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Dario Santillán and Maxiliano Kosteki

I have been reading from many sources on the internet and the following content is a summary of many different sites. The opinions are not from the Internet, they are mine. Just be aware that these opinions have been formed from my experience and also only a few weeks on the ground in Buenos Aires so these are definitely the views of an outsider looking in. Hopefully one day I will be able to comment as an insider looking out!

By 2001 the Argentinian economy had hit rock bottom. It was unable to cope with the effects of tying it’s currency value to the US$. It had taken some bad advice from the International Monetary Fund and having a free trade agreement meant that money was flying out of the country. Local businesses were suffering, corruption was rampant and a decade of neoliberalism was taking it’s toll. It had a devastating effect on the middle and lower classes.

On the 26th of June 2002 in the small town of Avellaneda, Dario Santillán (21) along with Maximiliano Kosteki (23) were shot dead by Buenos Aires police. They were part of an unemployed workers movement (MTD) involved in attempting to block the Puente Pueyrredón bridge.

On this day, all across Buenos Aires were MTDs and neighbourhood assemblies that had coordinated the blocking of entrances into the city, demanding better living standards for working class citizens. The government at the time, headed by Eduardo Duhalde, had warned that “any attempts at isolating the city would be considered an act of war”. Horrible acts of war were committed on that day. Not by those who were standing up for their rights, but by those whose position exists to protect those rights!

The police were forcefully dispersing the crowds, using tear gas, rubber bullets and even live ammunition. Maxi was shot on the street while fleeing police and then dragged into the Avellanera train station by fellow protesters trying to protect him. As he lay dying on the floor of the station, Dario who was also trying to escape the ambush stopped to help him. When the police entered the station Dario tried to flee and was shot in the back.

This piquetero movement (piquetero in Spanish literally means “picketer”) was, and possibly still is, the only political voice for these people. Having endured years of repression, without work, education or basic services, these protests were a desperate plea from the heart of a suffering nation. Dario and Maxi were representative of a generation of young Argentinians responding to their dire situation.

For Maximiliano, this was his first out on the streets as a piquetero. Maxi had only recently gotten involved with the MTDs. He had joined a soup kitchen and had set up an arts workshop. Dario had been heavily involved with MTDs. He had joined MTD Lanus and was working with unemployed youth. He had set up a group called Juventud Piquetero (Piquetero Youth) which was aimed at young adults in their 20’s who had families without work. He even moved from his housing project in Don Orione to the shantytown, La Fe to be within the struggling community.

The thing about Dario and Maxi is that they were just ordinary people reacting to the situation that they were placed in. I say “placed in” because we have to understand that these conditions and restrictions were placed upon them. Through no fault of their own, these circumstances were forced upon the middle and lower class Argentinian people. I feel that given the same circumstances most people would react in a similar manor! They were just two, of thousands of people making a stand for what was right. Blocking a bridge so their voices would be heard!

The Frente Popular Dario Santillán (FPDS) is a movement that was created in 2004. It’s mission is the construction of people power for social change. Dario Santillán was a young guy with a big heart and his death struck a huge chord within the people. They created this movement in his name. His activism made him a political symbol and a popular icon who set an example of dignity and loyalty. Dario was a true representation of the people’s fight. He was shot in the back and killed by a cowardly police officer. This scenario depicts exactly the people’s fight against the cowardly government.

I feel a really strong connection with the luchar (fight) of these people. A fight in the name of a courageous young man whose life was cut short. A fight for the basic services that every human has a right to. A fight for education for their children. A fight to maintain a good quality of life in a country so rich, but yet so poor! This fight continues on today. There are different circumstances and a different government, but still the same fight for rights.

Now here is the fight that I am most interested in. It’s a different type of fight. It’s a peaceful fight. It’s a fight within a community, for the community. It’s a fight to become sustainable. It’s a fight for social change. It’s a fight to be self sufficient. It’s a fight that unites, but not against an enemy. It’s a fight that unites for a common goal. It’s the fight that bands a community together to build a strong base for them to stand on.

We found a painting on the wall of a small school in a slum we had visited. “Si todos nos unimos, podemos luchar contra lo que nos separa” – “If we come together we can fight against what separates us”. What I witnessed in my short visit to Buenos Aires was people coming together. Banding together to support each other. It’s “community” in the real sense of the word. I didn’t see them fighting against a cause but for a cause. A fight to build community.

Hopefully we can join in this fight. Hopefully we can contribute to the building of a community. Hopefully we can work along side those fighting for a better life. Not because they aren’t capable of doing it themselves but because sometimes everyone needs a helping hand. I’m not sure how big the hand is that we are offering but we hope that it will make a contribution to the Luchar within this community.

Here is a quote that a friend gave to me the day before I left to Buenos Aires. It is quite beautiful and I often stop and think about it.

“Each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation… Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others… He sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep the mightiest of walls of resistance.

Robert F Kennedy.