Where is Santiago Maldonado? History, Context, and Political Analysis of a Forced Disappearance

Pho­to­graph by Cecí Gar­cía.

On August 1, in the midst of a con­fronta­tion between the Lof Cushamen Mapuche com­mu­ni­ty in Patag­o­nia and the Argen­tine Gen­darmerie (bor­der patrol), San­ti­a­go Mal­don­a­do went miss­ing. Mul­ti­ple wit­ness­es saw Mal­don­a­do being detained by the Gen­darmerie and put into a van. Yet, there is no offi­cial record of his detain­ment, and noth­ing has been seen or heard of him since. This case recalls the tens of thou­sands of forced dis­ap­pear­ances that occurred under Argentina’s mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship between 1976–1983, but now under a demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed gov­ern­ment.

In this inter­view, Diego Sztul­wark dis­cuss­es the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al con­text of Maldonado’s dis­ap­pear­ance and its broad­er polit­i­cal impli­ca­tions. On the one hand, this is but the lat­est case of increas­ing repres­sion as the right con­sol­i­dates pow­er after a decade of “pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments,” not only in Argenti­na, but across South Amer­i­ca. As part of this con­sol­i­da­tion, the right seeks to dis­ci­pline the dis­obe­di­ent ele­ments of soci­ety that rebelled against neolib­er­al poli­cies dur­ing Argentina’s 2001 cri­sis. How­ev­er, Sztul­wark also sit­u­ates it in a longer his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive: going back to the ini­tial Euro­pean col­o­niza­tion and the ongo­ing strug­gles of the Mapuche for their ances­tral lands. This strug­gle con­tin­ues to be of the utmost impor­tance today as the Macri gov­ern­ment strength­ens the neo-extrac­tivist poli­cies begun under the Kirch­n­er gov­ern­ment. Thus, beyond respond­ing to the speci­fici­ties of the sit­u­a­tion in Argenti­na, Sztulwark’s analy­sis high­lights the fun­da­men­tal rela­tion­ship between neo-extrac­tivist cap­i­tal­ism and vio­lence, and pro­vides cru­cial steps in an inves­ti­ga­tion of the con­crete tech­nolo­gies of pow­er deployed by the state and cap­i­tal across mul­ti­ple scales and mul­ti­ple spaces.

Amador Fer­nán­dez-Savater: Who is San­ti­a­go Mal­don­a­do? What was the con­text of his dis­ap­pear­ance? What do we know about what hap­pened?

Diego Sztul­wark: Well over a month ago – on August 1st – in the midst of the Nation­al Gendarmerie’s repres­sion of a Mapuche com­mu­ni­ty in the Argen­tinean Patag­o­nia, San­ti­a­go Mal­don­a­do, a young man from Buenos Aires who tend­ed to earn a liv­ing as an arti­san, dis­ap­peared. The last that is known of Mal­don­a­do, as wit­nessed by var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, was that he was cap­tured by the Gen­darmerie.

A: How did the state respond? Can we talk about a “forced dis­ap­pear­ance?”

D: Despite an extra­or­di­nary social mobi­liza­tion ask­ing “where is San­ti­a­go Mal­don­a­do?,” the gov­ern­ment has done every­thing pos­si­ble to con­fuse peo­ple and to pre­vent things from being clar­i­fied. The pros­e­cu­tor described the case as a “forced dis­ap­pear­ance.” The reac­tion from the Exec­u­tive Pow­er and an impres­sive major­i­ty of the press was dis­con­cert­ing. Instead of inves­ti­gat­ing the Gen­darmerie and the polit­i­cal pow­ers, they act­ed as if Mal­don­a­do had got­ten lost. They looked for him in dis­tant provinces and even in Chile. Lat­er they assert­ed that he had been mur­dered by a Mapuche!

They have ded­i­cat­ed them­selves to lying, to spread­ing false infor­ma­tion. Now they are try­ing to blame a cou­ple of gen­darmes to avoid their own organ­ic respon­si­bil­i­ty in the inci­dent. The state’s response brings back mem­o­ries of the dictatorship’s pro­pa­gan­da: “The dis­ap­peared are in Spain.” This reac­tion from the gov­ern­ment and the mass media con­firms the “forced” nature of the dis­ap­pear­ance: not only is it a state body (the Gen­darmerie) that acts in the dis­ap­pear­ance, but also the state itself goes on to pre­vent it from being inves­ti­gat­ed.

