Resistencia Libertaria: Anarchist Opposition to the Last Argentine Dictatorship

This first appeared in the February 2003 issue of The New Formulation:
An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books
 (Vol. 2, No. 1) .

 * * *

A broad and popular resistance confronted the military dictatorships that strangled Latin America in the 1970s. Activists from diverse political tendencies fought back, in both organized and spontaneous ways, and their efforts doubtlessly saved many lives and hastened the collapse of these brutal regimes.

Although some of their contributions have been celebrated in books, articles, and
films, important aspects of the resistance have never been studied. In particular, anarchist opposition to the dictatorships—which existed in Argentina, Brazil,
Chile, and Uruguay—has been almost entirely omitted from the historical record.

The following interview offers a corrective to that omission. It tells the story of Resistencia Libertaria, a clandestine anarchist organization founded shortly before the Argentine military seized power in 1976.

Resistencia Libertaria (RL) was active in the student, labor, and neighborhood movements and also had a military wing with which it defended and financed its activities. At its peak, it had between 100 and 130 members and a much broader network of sympathizers. The organization was crushed in 1978 and 80 percent of its members perished in the dictatorship’s concentration camps and torture chambers.

The RL sustained the long tradition of Argentine anarchism and also transformed it in the face of the new conditions confronting activists in the 1970s. The experiences of the RL—which have been essentially undocumented in Spanish or English until now—mark an important chapter in the history of resistance to the last Argentine dictatorship and post-World War II anarchism generally.

Although the New Formulation is normally restricted to book reviews, it is hoped that readers will welcome this small departure from our normal editorial policy.

This interview was conducted in Spanish by phone on October 13, 2002 with Fernando Lopez, one of RL’s few surviving members. Please see the “About Contributors” section for more information on Lopez.

~ Chuck Morse

Please tell me about the origins of the RL. How was it formed?
The RL was founded by comrades from the city of La Plata at the end of the 1960s. The founding nuclei constituted a community around a cooperative carpentry shop (which still exists to this day) and developed militant projects among university students and later in the workers’ movement (specifically in the shipyard workers’ and judicial workers’ unions).

A key event occurred when members of this group starting collaborating with the newspaper, La Protesta, and a very heavy, acute discussion took place between them and the old people that were there.(1) The discussion had to do with the appearance of the first, groups of armed action, such as the Tupamaros and the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (Revolutionary Army of the People). The young people tended to support the actions carried out by these groups and thus conflicted with the older people, who opposed these actions, because they rejected some of the Marxist positions of these groups. The younger group was expelled from La Protesta due to these differences around 1971. This cut their relationship with the older anarchist movement and rendered them independent from it.

Later, in 1973, an anarchist conference was held in the city of Cordoba, in which militants of groups from Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, and Montevideo [Uruguay] participated. Myself and another comrade attended this conference as delegates from a group called Action Directa. It was here that comrades from La Plata, Cordoba, and Action Directa from Buenos Aires constituted Resistencia Anticapitalista Libertaria (Libertarian Anti-Capitalist Resistance) as a national organization.

A year or year and a half later, the name Resistencia Anticapitalista Libertaria was dropped simply for Resistencia Libertaria (this just happened naturally, there was not a discussion about changing the name). I joined the organization in 1974.

How was the RL structured?
The RL was an absolutely clandestine organization and it was organized in a cellular form by fronts of work.(2) The fronts of work were the workers’ front, the student front, and the neighborhood front. The RL also had a military apparatus that was, in reality, a mechanism for financing the organization—working in a moment of almost absolute clandestinity is very onerous and costly—and for protecting militant workers, etc., because things such as kidnappings and rightist actions against left-wing workers’ groups were common during this era. It was necessary to organize self-defense in some cases.

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Latin American Anarchism

This first appeared in the February 2003 issue of The New Formulation: An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books (Vol. 2, No. 1) .

Cronica Anarquista de la Subversion Olvidada by Oscar Ortiz
and Contribucion a una Historia del Anarquismo en America Latina by Luis Vitale
Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Espiritu Libertario, 2002

Anarquismo y Anarcosindicalismo en America Latina
By Alfredo Gomez
Paris: Ruedo iberico, 1980

Anarquistas en America Latina
By David Vinas
Mexico City: Editorial Katun, 1983

* * *

Review by Chuck Morse

There are important reasons for anarchists in English-speaking parts of North America to study the history of Latin American anarchism.

One reason is political. We need to form principled, collaborative relationships with our Latin American comrades to fight global capitalism globally and, to do so, we obviously need be able to identify our real comrades among the countless groups in the region that make claims upon our solidarity. Should we “defend the Cuban Revolution” or toast Lula’s social democratic victory in Brazil? Should we adopt the Zapatista ski-mask as our emblem or devoutly align ourselves with small anarchist groups? A genuine confrontation with these questions requires a deep appreciation of the history of Latin American opposition and certainly the anarchist movement has played a significant role in this history.

