.
The Peronist Party connection is particularly important given that piquetero groups have acquired a hierarchical structure, where benefits are shared from the top down, and in many cases the heads of the movements serve as intermediaries for the distribution of government welfare subsidies, from which each member of the piquetero organization must discount a small sum to support the logistics of the protests, the hiring and maintenance of assembly facilities, etc. Welfare subsidies come for example under the forms of Planes Trabajar, which consist in 20 hours per week "contracts" used by public institutions and paid 150 pesos (less than 50 USD) a month.
Criticism and fragmentation
The criticism towards piqueteros and MTDs have come mostly from three sides: middle-class Argentinians, right-wing political actors, and piqueteros themselves.
Among the decimated but still numerous Argentine middle class, the common criticism is that piqueteros, while morally and legally entitled to protest and demonstrate, should not do so by blocking important roads and streets, since this violates other people's right to circulate freely and often results in delays . The so-called "violent" attitude of some piqueteros, who cover their faces with scarfs or handkerchiefs as a form —so they claim— of protection against police retaliations, and who wield sticks, is sometimes interpreted as a visible threat towards passers-by and police, is usually pointed out as proof. On occasions, these type of critics become violent too when faced with a picket. People who thus criticize the piqueteros may agree with the need to provide relief for the poor and unemployed, but disagree on the form of the demands.
The political right, speaking mainly through politicians and journalists but resonating with many other Argentinians, overtly or covertly equates piqueteros with criminals. It is a fact that violent incidents with piqueteros have ended up with people wounded, cars and houses damaged, etc., and even non-violent blockades are formally illegal if they cause serious disruptions. Occupation of state and private buildings, including supermarkets and casinos, followed by demands of money and food supplies, has also occurred in the recent past. People advocating the application of the law against blockades request that the government outlaw the protests and suffocate them using violent means if necessary. However, the case is that most pickets ends without violence.
The piqueteros themselves have become fragmented, as explained above. The movements supported by leftist parties, as well as the independent ones, criticize the piquetero leaders that have chosen to support the national Kirchner administration . In turn, the left-wing piqueteros are portrayed by the others as representatives of an unproductive, non-constructive radical opposition, sometimes encouraging violent action.
In the media, this fragmentation has been somewhat oversimplified by terming intransigent MTDs as piqueteros duros ("hard piqueteros") and those more willing to negotiate as piqueteros blandos ("soft piqueteros").
Argentina's New Social Protagonists (2002) and Piqueteros, la cara oculta del fenomeno (2002) - Report and slide show from Clarin, the Argentine daily newspaper
The Oppenheimer Report: 'Piqueteros' are the real kings of the road (2006) - Miami Herald report
Argentina: Pickets and police (2004) - Economist report on Kirchner relations with the piquetero movement
Argentina: Who's afraid of the piqueteros? (2004) - Green Left report on U.S. and Argentine government responses to the piqueteros
Piquetero Movement Ideas: A discussion with MTD Allen - Interview with a piquetero leader
Power or counter power? The dilemma of the Piquetero movement in Argentina post-crisis (2003) - article in Capital & Class
Argentina's Piqueteros and Us - Overview and comparisons with the situation of the United States
Argentina: the mystification of the 'piquetero' movement International Communist Current critique the piquetero movement as an instrument of the bourgeoisie
Unrest and Repression in Argentina (1998) - New Politics analysis of Cutral Co and other early piquetero episodes
Argentina's unemployed movement: fragmented but active
"Colectivo Situaciones" texts about piqueteros and social movements in various languages
Diario del Juicio, a website about the June 2002 repression of piqueteros.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Piquetero