The Context of the Disappearance

A: Describe the con­flict between the state and the Mapuche peo­ple. What is its his­to­ry?

D: The con­flict between the state’s secu­ri­ty forces and the Mapuche peo­ple is cen­tered around the Mapuche’s fight for their ances­tral lands in the south­ern part of the coun­try, which are cur­rent­ly occu­pied by large cor­po­ra­tions like Benet­ton (cat­tle ranch­ing, wool pro­duc­tion, mono­cul­ture forestry) or the Roca, Bem­berg, and Lewis groups, among oth­ers. In any case, this appro­pri­a­tion of land involves legal irreg­u­lar­i­ties and con­flicts with dis­placed pop­u­la­tions.

These dis­putes are not new, but they have inten­si­fied and become mas­sive in recent years. To under­stand the dynam­ic of this con­flict, we must try to under­stand how two com­ple­men­tary log­ics over­lap: the con­cen­tra­tion of prop­er­ty own­er­ship in rela­tion to an extrac­tivist econ­o­my, which is increas­ing­ly shift­ing toward ener­gy sources, and the attempt to frame any resis­tance to the expro­pri­a­tion of land as “ter­ror­ism.”

Macri’s gov­ern­ment has accept­ed the diag­no­sis of the Unit­ed States South­ern Com­mand1 that includes the Mapuche strug­gle in the list of new threats to state secu­ri­ty. That is, it the gov­ern­ment starts from the idea that strug­gles for land and the Mapuche com­mu­ni­ties are struc­tural­ly crim­i­nal­iz­able.

It is impor­tant to under­stand that, on the ground, the repres­sion was com­mand­ed by Pablo Nocetti, the Min­istry of Security’s chief of staff, a lawyer for mil­i­tary lead­ers from the last dic­ta­tor­ship, and an apol­o­gist for state ter­ror­ism. This fact makes it impos­si­ble to blame the Gen­darmerie autonomous­ly, with­out impli­cat­ing the polit­i­cal pow­er that gives the orders and directs the pro­ce­dure on the scene.

On the oth­er hand, there were already seri­ous prece­dents. Dur­ing the month of Jan­u­ary, we learned about a case of bru­tal repres­sion by the Gen­darmerie against a Mapuche com­mu­ni­ty in strug­gle. As in the cur­rent case, in that instance of repres­sion, the Gen­darmerie act­ed well beyond any judi­cial order, yet with clear polit­i­cal sup­port.

A: What is the social and polit­i­cal con­text of San­ti­a­go Maldonado’s dis­ap­pear­ance? How is this dis­ap­pear­ance linked to the cur­rent moment of Macri’s gov­ern­ment, two years after he reached pow­er?

D: To con­nect the forced dis­ap­pear­ance of Mal­don­a­do to the con­tem­po­rary con­text, we must pay atten­tion to the com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­e­gy used by Macri’s gov­ern­ment start­ing in March of this year. I am refer­ring to the repres­sion against teach­ers who tried to mount a tent in the Con­gres­sion­al Plaza as part of their strug­gle over wages and in defense of pub­lic edu­ca­tion, against women mobi­lized by the Ni Una Menos move­ment against femi­cides, against the Pep­si­co work­ers in their strug­gle against lay­offs, and against piquetero groups demand­ing the dec­la­ra­tion of a social and food emer­gency.

In all of the cas­es – there are more – offi­cial vio­lence acts in an “expres­sive” man­ner, as the anthro­pol­o­gist Rita Sega­to would say: rather than achiev­ing pre­cise objec­tives, state vio­lence com­mu­ni­cates an aes­thet­ic of cru­el­ty (the destruc­tion of empa­thy and sen­si­tiv­i­ty) to soci­ety. In this way, it seeks to com­plete the task of social­ly remod­el­ing the coun­try that emerged from the 2001 cri­sis.2 The appli­ca­tion of this repres­sive vio­lence forms part of the pro­duc­tion of a cer­tain “nor­mal­i­ty” – that is, a cyn­i­cal sin­cer­i­ty of hier­ar­chies and inequal­i­ties – and the cre­ation of codes so that each indi­vid­ual can vol­un­tar­i­ly access the dynam­ics of social inte­gra­tion, out­side of which all exis­tence is per­ceived as a pathol­o­gized or crim­i­nal threat.