Another reason is more theoretical: it is necessary to develop a vision of a worldwide anarchist movement that takes into account the very different conditions that exist in “underdeveloped” parts of the world (such as Latin America) as opposed to Europe or the United States. It is necessary to understand how these conditions affect the form and content of anarchist activity. For example, clearly Belgian and Bolivian anarchist movements will have different characteristics, but exactly what type of differences and why? Certainly a good way to begin exploring these questions is by looking at the actual experience of anarchist movements in Asia, Africa, or, in the case of this review, Latin America.

Finally, the Latino identity is central to economic and cultural contradictions in the United States. Of course it is a positive source of community, tradition, and sense of self for millions of Latinos within U.S. borders and it is also used as a negative signifier to justify exploitation and racism. The constantly changing meaning of the Latino identity is highly dependent upon ideas about the history of Latin America and radicals can encourage the most expansive, Utopian elements of this identity by making sure that liberatory historical experiences in the Americas are not forgotten.

Unfortunately those who try to research the Latin American anarchist tradition will immediately discover that the historical literature on the movement is remarkably poor. There are no books on the topic in English or Portuguese and only five in Spanish, of which one is an anthology and another is a very brief overview.(1) The paucity of studies does not reflect the significance or dynamism of the movement but rather that social democrats and Marxists, who have produced the richest literature on social movements in the Americas, are hostile to the anarchist tradition and have attempted to erase or diminish its presence in this historical record.(2) Both groups need to construct the revolutionary Left as fundamentally statist to justify their social projects: the Marxists to defend their authoritarian regimes and the social democrats to present their free-market policies as the only socially conscious alternative to Marxist authoritarianism. Of course the existence of the anarchist tradition—a revolutionary, anti-authoritarian alternative—complicates their assertions.

Thus contemporary anarchists are obliged to undertake a major reconstructive effort to restore anarchism to its proper place in the history of the Americas and the three books reviewed here are among the best on the subject. Their authors defiantly and unanimously assert that the anarchist movement was a vital actor in early twentieth century social history. Louis Vitale, in a sentiment echoed by the other authors, observes that “anarcho- syndicalism was the dominant current in the Latin American workers’ movement during the first two decades of the twentieth century.”(3) They also all assert that anarchists were leaders in the creation of early labor unions, cultivated a strong working class militancy, and achieved many concrete gains for the working class. Indeed, between the revolutionary unions, schools, daily newspapers, and other projects, these authors paint a picture of a profoundly dynamic anarchist movement, especially in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay.

Anarchism and the Labor Movement
Alfredo Gomez’s Anarquismo y Anarcosindicalismo en America Latina {Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism in Latin America) treats anarchism in Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Gomez focuses on anarchists’ role within the revolutionary labor movement and attempts to draw conclusions about the classical anarchist project based on the comparative study of the anarchist movement in these countries. G6mez, who is an anarchist, wants to both document the history of the movement and defend it in theoretical terms.

For Gomez, anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism (he does not distinguish between the two) is linked fundamentally to the labor movement. He regards anarchism as a theoretical expression of workers’ capacity to organize themselves and potentially run society without the interference of capitalists or statists. In other words, anarchism allows workers to become conscious of their power as workers, defend their immediate interests, and fight to revolutionize society as a whole.

In each country he treats, Gomez charts the emergence of a combative working class and the influence of anarchist groups on this class. His study of Colombian anarchism, which makes up nearly half of the book, is a welcome contribution given that Colombia has received scant attention in existing studies of Latin American anarchism. Here he documents major strikes, such as the anarchist led banana workers’ strike of 1928, and also the activities of anarchist groups such as Bogota’s Grupo Sindicalista “Antorcha Libertaria,” the Via Libre group, and others.(4) However, his emphasis lays upon the working class and its capacity to fight directly for its own interests rather than specifically anarchist activities per se. This is partially because the anarchist movement was less developed in Colombia than in other countries, but also because Gomez regards a direct action based workers’ movement and anarchism as essentially two sides of the same phenomenon (practice and theory, respectively). In Brazil, Gomez shows us how anarchists led a massive and nearly revolutionary wave of strikes from 1917 to 1920. In Argentina, which had one of the most mature anarchist movements in the Americas (and the world), Gomez focuses on the relationship between the anarchist Federation Obrera Regional de Argentina and working class struggles. In Mexico, Gomez examines the anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon’s intervention in the 1910 Mexican Revolution and also treats the Mexico City based Casa del Obrero Mundial (House of the World Worker), which was a center of anarchist organizing and labor radicalism.

