Student Forum in Rosario: From the University to the Territory
Posted on: 04/07/2012 by Raúl Zibechi
The vitality of the Argentine student movement has transformed into a space for organizing, debate, and the creation of new generations of activists that, due to their social and political commitment, dedicate their lives to social change alongside the most destitute of the urban and rural areas.
“We see university activism as a school of life, through action and permanent education,” explains Esteban, a 23 year-old political science student, who participated in organizing the Fourth National Education for Social Change Forum that took place in Rosario from June 8-10.
The timid winter sun slowly began to clear the dense fog that separates the spacious university grounds from the Paraná River banks. Ancient buildings in a modest neighborhood characterize the National University of Rosario, widely known as “Siberia” because of the damp and bitter cold endured by its students.
For three days, 7000 students from Argentina and 8 neighboring countries participated in 17 panels, 60 workshops, audiovisual shows, photo exhibits, plays, music competitions, debates, musical festivals and several cultural events including theater, miming and mysticism. The big events took place in an enormous central marquee in front of the river and in dozens of the university’s classrooms and halls.
One outstanding characteristic of the forum, which is being held for the fourth consecutive year, is that it is organized by dozens of grassroots student groups, much of them allied with the National Space for Student Grassroots Organizations (ENEOB), a domain that is autonomous, horizontal, and barely institutionalized.
The second is that the student movement, in this case made up of high school and university students, has turned into a hotbed, or breeding ground if you will, where thousands of social activists are formed that subsequently commit themselves to the working classes, above all in the marginal neighbourhoods of the large Argentine cities.
These outstanding features of the student movement succeeded in attracting numerous intellectuals and a large number of teachers that participated in the roundtables and debates. They can also be traced in the themes raised by the panels: from the colonization of knowledge and transformative consciousness, which was the topic of the opening session, to the impact of the extractive model, the University in the face of the development model, free software, the relationship between prisons and education, the problems of alternative communication and low-income housing.
Many roundtables dealt with the role of women and youth, with special emphasis placed on gender and sexualities in educational spaces and the contributions of feminist pedagogies, whose debates highlighted groups such as Pañuelos en Rebeldía (Handkerchiefs in Rebellion) and Colectivo Feminista Malas Juntas (Bad Together Feminist Collective) among others.
A group of engineers, who challenged the corporate logic of their profession, organized a debate over the floods that routinely take place in Rosario and other Argentine cities, and which always affect the poorest people, and they questioned the role of their profession for neglecting this reality when they plan public works. All of this took place within the festive climate that characterizes any youth conference.
A Self-Managed Conference
“The forum was organized by many,” Esteban attempts to explain when asked if any state institutions or funds backed this enormous conference. He recalls that the first one took place in La Plata (Buenos Aires) four years ago with 2000 people. Then it took place in Córdoba and Buenos Aires with about 5000 people, and now in Rosario, the third Argentine city.
“Many groups collaborated; first we decided in a national meeting of the ENEOB the principal characteristics of the forum, where it would take place, and what themes the debates would be organized around, although each group can organize whatever workshops it wants.” He then explains that out-of-town participants stay in the psychology school, where there is heating, and some stay in hostels and hotels in Rosario.
The activists take charge of a wide range of tasks, from arranging meals to infrastructure. They always work in committees: the principal ones being “methodology,” which includes the schedule, lodging, food, and the festival, and the committees dealing with “security,” “financing,” and the “press.” The ENEOB is made up of 25 organizations, some incorporate national political trends and others exist only in some colleges. The decisions are made through consensus.
In Rosario, approximately one hundred rank and file members, primarily from two groups, Santiago Pampillón of the Daría Santillán Popular Front and Libertarian Socialism, in addition to several small groups, worked for several months. They were supported by the Argentine Workers’ Union (CTA) and by the university, but the bulk of the resources came from working in solidarity.
“In each place, people organized to raise money for the trip by having parties and making meals. Furthermore, we have a big festival here, which is one of the primary sources of funding,” Esteban continues.
This year, a national meeting of the ENEOB defined three themes for debate: Youth and Political Participation, the Education We Want, and Latin America at the Crossroads, and on this basis, the national board, which meets every two weeks, fine-tuned the details of the forum.
But the most interesting thing is the people that participate. The average age is 22 or 23 years-old and many come from the working classes.
Esteban continues with the details: “The majority of the participants are from the elementary cycle, in other words, students that recently entered the university or are just leaving high school.
They are entering a new world of debates and sharing new ideas, which have a strong impact on their lives. Teachers and professors who organized workshops with educators and students in the colleges also participate.”
