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(en) Latin America's Autonomous Organizing By Marie Trigona

Date Sun, 12 Mar 2006 10:34:14 +0200

Activists met in Uruguay for the fourth Latin American
Conference of Popular Autonomous Organizations in February.
Over 300 activist delegates from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia,
Chile and Uruguay organized this year's annual event as a
space to strategize autonomous organizing and coordinate
direct actions. This year's conference, held February 24-26,
focused on building popular power in Latin America among
organizations autonomous from the state, political parties and NGOs.
The participating organizations orient towards class
struggle and libertarian practices-grass roots organizing,
direct democracy and mutual solidarity. Within the debate of
how to build popular power, delegates discussed how people
can solve their own problems without depending on the state
or any other institution. The current context of Latin
American governmental politics emerged as a focal point
during the two-day meeting. In each of the corresponding
nations, social organizations have faced new challenges due
to the resurgence of "progressive" social democratic
victories. Take, for example, the case of Uruguay's social
movements. Many of Uruguay's social movements have
demobilized after the inauguration of Tabare Vazquez. All
eyes looked to Bolivia with the recent victory of MAS
leader, Evo Morales. In all of the workshops, participants
discussed how to prevent growing expectations in social
democratic governments from impeding the accumulation of
popular power.

Everything at the congress was auto-gestionado
(self-managed), from the olla popular (collectively cooked
meal) to cleaning and maintenance. Artists performed
spontaneous theatre and Afro-Uruguayan popular music,
Candome, into the wee-hours of the night. The 200
participants represented a diverse array of activist work
and focuses that included human rights groups, community
centers, alternative media outlets, anarchist organizations,
unemployed worker organizations, student groups, popular
education teams, movement of card board collectors, and
several worker unions participating. Beyond each group's
focus, activists within each country are working to create
venues for political formation and popular education as part
of a larger plan for an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist
Latin America.

The workshops focused on the construction of popular power
at a grass roots level on each front -- Human rights
(impunity and historic memory, political prisoners,
criminalization of protests), Syndical (worker movements,
classist tendencies, recuperated enterprises), Barrio
(neighborhood organizations, territorial organizing,
unemployed worker organizations and community radios),
Student (student movements, autonomy), Earth and Natural
resources (land and production, privatization of natural

Neighborhood organizing

Galpon de Corrales, a community center in a working class
neighborhood in Montevideo, coordinated the conference. The
Galpon also features a community radio station, community
library and a large space to hold cultural activities.
Several times a week they organize a collective pot and take
pride in the fact that the Galpon is completely
self-sustained and managed. The Galpon works with residents
from the surrounding barrio, children and many unemployed
adults. One of the challenges facing the Galpon is meeting
urgent needs of participants while moving away from
traditional forms of social work. During the conference I
interviewed Gustavo, who helped build the Galpon de Corrales
as a political space. Gustavo advocates a platform similar
to anarchists like Errico Maletesta who argued that
anarchist organizations need to carry out a political agenda.

In the interview, Gustavo summarized expectations for the
conference and expressed a desire for groups to work on a
territorial level because of diverse needs within working
class struggles. "We've organized this congress as a way to
see other experiences and exchange ideas with social
organizations in Latin America, to familiarize ourselves
with another global reality in Latin America. This practice
is needed so we can put into practice the central focus of
this Congress: popular power. The first congress was held in
Brazil in 2003, the second in Cochabamba, Bolivia and the
third in La Plata, Argentina in February 2005. During the
fourth congress we will discuss the theme of building
popular power. We need to create a strategic perspective of
social struggle, while bringing this perspective from all
the popular fronts where social movements are organizing.
It's fundamental that the people exercise popular power and
that they raise class-consciousness as part of this
strategic perspective. During the congress, we discussed the
debate of how to build popular power: to create
participatory spaces and an atmosphere for struggle. We also
need to adopt a new political concept, which is the
territorial struggle. Resistance on a territorial level is
fundamental because the working class is very diverse and
fragmented. A territorial struggle implies building a space
for construction, participation and socialization. We look
to the historic banners from society in the beginning of the
century, taking from historic examples like the worker
councils where they built popular power and values from our

Human Rights

The workshop on human rights focused on the increasing
criminalization of protests and campaigns for the release of
political prisoners. Throughout the conference, participants
concluded that progressive governments are increasing
attacks against social protest and autonomous organizing.