In short, it is vio­lence exer­cised in the name of peace that tends to con­struct any anom­aly under the hori­zon of ter­ror­ism. The mot­to seems to be “friend­li­ness” for those who live with­in the norm, and repres­sive action for those who dare to not fit into the order. It is nec­es­sary to clar­i­fy that this “norm” is the most banal thing in the world: the com­pa­ny form as a mode of coop­er­at­ing in the cre­ation of wealth; the police form to pro­vide secu­ri­ty; con­tin­u­ous stress around the cri­sis to build per­ma­nent con­sen­sus on the country’s gov­er­nance.

The dis­ap­pear­ance of Mal­don­a­do brings togeth­er and allows us to under­stand how all the ingre­di­ents of this regime of the estab­lish­ment of order func­tion: police pow­er; the racist and stereo­typed treat­ment of all those who do not fit in; the pri­or­i­ty of land own­er­ship as a com­mod­i­ty in ser­vice to the busi­ness form; stress tak­en to the extreme in the media and social net­works.

A: And I sup­pose that Mila­gro Sala’s arrest and deten­tion could also be under­stood in this same frame­work…

D: Absolute­ly. What has been tak­ing place in the Province of Jujuy is very seri­ous. It is a province dom­i­nat­ed by the sug­ar com­pa­ny Ledes­ma, which con­trols the entire polit­i­cal sys­tem in the province. Along with Macri’s arrival to the pres­i­den­cy, at the end of 2015, the fear­some Ger­ar­do Morales became gov­er­nor in Jujuy (from the rad­i­cal par­ty, he par­tic­i­pates in the Cam­biemos alliance and reached the gov­ern­ment through an alliance with the Frente Ren­o­vador under the lead­er­ship of Ser­gio Mas­sa from Buenos Aires). Morales ille­gal­ly jailed Mila­gro Sala, the leader of the Túpac Amaru Neigh­bor­hood Orga­ni­za­tion, and dis­man­tled the coop­er­a­tives and the plans for neigh­bor­hoods with afford­able hous­ing.

It is a scan­dalous sit­u­a­tion. To the point that if today Mila­gro Sala is under house arrest, instead of in jail, it is only because the strug­gle for her free­dom pres­sured inter­na­tion­al human rights orga­ni­za­tions, such as the Inter-Amer­i­can Com­mis­sion for Human Rights, to inter­vene. From the government’s point of view, it is about dis­abling a “par­al­lel state” and demon­strat­ing that no poor Indi­an woman is going to chal­lenge the pow­er of inge­nu­ity and the par­ties that sus­tain it (rad­i­cal­ism and Per­o­nism). Hora­cio Ver­bit­sky, a jour­nal­ist (the lead colum­nist of Página/12) and pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Legal and Social Stud­ies (CELS), has car­ried out a full and real time inves­ti­ga­tion of the irreg­u­lar deten­tion of Mila­gro Sala.

Macrismo as form of government

A: At a time when, at an inter­na­tion­al lev­el, the pow­er­ful and elec­toral­ly vic­to­ri­ous right is pro­tec­tion­ist, pro-sov­er­eign­ty, anti-glob­al­iz­ing (Trump, Brex­it), Macri is sur­pris­ing. What type of gov­ern­ment is it? How has it act­ed once in pow­er?