The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism
The double book released by Chile’s Ediciones Espiritu Libertario contains Cronica Anarquista de la Subversion Olvidada {Anarchist Chronicle of Forgotten Subversion) by Oscar Ortiz and Luis Vitale’s Contribucion a una Historia del Anarquismo en America Latina {Contribution to a History of Anarchism in Latin America). These books document the history of anarchism in Latin America but have a special focus on the movement in Chile.

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Magonismo: An Overview


From The New Formulation: An Anti-authoritarian Review of Books (Volume Two, Number Two — Winter Spring 2004)


md9821756961El Magonismo: historia de una pasión libertaria, 1900-1922
(Magonism: History of a Libertarian
Passion, 1900-1922)
By Salvador Hernández Padilla
México, D.F.: Ediciones Era, 1984


4fenomenoEl fenómeno magonista en México y en Estados Unidos 1905-1908
(The Magonist Phenomenon in Mexico and
the United States, 1905-1908)
By Ricardo Cuauhtémoc Esparza Valdivia
Zacatecas: Centro de Investigaciones Históricas,
Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, 2000

Review by Chuck Morse

Ricardo Flores Magón is one of the most important anarchists in the history of the Americas. The movement he led and inspired shook the Mexican state in the early 20th century and helped lay the foundations for the Mexican revolution of 1910. He was also a participant in radical movements in the United States and a security concern that reached the highest levels of the U.S. government.

The literature on Magón and the Magonists (as his comrades were known) has expanded considerably in recent decades and it is now possible to develop a fuller appreciation of the movement than at any previous time. One can explore the personal dilemmas of Magón and his co-conspirators through various scholarly biographies, read about the Magonists’ impact on specific regions of the United States and Mexico, or study Magonist contributions to Mexican radicalism generally.(1)

Anarchists should welcome this not only because our predecessors are finally receiving the historical recognition that they deserve but also because we now have the resources necessary to undertake a deep confrontation with the Magonist legacy. It is now possible to develop a very clear idea of how the Magonists tried to create an anarchist revolution, the consequences their activity yielded, as well as determine whether there are aspects of their activity that we should emulate today.

The books reviewed here are particularly useful. El magonismo: historia de una pasión libertaria, 1900-1922 (Magonism: History of a Libertarian Passion, 1900-1922) by Salvador Hernández Padilla studies the entire history of Magonism from its emergence at the turn of the century to its disappearance from the political scene in the 1920s. El fenómeno magonista en México y en Estados Unidos 1905-1908 (The Magonist Phenomenon in Mexico and the United Status, 1905-1908) by Ricardo Cuauhtémoc Esparza Valdivia examines Magonist activity in Mexico and the United States in the years indicated by the title. Continue reading

Insurgent Mexico

(From The New Formulation, June, 2002)

Review by Chuck Morse

Mexico under Siege: Popular Resistance to Presidential Despotism By Ross Gandy and Donald Hodges London: Zed Books, 2002

Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico By Bill Weinberg New York: Verso, 2000

– – –

Everyone knows that Mexico has a long and vibrant revolutionary tradition. This fact is easy to discover, whether you read Wall Street preoccupations about Chiapas or crack open any given left-wing magazine.

What is more challenging is to understand the inner logic of the tradition, both historically and in its contemporary manifestations. It is also essential: U.S. activists need to develop a substantive grasp of this tradition to build meaningful alliances with comrades south of the border as well as a movement in the United States that embodies the best aspects of the political traditions brought by the millions of Mexican immigrants.

Ross Gandy and Donald Hodges’s Mexico under Siege: Popular Resistance to Presidential Despotism and Bill Weinberg’s Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico provide excellent points of entry into this topic. Both books offer a comprehensive introduction to the Mexican revolutionary tradition and thus should be read by all U.S. activists seeking to develop a more international perspective. Their problems are also helpful because they indicate some of the difficulties we will face while envisioning a revolutionary movement in the Americas. These books should be especially attractive to anarchists given that the authors all share a genuine connection to the anarchist tradition. Weinberg is a longtime participant in New York’s anti-authoritarian milieu, and Gandy and Hodges have their own links to the movement; for example, Hodges is the author of Mexican Anarchism after the Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), and Gandy describes himself as a participant in anarchist collectives (among other things) in the “About the Authors” section of Mexico under Siege.

