Kirchner Government caves in to land-rent hoarders
Agricultural crisis rocks Argentina
They all know the issue is the wealth from land but don’t know that the solution is to share it. We trim this 2008 article from the Green Left Weekly of July 12.
By Raul BassiArgentina is one of the largest food producers in the world, particular of meat, grains, and soya. In normal conditions, Argentina, with a population around 30 million, can produce enough to feed up to 410 million people. Yet in Argentina there are more than 3.5 million indigents who do not have enough food everyday.
For more than 100 days, the new taxes on agricultural exports that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner implemented to dampen food inflation has spurred dispute not seen since the days of 2001 economic crisis and subsequent uprising, the Argentinazo, that overthrew several presidents in less than a week.
The agro-producers demand the elimination of all tax increases. Their supporters engage in road blockades, strikes, and urban demonstrations with pots and pans, commonly known as cacelorazos. This has provoked food shortages -- contributing to rising inflation -- mass firings, and even the destruction of basic food produce.
The protagonists and the press reduce the dispute to government vs. countryside, leaving out it’s a battle for land rent.
Today, three sectors control the highly profitable cultivation of soya, which has replaced grain. First, there are the contractors, who are basically investment funds that rent land for soya production. Second, the suppliers of agrochemicals and seeds: multinationals like Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer.
Thirdly, the five companies who control 90% of exports and generate more than US$ 1 billion profits per year. These companies — Cargill, Bunge, Dreyfuss, Nidera and AGD — handle the entire production chain including silos, transport, ports, and mills.
Also there are the financial companies that control the futures markets.
Joining them are the small landowners, small producers, the middle class in rural towns, and subcontractors who do the dirty work.
On the other side stands the government, which could use that land rent. It has a heavy external debt and it wants to subsidize Argentinian industry to compete in the world market, particularly against Brazil. Plus the government feels it should build more houses, hospitals, and schools.
The president is in a bind. She supported the increased concentration of soya production and won support from some of large producers in her election campaign. Small and medium producers — key components of her voting base — have aligned themselves with the large agricultural capitalists, placing all the blame for the crisis on her government.
The government has been incapable of generating sympathy from the urban middle class and workers because of previous policies, such as opposition to wage increases and little-to-no wealth redistribution. Instead, it has been increasingly forced to rely on the clientalist networks of the corrupt Justicialist Party, the traditional party of peronism, in order to stage rallies in its defense.
The government conceded; it paid compensations, lowered the taxes, and allowed export of meat and wheat. Emboldened, the “countryside” has been appealing to urban middle classes in order to turn them against the workers, particularly the poor. They have drawn a sharp contrast between the skin color of the light skinned road blockaders and those of the piqueteros — the unemployed workers who have staged road blockades in demand of work and unemployment benefits.
A number of union leaders, intellectuals, human rights and community activists, and progressives have put forward an alternative: stop the domination of soya, regain crop diversity, and ensure food sovereignty and cheap primary products. They push a mix of owner occupancy, public ownership, taxes, and regulations. [Editor’s note: they forget the land rent which could be recovered and shared.] Instead of taking any of these steps, the Fernandez government is supporting the status quo.
In Argentina, the land has been the primary generator of wealth, often at expense of national industrialization. Historically, the landowners have controlled the country. The only way to change this and overcome the crisis would be through the implementation of a popular program of land transformation, brought about by social mobilization.
In this sense, the recent events have created a curiosity. The rural dispute has legitimatized direct action methods once criticized by the media and previous administrations, even if this time it is not the piqueteros but other social sectors.
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