D: The objec­tive of the first two years of the Cam­biemos alliance’s gov­ern­ment was to dis­ci­pline soci­ety and take the coun­try off the “pop­ulist” path (as they char­ac­ter­ize the so called “pro­gres­sive” gov­ern­ments in the region), increas­ing the con­cen­tra­tion of income – with the con­se­quent increase in inequal­i­ty –, trans­fer­ring pow­er to the state’s repres­sive agen­cies – which led to an increase in repres­sive vio­lence –, ques­tion­ing the nar­ra­tion of recent his­to­ry based on the con­tri­bu­tions of human rights orga­ni­za­tions – which empow­ered the racist, clas­sist, and patri­ar­chal mech­a­nisms already present in soci­ety – and return­ing to the mod­el of for­eign debt – renew­ing the mech­a­nisms of finan­cial val­oriza­tion, spec­u­la­tion, and cap­i­tal flight.

A: Does Macrismo rep­re­sent a rad­i­cal shift in respect to Kirch­ner­ism? What are the con­ti­nu­ities and dis­con­ti­nu­ities?

D: As I said pre­vi­ous­ly, the Macrista pro­gram seeks to reform the soci­ety that emerged from the 2001 cri­sis and, if it is apply­ing these reforms grad­u­al­ly, it is only because at the moment it does not have the polit­i­cal strength to advance with greater force.

At the same time, Macrismo is a cor­rect inter­pre­ta­tion of the con­di­tions in which Argenti­na is insert­ed into the world mar­ket – as a food and ener­gy pro­duc­er – and of the dri­ve for con­sump­tion that, far from strength­en­ing pop­u­lar demo­c­ra­t­ic orga­ni­za­tion (the pro­gram of pop­u­lar par­tic­i­pa­tion in the enjoy­ment of wealth), rather sub­jec­ti­vat­ed a large part of the pop­u­la­tion in neolib­er­al terms: modes of life dom­i­nat­ed by sta­bil­i­ty via con­sump­tion, the con­sump­tion of modes of life.

From this point of view, it is not pos­si­ble to make a pro­found cri­tique of Macrismo, with­out also cri­tiquing Kirch­ner­ism, or rather, cri­tiquing the cre­ation of an uncon­scious of order and sta­bi­liza­tion that cre­at­ed the con­di­tions for the emer­gence of a right-wing that today seeks to replace Per­o­nism as the fun­da­men­tal medi­a­tor. Along with broad­en­ing rights, Kirch­ner­ism strength­ened poli­cies of neo-extrac­tivism and mono­cul­ture as impor­tant eco­nom­ic pil­lars, poli­cies that Macrismo ful­ly appro­pri­at­ed.

Hav­ing said that, it must also be clear­ly stat­ed that Macrismo is a com­plete­ly reac­tionary phe­nom­e­non and that, as much as it endors­es new demo­c­ra­t­ic ele­ments, it brings togeth­er in one block the country’s con­ser­v­a­tive reac­tion to the ple­beian ele­ments that emerged with the 2001 cri­sis and was con­stant­ly engaged in nego­ti­a­tion with Kirch­ner­ism.

Last­ly, although it’s not the moment to get too deep into this, it is not pos­si­ble to think about the cur­rent moment of the Macri gov­ern­ment in Argenti­na with­out putting it into a region­al per­spec­tive, par­tic­u­lar­ly in rela­tion to the insti­tu­tion­al coup against the PT gov­ern­ment in Brazil.

Hard Macrismo and Soft Macrismo

A: In order to under­stand the speci­fici­ty of Macri’s gov­ern­ment, you have spent time ana­lyz­ing the fig­ure and the thought of the philoso­pher Ale­jan­dro Roz­itch­n­er. Why? How does this char­ac­ter and his thought work for you as an “ana­lyz­er”?

D: What is note­wor­thy about this philoso­pher, who start­ed advis­ing pres­i­dent Macri and his gov­ern­ing team on com­mu­ni­ca­tion issues, is his com­mit­ment to offer­ing them con­tent cre­at­ed by the coun­ter­cul­tures of the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Among these themes – from mar­i­jua­na to the entire cul­ture of rock, from non-reli­gious spir­i­tu­al­i­ty to quotes from Niet­zsche –, are ele­ments from the work of his father, León, a notable left­ist Argen­tinean philoso­pher, who was com­mit­ted to the con­ti­nen­tal pro­jec­tion of the Cuban rev­o­lu­tion.