Mexico under Siege: Popular Resistance to Presidential Despotism

Mexico under Siege chronicles the popular opposition to the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the party that governed Mexico through a web of violence, corruption, and deceit for seventy years under the pretense of democracy. (This mix of authoritarianism and democratic fiction led Mario Vargas Llosa to label the PRI’s Mexico as the “perfect dictatorship.”(1)) Mexico under Siege can be read profitably as a companion to Gandy and Hodges’s Mexico, the End of the Revolution (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002), which analyzes the course of the Mexican Revolution from its beginning in 1910 to its disappearance from the political scene as marked by Vicente Fox’s election in 2000. Continue reading


(From Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, fall, 2004)

In the spring of 2003, The New Formulation published an interview with Fernando López about Resistencia Libertaria, a clandestine anarchist organization founded shortly before the Argentinean military seized power in 1976.(1)

This organization engaged in militant opposition in the labor, student, and neighborhood arenas, and also had a military wing with which it financed and defended itself. The group was crushed in 1978 and 80 percent of its more than 100 members perished in the dictatorship’s concentration camps and torture chambers. López had been an active member of Resistencia Libertaria (RL) and our interview with him was the first published account of RL’s history in any language.

Shortly after that issue appeared The New Formulation received a letter from María Esther Tello. Writing from France, she informed us that she had been a member of RL and was the mother of three activists mentioned by Lopez: the beloved Tello brothers, who were among RL’s most active militants and now, like so many others, “disappeared.”

Her letter was forwarded to Argentinean comrades, our interview was made available in Spanish, and Tello visited Argentina in the fall of 2003. Long overdue discussions about RL occurred there and old bonds between comrades who had not seen one another in years began to be renewed. It was an honor to know that The New Formulation had contributed to that process.

The history of RL, and all the losses associated with it, must never be forgotten. We publish the following testimony from Tello as a small attempt to help ensure that it is not.

~ Chuck Morse

– – – – –
My first contacts with libertarian activism

I was born in La Plata and the greater part of my professional life transpired there. I worked in public education, as a teacher in rural schools as well as in schools in working class and middle class neighborhoods. I was also a school inspector in rural and urban areas and a social worker of the Department of University Extension. This is to say that I was always linked to the disadvantaged or proletarian sectors of my country.

I was very young when I entered into anarchist activism. At fifteen years old, I began to link myself with an anarchist group called Voluntad (Will), together with someone who later became my husband and the father of my three disappeared sons. This group was made up of a dozen comrades who, for the most part, were university students or professionals. It was dedicated to the distribution of propaganda coming from the FORA,(2) or what survived of it, to [the creation of] illegal murals ( pintadas murales ), and to theoretical discussions based in the classical literature. Our material came from the Editorial Reconstruir and from La Protesta and Acción Directa or La Antorcha . Our most respected figure was Rodolfo González Pacheco, in whose vacation house I met Emilio Uriondo, an anarchist expropriator who had formed part of Ascaso and Rosigna’s group.(3)

At that time, and much later as well, marked opposition to Peronism and its depiction as a fascist movement was characteristic of the anarchist movement. It is for this reason that our practice remained remote from the working class-which was largely Peronist-except for the relations we maintained with the naval construction workers and the plumbers’ union, who were supporters of anarcho-syndicalism or the anarcho-communism of the FORA of the Fifth Congress.(4)

Although the Voluntad group dissolved, my husband, myself, and other comrades continued our activity in La Plata in a very similar vein. Our group was clandestine and did not have a name. Its methods of action were, in my opinion, more individualist and intellectual than rooted in the working class. Nevertheless, our diverse ties-which had more of a friendship than organizational character-permitted me to meet and in some cases maintain friendships with outstanding figures of Argentine anarchism, such as the aforementioned González Pacheco and Uriondo, the anarcho-syndicalists Umberto Correales and Carlos Kristof, and the veteran of the Spanish Revolution, Manuel Palanca, and his admirable companion Carmen.

This was during the final period of Perón’s rule. Perón was deposed in 1955 by a military coup that brought general Lombardi-a fervent Catholic-to power, who in turn was later replaced by Aramburu and the admiral Rojas. This was a powerful time for me. My comrades, who were primarily from the University of La Plata, discussed the possibility of joining the armed commandos-led by the center-left and above all by the Radical Party-who were to come out in opposition to a possible working class uprising in support of Perón. I knew the reality of these workers, through my students and from own family, whose lives had been objectively improved by the social laws introduced by Perón-the Christmas bonus, the loans for housing, the paid vacations, the support for health care-and I also knew that the improvements in their conditions were not due to the struggles of their unions but rather were concessions made by Perón to his supporters, in order to better manage them later. But, still, they were authentic benefits that had never been obtained-trying to suppress them was to oppose the working class that defended, in Perón, conditions of life to which they doubtlessly had a right. A little later that military government executed loads of workers, intervened in unions, censured the press.

I was the only woman in that group for a long time, although we were joined by Elsa Martínez, Amalia Peralta-Argentina’s first woman guerrilla, as a member of the Peronist Uturunco group, which she joined after leaving ours on friendly terms-and other young women on a temporary basis. This group eventually became inactive and disappeared.

