December 21, 2014

Dispatches from Argentina: Alternative economies and an alternative internship

Hello again AIDemocracy Network!

For the first time, I am writing you from Argentina, where I am lucky enough to participate in an internship the summer before my final year of undergraduate studies back in the US.

I am currently in Rosario, birthplace of the Argentinian flag, 2nd-largest city in Argentina only after the capital of Buenos Aires, birthplace of Diego Maradona (futbol legend and god, I’d argue), Lio Messi (futbol legend who plays for Barcelona) and the more than famous Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. But there is much more to Rosario than her being the birthplace of so many inspiring and different individuals, and this is part of what I came to discover.

I have chosen to do an internship (required to complete my major and graduate) here in Rosario for the specificity of what I am learning about during my internship. I am focusing my energies this summer (winter here) on Alternative Economies, those economic systems that exist as alternatives (usually existing inside) to the capitalist system. Argentina is different from most of the world in that prior to and especially post 2001 (when Argentina “officially” experienced an intense fiscal crisis – the effects of which are still felt today in Argentina) there have been a number of social programs geared towards finding alternatives to the neoliberal and capitalist economic system that dominates the planet . These alternatives are answering the call of the marginalized to find alternatives to an economic system that dominates the planet and leaves few survivors.

Map of Rosario:

There are a number of reasons why these programs began in Argentina, as I am focusing my efforts on learning about programs based in Rosario, the second-largest city in Argentina. Many of the programs actually began before 2001, as the negative effects of neoliberal economic policies (which can be seen all around the world) began to take hold. Some of these programs are the Empresas Recuperadas and Producciones Animales, Recuperated Businesses and Animal Production projects, respectively.

Animal Production started around 1997 with small-scale provision of animals (chickens and rabbits) to families experiencing acute poverty, the idea being that the animals would give them a renewable income and way to get out of their situations of acute poverty. Included in this phase of the project was also the project to re-valorize rabbit meat as a viable substitute for red meat (the consumption of which is cheaper, healthy, and much more sustainable than the production of red meat). Currently, Animal Production has a number of projects, including the two projects listed above as well as a project with the leathers and wools of animals, associated vegetable products and a project that uses animal waste for organic fertilizers. In 2003, the City of Rosario formed the Subsecretary of Alternative Economies and took on this project mostly to help with training, facilitation, etc.

The Recuperated Businesses/Enterprises project began before the creation of the Subsecretary, as this project began back before the fiscal crisis of 2001. In the years leading up to the crisis, many businesses began go to bankrupt and the only way for workers to keep their jobs (at a time when finding another job was next to impossible) was for them to form a cooperative. This happened at a time when there was no money to be lent to them to own the building they worked in, the machines they worked with, etc., so the workers basically had to finance this project on their own. As I heard one of the directors of these businesses say, “It’s not that we chose to become a cooperative, but that we had no other choice.” Upon the formation of the Subsecretary in 2003, there was support given to the pre-existing cooperatives as well as to cooperatives that formed during a second wave in 2006/2007. Another important factor in the creation of the cooperatives were workers unions present in Rosario–while they may not have always had a direct role in the creation of a cooperative, there has been a firm presence throughout the cooperative process here.

Now, there are about 10 cooperatives that exist between the first and second wave, but many enterprises, businesses and factories have closed and a very small percentage of them have recuperated.

These projects are by no means perfect, and there is still a need for more work to be done. However, the case of Rosario is unique in that these projects have continued many years after the fiscal crisis was officially determined “over.”

In many places around the world after a fiscal crisis or a natural disaster, there is a need for some sort of alternative economy since the “normal” infrastructure cannot function for one reason or another. These programs have popped up all over the world, including in Rosario. However, when the “normal” economy can function properly once again, these alternative projects are usually abandoned after a short time. As far as I know, Rosario is one of VERY few cases in which–for one reason or another–these programs have not only survived since the economy has gotten back to up and running, or “normal” status, but have been supported first on a local, city-wide level, and now at the province and an ever-increasing level.

Part of the success of these programs, according to most people that I’ve been able to talk to, is related to the politics of Rosario. Most of Argentina is politically identified with Peronismo, which would take me an entire blog post at least to explain, so here is a wiki link to get folks started. Unlike the rest of the country, for the last 30 years or so, Rosario has identified politically with socialist parties. This means that every few years, projects aren’t thrown out the window in favor of a new party’s ideas of what should be done in the next political term (as is what happens in most of the country, and the world for that matter). These politics have begun to spread throughout the country as well. Santa Fe, the province where Rosario resides, as a whole, now identifies with socialism, though it used to just be strong in the southern portion of the province. Rosarian socalism has also begun to spread around the country.

There are also other programs run by the Subsecretary of Alternative Economies, including projects in services for construction (training, etc.), fishing, food production, craft production, clothing and footwear, urban agriculture and waste recycling (see the Municipalidad de Rosario website for more information on these projects).

As I learn from each of these parts of the Subsecretary, I am also trying to deepen my knowledge of the theoretical framework behind these projects and alternative economies in general. See José Luis Coraggio (Argentinian Economist), Marx (Das Capital, etc.), Eduardo Galeano (The Open Veins of Latin America), Luis E. Aguilar (Marxism in Latin America), Carlos La Serna (on Cooperativism in Argentina), and many others.


Rosario’s Pedestrian Walkway on Cordoba at night in the winter.

I’ll end here for this post. Let me know if you want to know more about any of the topics mentioned in this post–I’m going to add a few links here for readers who might want to know more about a few of the things mentioned.

I hope you all are having a fantastic beginning to your summer, wherever you may be, had good ends to your semesters, graduations, etc. and are moving on to your next adventures.

Saludos from Argentina,
Alma

Links: Municipalidad de Rosario (City of Rosario, only in Spanish)
Wiki Link for Argentina’s Economic Crisis and Recovery Period
JSTOR link for Ronaldo Munck’s article, “Marx and Latin America”
Page for Luis A. Aguilar’s bookMarxism in Latin America
Page about the recession that Latin America is currently facing
Page on activism in Rosario with information about the Empresas Recuperadas (only in Spanish)

Comments

  1. Sarah Frazer says:

    Alma! What a great dispatch! I am thrilled to read that there are students in the network getting into the topic of alternative economies. Hopefully this is the kind of creativity we’ll start to see more of here in the States. How cool would it be to see the U.S. adopt a Subsecretary of Alternative Economies!?

    • Alma Raymer says:

      Sarah! Thanks very much. It would be wonderful to get a Subsecretary of Alternative Economies in the States! It’s something that is really very unique to Rosario and an example that can and should be followed, I think.

      Hope you are well!

  2. Hello Alma,
    Are you still studying in Argentina? Would like to connect to discuss your experience, if possible.

    • Elizabeth,

      So sorry it took me so long to respond to you! I’m not currently in Argentina, though I do still have connections there and continue to keep up on news, events, etc. I’d be more than happy to talk to you more about my experience! Please let me know if there is something in particular you’d like to know more about or if you’d prefer general information.

  3. Hello,
    Great post! I just have a quick question… I was wondering where in Rosario you did your internship and if you did it through a specific ‘go abroad’ program?
    Thanks!

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