In the 1970s, short­ly after the pub­li­ca­tion of Che Guevara’s key writ­ings about the role of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty in rev­o­lu­tion – Social­ism and Man in Cuba3 – León Roz­itch­n­er writes a brief arti­cle enti­tled “The Left with­out a Sub­ject.” In this already cel­e­brat­ed text, the philoso­pher warned of the neces­si­ty of includ­ing the sub­jec­tive – affec­tive, psy­cho­log­i­cal – trans­for­ma­tion as part of the objec­tive trans­for­ma­tion pro­pelled by left­ist pol­i­tics. The mate­r­i­al aspect of the rev­o­lu­tion must include the sen­su­al dimen­sion of exis­tence den­i­grat­ed by Chris­t­ian cap­i­tal­ism.

Decades lat­er, his son writes a reac­tionary appro­pri­a­tion of those unre­solved tasks, an irrev­er­ent van­guardism in the ser­vice of cap­i­tal. It could be said that the son alters the title of his father’s book and writes “The right with­out a sub­ject”: he teach­es the new agents of the devel­op­ment of the pro­duc­tive forces to include an ethics of enjoy­ment, of the sen­su­al, and of enthu­si­asm. This attempt has a cer­tain val­ue in renew­ing the face a right-wing that does not want to look into the mir­ror and see itself reflect­ing the last mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship. Ale­jan­dro Roz­itch­n­er is the com­mu­ni­ca­tor of a dis­course that teach­es how to love the chains of neolib­er­al­ism.

A: You say that there is a “cli­mate shift” in Argenti­na. Is the Macri government’s “hard mode” (vio­lence, lies, dis­ap­pear­ance) replac­ing the “soft mode” that could be sym­bol­ized by Ale­jan­dro Roz­itch­n­er?

D: Macri’s gov­ern­ment, his own biog­ra­phy and that of his fam­i­ly, were always linked to vio­lence. But we don’t have to go that far back, we can recall the occu­pa­tion of the Indoamer­i­cano Park by fam­i­lies demand­ing hous­ing at the end of 2010, which is per­haps the most clear episode of the Macrista con­cep­tion of vio­lence. At that moment, Macri was the may­or of the City of Buenos Aires and encour­aged the vio­lence of armed neigh­bors, as well as impuni­ty for the police who inter­vened in the evic­tion, speak­ing of “uncon­trolled immi­gra­tion” and “migrant usurpers.” Of course, imme­di­ate­ly after this, dur­ing the elec­toral cam­paign in which he was re-elect­ed, the gov­ern­ment filled the city with posters show­ing all sorts of peo­ple – includ­ing migrants – and the cap­tion “you are also wel­come here.”

Now, dur­ing a long first year of the pres­i­den­cy, the nation­al gov­ern­ment took pains to show a “friend­ly” and “neigh­bor­ly” face. This end­ed at some point this year. It is pos­si­ble to date this change to the already men­tioned repres­sion against teach­ers in March. From this tele­vised repres­sion against teach­ers wear­ing their white uni­forms, on a rainy Sun­day, oth­ers would fol­low: hunt­ing down women who had par­tic­i­pat­ed in one of the mul­ti­tudi­nous march­es con­vened under the names “Not One (Woman) Less” and the “Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Strike”; the sav­age evic­tion of a protest of orga­ni­za­tions of the unem­ployed while they were engaged in nego­ti­a­tions with the gov­ern­ment; or the recent repres­sion of the work­ers in a Pep­si­co fac­to­ry who were resist­ing a large batch of lay­offs.

To fin­ish com­pos­ing the pic­ture of this sit­u­a­tion, it is impor­tant to remem­ber that in May 2017 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of apply­ing a rule that would have reduced the sen­tences for tor­tur­ers who were active dur­ing the last dic­ta­tor­ship. The rule that was invoked – the so called “two for one,” which would reduce sen­tences for ordi­nary pris­on­ers if they had been detained for years pri­or to sen­tenc­ing – would have allowed hun­dreds of agents of state ter­ror­ism to avoid ful­fill­ing their sen­tences.