Birth and Development of Resistancia Libertaria

Pablo Daniel, my oldest son, entered the Department of Engineering in 1967 and studied there for a year or two before going into architecture. He was active in the student movement of La Plata and twice arrested by the police during student demonstrations.

He and two other comrades began the nucleus of what later became Resistancia Libertaria . At the beginning it was a student group of three comrades-Pablo, Tino, and el Tano-but little by little others were incorporated. In the middle of 1969, my other two sons, Marcelo and Rafael, and their partners joined. Marcelo studied theater and Rafael studied philosophy in the Humanities Department. There was also myself, Perinola, Cristina, la Turca, Yogurt, Hernán and Elsa (who had been part of the group from the 1950s), and others, many of whom I did not meet directly (I note here that half of us were women).(5)

Almost all had finished or abandoned their university studies, joined the work force, and entered into labor struggles. In the beginning, the organization was structured around two areas of engagement ( frentes )-neighborhood and labor-and the group grew with the integration of other militants from Buenos Aires and especially Córdoba, who enriched it in every sense.

Our home and library was the center of operations and study. The events of Córdoba in 1969, the references to the French May, as well as the more or less close links with the old anarchist comrades, were the breeding ground of ideas and debates. The Department of Architecture of La Plata was also a hotbed of groups and Left tendencies, and the place from where many militants emerged who joined the labor movement in some cases or the armed struggle in others. This is how the initial group expanded, incorporating young men and women that came from other tendencies or who were beginning, more often than not, their activist lives. Couples, who soon had children, also emerged, which created strong links and a sense of solidarity among all of these youths.

Given the organization’s cellular structure that we were obliged to maintain during various military governments, I never joined the same cell as my sons. We also did not discuss what occurred in RL within the family, although sometimes we shared responsibilities and resources.

The particular composition of our group, with an equal proportion of women and tasks not differentiated by sex, offered little ground for feminist objections. Macho attitudes seemed out of place and totally untenable. I remember our dear Perinola and Elsa Martínez confronting the police during the repression of a demonstration in La Plata with the same ardor and efficiency as their male comrades. These two died tragically and their memory always fills us with emotion, as well as that of Yogurt and Cristina.

Inside the organization, self-management was an essential and undisputed practice. It functioned as a style of life and as a solution to everything we embarked upon. I think that we all shared a strong sense of fullness, of living thoroughly, of loving ourselves, and of loving the struggle and all that it embodied.

Activism in Exile

Some weeks before the military dictatorship took power in March 1976, my son Marcelo disappeared. We were persecuted and I had to stay in France where I went in exile, on the decision of my RL group. There I joined in the activities of the Support Committee [for victims of the dictatorship], which a group of Argentines had created in Paris. Later I was a member of and contributed to founding other solidarity groups that fought for the disappeared as well as Argentine and French prisoners. In 1978 my other two sons, Pablo Daniel and Rafael, were disappeared, together with Hernán and Elsa Ramírez and other RL comrades. La Turk was executed in 1976.

I returned to Argentina in 1984 and joined the Madres de Plaza de Mayo of La Plata. That same year, I initiated a trial against those responsible for the genocide. I first did this in Argentina and, when then-president Ménem announced the pardon of the military and police criminals, I returned to France, where I now live. I have again taken legal action against those responsible for the genocide, this time in the French courts. I am presently a member of the CNT, to which I make a modest contribution.

Translated from Spanish by Chuck Morse.

– – – – –
1. Chuck Morse, “Resistencia Libertaria: Anarchist Opposition to the Last Argentine Dictatorship,”The New Formulation Vol. 2, No. 1 (February 2003): 75–88.
2. The FORA is the Federación Obrera Regional Argentina, an anarchist-led labor federation that played a leading role in social struggles at the beginning of the 20th century.
3. See review by Astrid Wessels in this issue for comments on Miguel Rosigna. Francisco Ascaso was a Spanish anarchist, best known for his close association with Buenaventura Durruti.
4. Tello refers here to the specifically anarchist wing of the FORA, which emerged as the result of a split in the organization.
5. In a private letter, Tello explained that “Yogurt” received his nickname “because he was very young when he joined our organization, almost a boy “that would have to drink milk.” As for “Perolina,” this name was an “allusion to her strong inclination to ingest all types of liquids, alcoholic or not, and without order or preference.”

New Release: Paradoxes of Utopia: Anarchist Culture and Politics in Buenos Aires 1890–1910

By Juan Suriano
Translated by Chuck Morse

paradoxesofutopiaWhen the Argentine economy collapsed in 2001, many were surprised by the factory takeovers and neighborhood assemblies that resulted. But workers’ control and direct democracy have long histories in Argentina, where from the late nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, anarchism was the main revolutionary ideology of the labor movement and other social struggles.