In Uruguay, thousands rallied last year for the release of
four prisoners detained during Anti-Bush demonstrations in
Montevideo that concurred with the fourth Summit of the
Americas held in Mar del Plata, Argentina. They were held
for over six weeks. Currently the Patagonian city of Las
Heras, in Argentina's southern province of Santa Cruz, is
under siege. Striking oil workers stormed a police station,
killing a police officer and injuring 15 others, to free a
jailed union leader in February. The government sent over
300 national guardsmen to Santa Cruz to disperse protestors
in response to the clash. Oil workers have reported that the
situation is very tense, with regular attacks and threats
against unionists. In Chile, social activists and the
indigenous Mapuche people face permanent repression,
imprisonment and killings on part of the Chilean state.
Since the return to democracy in 1990, hundreds have been
arrested for struggling against injustice. More than 30
activists have been murdered since Chile's return to democracy.

According to Maio, a Mapuche activist from the Encuentro por
la libertad, social organizations in Chile need to work at
both the macro and micro levels. She, for example, has
worked for many years for the release of political prisoners
in Chile. "Our organization is building a space to fight for
the freedom of the people, freedom for social activists. We
are working against the anti-terrorist laws implemented in
Chile and against the criminalization of protests because
working for the release of political prisoners isn't enough.
If we don't get to the root of the problem, political
repression will continue to be a revolving door."

"In Chile, a large number of political prisoners were
released after the dictatorship. However, Chile's first
democratic government of Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994)
arrested a large number of new political prisoners. While
everyone said that democracy returned to Chile, it wasn't
the case. They built a high-security prison to imprison
social activists from Frente Patriotico Manuel Rodriguez and
the MIR. We've come to this congress to strategize of how we
can effectively fight for the release of political
prisoners. First we have to break with the image of
political prisoners as terrorists, so that the population
doesn't imagine a hooded criminal. We want the people to
associate the term terrorist with torturers, those who are
in government and politicians ordering police repression.
The government accuses social activists fighting against
oppression of terrorist acts and they throw us in jail."

"In the workshop on human rights we talked about the
criminalization of protest. We strategized over how we can
reverse human rights abuses in our daily organizing efforts.
How can we stop the system from advancing? We always talk
about this on a macro level, we talk about neoliberalism and
capitalism. But how do we deal with oppression on a day to
day basis? We also need to strategize how to deal with the
aggressions, when we don't have food for our collective
meals, when we don't have shoes to put on our children's
feet when they go to school, when there's no jobs."

Syndicalist front

During the workshop on syndicalism, participants debated
strategies for workplace struggles. Alex, from Brazil's
National Movement of Collectors of Recycled Material --
Movimento Nacional dos Cartadores de Material Reciclavel
(MNCR) says that workers organizing need to develop new
tools against exploitation. He said that workers clearly
can't depend on state-run unions or bourgeois labor laws to
protect workers from unsafe conditions or firings.

"During the congress we've met with compañeros who are
struggling, people who discuss strategy and at the same time
are truly fighting. The bourgeois control most of the
unions, but they are disguised as union leaders. They are
paid a lot of money to run a union. I'm talking about Latin
America as a whole. Most of the bureaucratic unions are
allied with the government. The union decisions don't come
from the workers. The government works so that workers can't
unite. We've agreed with a lot of what has been said here at
this conference."

"We concluded during the workshop: first that all workers
should be unionized, even the workers who don't have jobs.
Unemployed workers and informal workers also form part of
the working class in struggle. Second: for the unions to be
completely independent from the government. We also talked
about how the labor laws are developed to favor the
capitalist. The laws are all pro-bourgeoisie. Laws are used
to institutionalize unions. The laws are all bourgeois which
is why we can't look to them as tools for struggle."

During the conclusions, participants agreed to coordinate a
number of actions against Free Trade Accords throughout the
region. The Fifth Latin American Conference of Popular
Autonomous Organizations will be held in Chile next year.

Marie Trigona forms part of Grupo Alavío. She can be reached at
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