For­tu­nate­ly, a huge march of 500,000 peo­ple in the Plaza de Mayo and across the coun­try put an end to that pos­si­bil­i­ty with­in a week (the three branch­es of gov­ern­ment end­ed up going back on their words). How­ev­er, it is worth reflect­ing on two events that form part of this series: the day before the protest, the Argen­tine bish­ops announced a process of nation­al “rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” bring­ing togeth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers of vic­tims and repres­sors to “get to know” their tes­ti­monies; and, on the oth­er hand, the com­po­si­tion of the Supreme Court had just been changed and among the new mem­bers was a judge, Car­los Rosenkrantz – his was the deci­sive vote in the rul­ing – who had been propos­ing a doc­trine of impuni­ty for the mil­i­tary. It was for this rea­son that he was chal­lenged by human rights orga­ni­za­tions, when he was approved in the Sen­ate, a cham­ber large­ly con­trolled by Per­o­nism at that moment.

If we look at the chain of repres­sive episodes simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, togeth­er with the attempt to estab­lish impuni­ty for the cadres of the dic­ta­tor­ship, we can see more clear­ly why the case of San­ti­a­go Mal­don­a­do is a turn­ing point that stress­es all of the country’s demo­c­ra­t­ic ener­gies.

Violence, Neoliberalism, and Dictatorship

A: A per­sis­tent the­sis in your writ­ings is that there is a strong link between con­tem­po­rary forms of vio­lence and the dic­ta­tor­ship. You speak of “state ter­ror­ism” as some­thing that is very present: a sort of latent back­drop, always able to be acti­vat­ed. It can sound like an exag­ger­a­tion, a provo­ca­tion. How do you jus­ti­fy this his­toric­i­ty?

D: The prob­lem of vio­lence has nev­er stopped being an absolute­ly cen­tral ques­tion in the country’s his­to­ry. Maldonado’s dis­ap­pear­ance and the Mapuche con­flict remind us of the the­sis of the great writer David Viñas, the author of a key book pub­lished at the end of the 1970s, Indi­ans, Armies, and Bor­ders, for whom the con­quest of Patag­o­nia, the war with the Indi­ans, and the expro­pri­a­tion of their lands not only form the foun­da­tion­al basis of the state, but also the men­tal­i­ty of the country’s dom­i­nant class­es (includ­ing those to whom he refers to as “col­o­nized intel­lec­tu­als”).4

There is a his­to­ry that must be kept in mind because its basic lines con­tin­ue to act in the present. The bom­bard­ment of the Plaza de Mayo, and the over­throw of Perón’s gov­ern­ment, sup­port­ed by a sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­lar mobi­liza­tion, led to decades of vio­lence. Dur­ing the last mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship, from 1976-1983, a “ter­ror­ist state” was cre­at­ed (this ear­ly char­ac­ter­i­za­tion made by Eduar­do Luis Duhalde in a book5 that car­ries that same title is impor­tant). State ter­ror­ism applied vio­lence not only to dis­man­tle armed rev­o­lu­tion­ary groups (some­thing that it man­aged to do by around the year 1977), but also to sur­gi­cal­ly remod­el the country’s social struc­ture.

To put it short­ly: it drove a mod­el of accu­mu­la­tion based on finan­cial val­oriza­tion (an issue that the econ­o­mist Eduar­do Basu­al­do and his team explain very well), the dif­fu­sion of ter­ror as the threat of anni­hi­la­tion with­in the social body (here again the ref­er­ence to the work of León Roz­itch­n­er is essen­tial) and safe­guard­ed the rela­tion­ship between the con­cen­tra­tion of wealth and the armed defense of pri­vate prop­er­ty, some­thing that none of the lat­er demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ments ever ques­tioned.

The democ­ra­cy after 1983 was found­ed on the basis of a com­plete lack of will to ques­tion the prin­ci­pal lines of con­ti­nu­ity with this vio­lence on which the con­cen­tra­tion of pri­vate prop­er­ty is based. If we look at it close­ly, that rela­tion between econ­o­my and ter­ror con­tin­ues to be the prin­ci­pal prob­lem of Argen­tine democ­ra­cy: the inabil­i­ty to ques­tion the con­cen­tra­tion of land own­er­ship, the con­trol of food, the means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, or finance.