Most histories of anarchism in Argentina tend toward dry analyses of labor politics, lists of union acronyms, and the like. For Juan Suriano, that’s just one part of the story. Paradoxes of Utopia gives us an engaging look at fin de siècle Buenos Aires that brings to life the vibrant culture behind one of the world’s largest anarchist movements: the radical schools, newspapers, theaters, and social clubs that made revolution a way of life. Cultural history in the best sense, Paradoxes of Utopia explores how a revolutionary ideology was woven into the ordinary lives of tens of thousands of people, creating a complex tapestry of symbols, rituals, and daily practices that supported-and indeed created the possibility of-the Argentine labor movement.

Without partisanship or didacticism, Suriano creates an innovative panorama that gives equal weigh to the strengths and weakness of anarchism in Argentina, effective strategies and grave mistakes, internal debates and state repression, all contextualized within the country’s broader political, economic, and cultural history.

Interview with Flavio Sosa: APPO is questioning the traditional ways of doing politics

Translated to English by Chuck Morse
November 9, 2006

By Hernán Ouviña

Flavio Sosa is a member of the “provisional collective council” of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, in Spanish). Despite being one of APPO’s most visible faces at the moment, he insists on stating that “ours is a movement of the grassroots, not leaders.” What follows are some fragments of a much longer conversation that we had with him and other comrades in the tent city in the emblematic Santo Domingo Plaza, a bastion of communalist resistance in Oaxaca.

* * *

How did APPO begin?

There is a long tradition of assemblies in Oaxaca that goes back to the pre-Hispanic era–the popular assembly is the ultimate authority in indigenous communities–and APPO was born with the goal of being an assembly of assemblies; one that would include the Zapotecos, the Mixtecos, the Mixes, the rest of the indigenous peoples, and black people. It arose as an exercise in democracy carried out by the various people, communities, and organizations that want to participate in the movement.

There are 350 organizations in APPO?

Yes. Community and neighborhood organizations participated from the very beginning, as well as unions, political fronts, civil society organizations, and even professional associations. That’s why we say that APPO has many dimensions. We’re going to hold our founding congress on November 10 to November 12, in order to give ourselves a more solid and practical structure, with a platform of principles. Initially, APPO was a popular response to the aggression inflicted upon the teachers and a mechanism for reaching a common goal, which is the departure of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. Later, the idea spread of working not only to topple Ulises Ruiz Ortiz but also to transform the conditions of life, to lay the foundations for a new relationship between society and government. In this context, there have been many interesting discussions about the reforms that Oaxaca needs and what direction the government we want should go. Intellectuals, academics, religious people, and members of other organizations have taken part. It’s as if there’s APPO on the one side and the street movement on the other, which is ultimately turning itself into a movement that is pacifist yet able to respond to attacks, such as those that we suffered at the hands of the Federal Preventative Police (FPP).

Why was the name changed from the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca to the Popular Assembly of the Peoples (plural)?

This happened in the beginning of September in response to a criticism. We used “popular assembly” because that’s the space in the community for discussion, where debates happen and decisions are made. However, after thinking about it, we decided that it had to be of the “peoples” not “people,” because we are many peoples, many ethnicities. We have different roots and therefore different perspectives.

How did the leadership emerge and what is its relation to the grassroots?

The leadership came out of a general assembly that took place on June 20. It’s a council that we call “provisional collective,” but we’re going to try to give it a more definitive character at our congress. It will represent regions as well as the movement’s most active organizations, considering that there are different levels of participation. Some people are active briefly, then withdraw a bit, and then engage again when there are marches or sit-ins. Involvement varies according to each organization’s commitment and ability. There are also some groups that are very localized in specific regions and so it’s difficult for them to be in the city all the time. Oaxaca is very spread out geographically. For example, it takes 10 or 12 hours to get to Isthmus (of Tehuantepec) and the Sierra is just as far. That’s why it wasn’t possible to have permanent leaders at a central level. We’ve made various efforts, but APPO’s regionalism still isn’t very consolidated. APPO needs to reflect all the communities, which is what we’re working to do.

What’s going to happen with APPO after the constitutive congress?

We don’t know what direction this will go in, because we first have to listen to what the grassroots say. This movement was born as a response to a brutal aggression, but began to question everything: to question the media, which it seized and took over in some instances; to question the traditional ways of doing politics and attempt to articulate new methods of doing them; to question the political parties and stop any one from calling the shots; even to question the leadership itself and create a collective leadership; and also to question a bad government and try to remove it. This has made it an anti-systemic movement that alarms the political class. “How can a protest movement challenge the status quo and how we do politics?” the politicians ask themselves. Well, since the people are questioning all the traditional ways of doing politics, we think that it’s the people who should invent something new at this congress.

Are there arrest warrants out for APPO’s leadership?

There are arrest warrants for all the leaders. In fact, apparently more than 300 orders have been issued. Yesterday we learned that there was a new search warrant for Radio Universidad, supposedly to look for arms and arrest some prominent militants. We do our best not to be there, in order not to give them any pretexts. The repression has been endless. They’ve even thrown Molotov cocktails at the homes of APPO’s principal activists and have tried to mess with the homes of others. Ulises has made terror a routine political practice. He uses the police as well as hired assassins and went after us up through Thursday, imprisoning us. There’s a radio station named Ciudadana, which we call Radio Raccoon, that tells people to persecute us, to go to our homes. They even try to implicate us in criminal acts like drug trafficking to justify the repression. None of this has any basis: ours is a popular movement.

What can you tell us about the dialogue due to begin this Monday, November 6, in the city’s Cathedral?

We had always wanted a space for dialogue between APPO and civil society, because we knew that we had to address the conflict. But then the FPP came and began to raid people’s homes and arrest popular leaders in some neighborhoods. That was when the idea of the dialogue in the Cathedral arose. We spoke with Oaxaca Church authorities, who imposed a series of conditions on us. At first we agreed, even though we thought that they were excessive, because peace is an urgent necessity. However, our position changed after the battle in the University City, given that the correlation of forces and also the spirit of the people had changed. The situation in Oaxaca also looks different from a national perspective. Since the FPP’s defeat in battle, the existence of the FPP itself is now at risk, politically speaking. This gives us a very important role in the national context and, although we think that peace is imperative, we don’t want to our actions to always be defensive and conditioned. We want to go on the offensive. This is the framework for the megamarch that we’re organizing on Sunday. But it was our discussions with organisms of civil society that prompted us to create the dialogue that will begin on Monday.

Will a representative from the federal government attend?

I don’t think so, although we’ve asked to speak with them and for them to listen to us. And if the participants that are there tell APPO: “it’s not necessary for you to speak,” then we’ll respect that. We’ll leave this space to civil society. We think it’s an important space and that it will help us find a path to peace. There will be this route on the one hand and, on the other, that of popular mobilization, on which we’re going to push very hard. We also have a proposal for direct dialogue with the President, but we need our prisoners to be freed and the FPP to get out first. There’s no doubt that the solution to the conflict has to involve the departure of Ulises Ruiz and the implementation of the existing commitments for the transformation of Oaxaca.

If there is no governmental delegation at the dialogue, who will be your counterpart?

It won’t be a bilateral dialogue, but rather a multi-lateral space. We intend to say what we think so that we and various civil society actors can come to a conclusion about the best routes for peace and for getting the police and Ulises Ruiz to leave Oaxaca. That’s our objective, at least. What we expect from the discussion is good sense, proposals, and serious thought. We’ll see if we can come to an understanding.

What will happen if you force Ulises out but the federal government installs another governor with similar characteristics?

That’s not possible, because Oaxaca won’t allow it and they know it. There’s going to be a party here when Ulises falls. People who haven’t protested with us before are going to run into the street saying, “We won! . . . I was always with you!” We’ve already seen this happen during the marches. Some people don’t participate at first, but when they see themselves in this enormous mirror of the megamarches, they join.

What is the goal of this Sunday’s megamarch?

To demonstrate the movement’s strength and popular support. Also, to show our opposition to the FPP and our desire for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Are you thinking of coordinating your struggle with the other great movements in Mexico, like the Zapatistas and the civil resistance to the electoral fraud?

Sadly, that’s not our priority right now, although we are committed to the democratic transformation of the country. We will see what’s the best way to fight for this. The social fabric in Oaxaca has suffered terrible wounds: people have lost jobs, the teachers aren’t teaching; there are problems in the communities; the health sector has shut down. Third parties have been affected, it has to be recognized. We’re in an emergency situation and need to resolve local matters first. But in no way does that mean that we will disregard national issues. In fact, we think it’s necessary to connect ourselves to the Other Campaign, the National Democratic Convention, and various additional organizations.

Some criticize you for focusing on the fall of Ulises Ruiz, given that the election of Felipe Calderón was also the result of fraud.

While it wouldn’t be right for Calderón to become president, that’s not our principle responsibility but rather that of the entire national movement. We don’t want to become the vanguard of the country’s movement. That isn’t our task. The people didn’t take to the streets of Oaxaca so that the APPO can become Mexico’s vanguard.

Members of APPO say that your movement isn’t about leaders but the grassroots. What are they talking about?