A: It is not sim­ply a the­o­ret­i­cal analy­sis, but also a con­dem­na­tion being made by Argen­tine social move­ments, is it not?

D: More than a rhetoric of denun­ci­a­tion, this descrip­tion of events con­sti­tutes a knowl­edge belong­ing to the main pop­u­lar strug­gles that, over the years, have been plac­ing lim­its on and attempt­ing to ques­tion this state of things: the appear­ance of the Moth­ers of Plaza de Mayo and the human rights move­ment that even today are the prin­ci­pal con­straint on Macri’s gov­ern­ment; the con­sti­tu­tion of the piquetero move­ment around 2001 – and, along with it, a plu­ral­i­ty of sub­jec­tiv­i­ties of the cri­sis, from recu­per­at­ed fac­to­ries to the escraches of HIJOS – that acti­vat­ed a com­mu­ni­tar­i­an force and an insur­rec­tion­al nature to des­ti­tute the neolib­er­al dynam­ic that was hege­mon­ic at that moment; and the cur­rent women’s move­ment, which has been capa­ble of demon­strat­ing the patri­ar­chal con­tent of state, eco­nom­ic, and domes­tic vio­lence, and of recon­struct­ing the rela­tion­ship between state ter­ror­ism and femi­cide.

These three move­ments have, in my judg­ment, some­thing in com­mon: they con­sti­tute an offen­sive on the field of sen­si­bil­i­ty – that is some­thing that Rita Sega­to, as well as oth­ers, insist on – as the field in which the already men­tioned aes­thet­ic of cru­el­ty oper­ates. The great lega­cy of the human rights move­ment is a lucid com­pres­sion of the desen­si­tiz­ing nature of the vio­lence that cre­ates ter­ror. There­fore it is nec­es­sary to cre­ate spaces of sen­si­bi­liza­tion where it would be pos­si­ble to elab­o­rate that vio­lence, to give rise to a counter-aggres­sion of anoth­er nature, and to trans­late – in that medi­um of the sen­su­al – strug­gles that lack an a pri­ori com­mon lan­guage.

The Social Field of Forces

A: In var­i­ous texts, you argue that neolib­er­al­ism is not only imposed from above, but rather it is a more com­plex dynam­ic. And vio­lence?

D: Repres­sive vio­lence was not invent­ed by Macri, but is an inten­si­fi­ca­tion of a con­stant vari­able that had not dis­ap­peared dur­ing the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment. The “eco­nom­ic growth” of the years before the cri­sis was trans­lat­ed into the every­day in terms of the con­sol­i­da­tion of pre­car­i­ty – pre­car­i­ty of exis­tence, of labor, and of affect – and a grow­ing demand for “secu­ri­ty” that per­me­at­ed all lev­els of soci­ety.

To under­stand this, it is nec­es­sary to return to the hypothe­ses of Rita Sega­to, for whom the estab­lish­ment of a ren­tier econ­o­my that extracts val­ue out­side of any reg­u­la­tion of pub­lic pow­ers tends to con­struct clan­des­tine modes of reg­u­la­tion that seg­re­gate infor­mal vio­lence, which can cre­ate a dark sov­er­eign­ty in the ter­ri­to­ries.6 Episodes of lynch­ings, police shoot­ings, jus­tice “by one’s own hands” or cru­el mes­sages on social media already warned of the dif­fu­sion of a vio­lent hatred toward any­thing that obstructs a cer­tain ide­al of order and nor­mal­i­ty, in which pre­car­i­ty is some­times a mobi­liz­ing utopia.

Macri’s gov­ern­ment retakes this dark pas­sion that had been unin­hib­it­ed and gives it a sym­bol­ic and insti­tu­tion­al chan­nel. He engages in pol­i­tics with it. He con­nects it to a promise of order based on the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of secu­ri­ty forces in the ter­ri­to­ries and in the pro­mo­tion of a code of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with which every­one can feel an inte­gral part of this new order.

A: What forms of resis­tance are appear­ing and seem to be the most promis­ing chal­lenges to this order? Do they involve mobi­liza­tions, elec­toral chan­nels, a com­bi­na­tion of both?

D: The gov­ern­ment tries to spread the idea that today there is no legit­i­mate oppo­si­tion to its project, which is offered as a way of purg­ing soci­ety after the vio­lence of the cri­sis and the fes­ti­val of pop­ulism. Noth­ing would be more cat­a­stroph­ic than to believe it (some­thing that could hap­pen if in Octo­ber the midterm elec­tions dis­cour­age the expec­ta­tions that one might have with Kirch­ner­ism or the left­ist options).

On the con­trary, the mas­sive protests against the two for one, or for San­ti­a­go Maldonado’s appear­ance; those con­vened by the women’s move­ment and the work­ers’ mobi­liza­tions – of which there is no short­age and that have renewed inter­est in com­bin­ing, like nev­er before, the demands of for­mal work­ers with those of work­ers from the infor­mal pop­u­lar econ­o­my – speak to us of a soci­ety that has not been defeat­ed and that is capa­ble of orga­ni­za­tion.

The inter­est of this social activism is redou­bled when we per­ceive it on a micro lev­el, in edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ences, in those of health work­ers, in net­works of social work­ers or artists. A new exam­ple of this is the mas­sive oppo­si­tion of high school stu­dents against the process of reform being car­ried out by the gov­ern­ment of the city of Buenos Aires in favor of impos­ing the mod­el of the busi­ness world onto edu­ca­tion. There are forces pro­cess­ing the new sce­nario, attempt­ing to break­down the per­plex­i­ty, and a recre­ation of affects and ideas is – very like­ly – under­way, as is, I hope, a new intel­lec­tu­al aggres­sive­ness.

–Trans­lat­ed by Liz Mason-Deese

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in El Diario.

  1. USSOUTHCOM, locat­ed near Mia­mi, FL, is one of nine Uni­fied Com­bat­ant Com­mands in the U.S. Depart­ment of Defense and is respon­si­ble for coor­di­nat­ing oper­a­tions and secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion in Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca and the Caribbean. It has been accused of and inves­ti­gat­ed for mul­ti­ple human rights vio­la­tions, includ­ing sup­port­ing state ter­ror­ism in mul­ti­ple Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 2009 mil­i­tary coup in Hon­duras. 

  2. Colec­ti­vo Situa­ciones, 19 & 20: Notes for a New Social Pro­tag­o­nism, trans. Nate Hol­dren and Sebastián Touza (New York: Minor Com­po­si­tions, 2012)  

  3. Ernesto Che Gue­vara, and Fidel Cas­tro, Social­ism and Man in Cuba, 3d ed. (New York: Pathfind­er, 2015)  

  4. David Viñas, Indios, ejérci­to y fron­tera (Buenos Aires: Siglo vein­tiuno edi­tores, 1983)  

  5. Eduar­do Luis Duhalde, El Esta­do ter­ror­ista argenti­no (Barcelona: Ed. Argos Ver­gara, 1983)  

  6. Rita Lau­ra Sega­to, La escrit­u­ra en el cuer­po de las mujeres asesinadas en Ciu­dad Juárez: ter­ri­to­rio, sober­anía y crímenes de segun­do esta­do (Buenos Aires: Tin­ta Limón, 2013). 

Authors of the article

is a member of Colectivo Situaciones, a militant research collective based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In addition, he is involved with the publisher Tinta Limón, regularly blogs for Lobo Suelto, and participates in the Instituto de Investigación y Experimentación Política (IIEP). Two recent Colectivo Situaciones books have been published in English: 19 & 20: Notes for a New Social Protagonism and Genocide in the Neighborhood.

is an independent investigator, editor of Acuarela Libros and the Revista Alexia. Amador has participated in various social movements (student, anti-globalization, copyleft, anti-war, V de Vivienda, 15-M). He is the author of Filosofía y acción (Editorial Límite, 1999), co-author of Red Ciudadana tras el 11-M; cuando el sufrimiento no impide pensar ni actuar (Acuarela Libros, 2008), Con y contra el cine; en torno a Mayo del 68 (UNIA, 2008) and Fuera de lugar. Conversaciones entre crisis y transformación (Acuarela Libros, 2013). He also runs the blog “Interferencias” on eldiario.es.