Look, you’re speaking to one of APPO’s most visible faces right now. Suppose that I decide to make a deal with Ulises: in that case, they’d push me aside and the movement would continue. I don’t make the decisions. I have a responsibility—to speak with the press and articulate a position—but I don’t control APPO. Sometimes my opinions are received favorably in the assemblies and other times they say “this guy is crazy” and simply ignore me. This isn’t a party-based movement. And you can’t try to discipline it, because it isn’t an army either. For example, yesterday it took the “provisional council” a great deal of effort to get something passed in a general assembly, despite the fact that we brought a proposal, agreed upon by consensus, arguing that the main highways should be cleared. We barely managed to get it passed. But it’s going to take a lot of work to get the base to accept that agreement, even if we explain all the virtues of the proposal. That’s something that no leader can pull off.

You’ll also clear the area around the Ciudad Universitaria, like the Cinco Señores Crossing (where the FPP was defeated last Thursday)?

There’s going to be a special situation there. If you suggest to the university people that they remove the blockades around the Ciudad Universitaria, they’ll tell you to go to hell. That’s why I said that this movement doesn’t depend on leaders. Here’s another example: they have a committee that runs Radio Universidad and, on the day of the fighting I said, “Listen, give me a moment to send a message.” They told me, “No, you can’t go in. There’s an emergency.” I insisted, telling them that I only needed a minute, but the response was the same. That’s why we say that this movement isn’t homogeneous, but multi-directional. It’s the conventional view of politics that leads people to search for someone to be the leader, perhaps someone who is at the head of the demonstrations or appears most frequently on television. Actually, some guys here painted “if you create a leader, you create a tyrant” on a wall. They have good reasons to say that and we respect them. That’s why it’s important to understand that this movement is about all of society, trying to live together and move forward together. There are comrades that wear the hammer and sickle symbol and then there are the base church communities that come with the Virgin of Guadalupe. That’s the great strength of our movement. That’s why we always say, “it’s not about the leaders.” On one occasion, when this phrase began to circulate, someone made a sign saying, “This isn’t a movement of leaders, but the grassroots” and the group later signed it. Shortly afterwards, some thoughtful young guys added underneath with a pen: “it’s not about leaders . . . or even groups.” That’s the reality.


New Book: Resistencia libertaria

[first posted in 2007]

One could be excused for thinking that Latin American revolutionaries were all authoritarians in the 1960s and 1970s. Leading figures like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Savlador Allende were deeply committed to a state-centered, top down approach to social change and groups like Uruguay’s Tupamaros or Brazil’s MR-8, which might have seemed more libertarian, were devoted Marxist-Leninists. It would appear that anarchists had no presence during the period.

The truth is that they were quite active and made important contributions to the battles being waged against the military dictatorships in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. While their efforts are largely not reflected in the historical record, this omission says more about biases among historians, and the fear of disclosure that many survivors have inherited from the era, than anarchists’ real significance to the march of events during those terrifying decades.

This is why the recent publication of Verónica Diz and Fernando López Trujillo’s Resistencia Libertaria is such a good thing. Their (Spanish-language) book is the first comprehensive study of Resistencia Libertaria (RL) in any language and will hopefully help bring anarchists into the picture. RL was a clandestine Argentine anarchist organization founded shortly before the Argentine military seized power in 1976. It was active in the student, labor, and neighborhood movements of the time and also had a military wing with which it defended and financed its activities. The group had between 100 and 130 members at its peak as well as a much larger circle of supporters. The state crushed the organization in 1978 and 80 percent of its militants suffered the dictatorship’s concentration camps and torture chambers.

López and Diz qualify their work as a “first approximation” of RL’s history. Their book covers the origins of the group, some of its activities prior to the dictatorship, and the generalized crisis that erupted after the 1976 military coup. It also has five appendices which contain relevant historical documents as well as related articles.

The authors: Fernando López, a historian, is one of the few surviving RL members and author of Vidas en rojo y negro: Una historia del anarquismo en la década infame (Letra Libre, 2005). Verónica Diz is a journalist and professor of history whose work has focused on the relationship between anarchism and feminism.

See also:

English readers interested in learning more about Resistencia Libertaria should check out an interview that I conducted with López in 2002: “Resistencia Libertaria: Anarchist Opposition to the Last Argentine Dictatorship.” Spanish readers might wish to download the prologue and first chapter of López and Diz’s book from the publisher’s website. Those interested in contemporary Argentine anarchism may be interested in López’s “Some Notes on the Argentine Anarchist Movement in the Emergency“; for the movement’s early years, see the growing archive of Latin American anarchist material on this site.

Below is a short video documenting the creation of a mural in honor of disappeared members of Resistencia Libertaria. The mural was a project of Argentina’s Organización Socialista Libertaria and the muralists were known as the “Unidad Muralista Hermanos Tello,” a name evoking the memory of the three Tello brothers, who were leading members of RL and are all disappeared.