If we count the groups that organize workshops and those that are not part of the ENEOB, it is possible that there are over 100 grassroots organizations at the Fourth Forum. In the exchanges, we can conclude that most of them are part of the independent left and all are grassroots militants that do not belong to an institutionalized political apparatus. “This is pure personal strength and determination,” Esteban laughs. “Militancy is tied to the necessities of life.”
The Post-2001 Generation
To mention the year 2001 in Argentina is to speak of the terminal crisis of the neoliberal model: poverty and hunger, but also the birth of a new political culture. From its beginnings in the 1990s, in each school, in the most remote regions of the country, grassroots student organizations were born with the participation of hundreds of young people. This is one of the characteristics that differentiates Argentina from other countries in the region.
“I believe that the university reform movement of 1918 in Córdoba, inaugurated a process of politicization in the universities that was repeated throughout history in the struggle against dictatorships and was replicated in another way after 1983, following the return of democracy,” analyzes Emilio Taddei, a 44 year-old sociologist and ex-student militant who came to the forum to participate in the opening session.
“As a militant of the previous generation, the generation of the democratic transition was much more cloistered within the walls of the university. I think that the big difference this time around was that a major component of the certainties within those walls collapsed. The university community was in large part at the margins of the struggles of 2001, at the moment that the Argentine people rose up against neoliberalism,” Taddei continues.
There are several reasons that help explain the university crisis. One of them is that “the universities reproduced one part of the democratic conduct that was toppled on the 19th and 20th of December 2001,” when the people rose up against an elected government that imposed hunger and extreme poverty in order to favor the financial sector.
In the second place, “there was a strong impoverishment of university students, which pushed many of them towards activism.” This is why it is believed that this movement is much more interesting because “previously, the defense of the public university stood in for the defense of the material conditions of the center of studies and its workers, but now it is much clearer that there is no successful defense of the university without its transformation. And this requires a degree of openness toward society.”
And he concludes with this reflection: “One of the novel elements of this militant experience with respect to when I was a student activist is that technical careers that were very focused on the university, such as engineering and agriculture, now go out into society and go to the poor regions. There is a group of engineering students that comes to conduct a workshop about the floods in the province of Santa Fe and alternatives. This is something new that we are seeing in many schools.”
One of the few studies about the student movement argues that the historic groups, Franja Morada and MNR (radicals and socialists) lost control over the principal universities after 2001 to the new independent left, that the structure of the movement has been democratized with the emergence of conferences organized by majors and the recuperation of local federations and a strong academic debate .
It has to do with two parallel processes that can be summed up as democratization and politicization. “The criticism of traditional, vertical structures and a demand for more democratic organizational forms, as well as a reexamination in favor of a policy of committing body and soul, that stresses grassroots leadership and participation”.
In the second place, “the independent sector reassesses the university as a territory in dispute, integrating new levels to the traditional business-labor struggle,” placing at the center the struggle over “the production and socialization of knowledge through lectures, books, journals, career conferences, forums, study groups”.
A new organizing style was born in the social milieu of 2001, with ideas such as self-management, self-organizing, autonomy, horizontality, that do not develop from any manual but from life experiences. Candela Ureta defined horizontality as the principle “that allows us to prompt and create structures and spaces of participation where everyone’s voice can be represented .”
Territory, Violence and Social Organizing
If there is anything that cannot and should not be idealized it is the territories where the most impoverished, the so-called marginalized, live. It is true that they are the most interested in changing this world and they have frequently undertaken notable collective actions, from cooperatives to small production workshops, informal educational spaces, and cultural centers.
But in those spaces where the state is weak, the drug trafficking mafias, supported by the police, kill, assassinate, and recruit youths for the armed crime gangs. In Moreno, a neighborhood of Rosario, three young men were assassinated on January 1, 2012: Jeremías Trasante 17 years-old, Claudio Suárez, 19, and Adrián Rodríguez, 21. They were on the street minding their own business when they were shot by a gang.
The three young men were militants of the June 26th Movement, a regional group of the Darío Santillán Popular Front. It is not common for indigent youths to belong to a political group. This caused a huge commotion and led to the creation of an Independent Investigative Commission made up of journalists, priests, lawyers, and human rights organizations.
In its foundational text, the Commission assures that the assassinations were not an isolated act and began to lift the veil on criminality: In 2011, 163 youths were assassinated in working-class neighborhoods of the city. “In 79 of the cases, the police and the justice system utilized the formula of settling the score to close the proceedings .”
The Commission not only pressured the justice system into action but also worked to reveal the causes of the violence. The journalist Carlos del Frade produced the first of the Commission’s reports three months after the massacre in which he emphasized that 80% of the youths of Rosario’s poor neighborhoods do not finish high school and 80% of the assassinated youths are under 25 years old.
They managed to establish that the “armed gangs” are made up of people that are very poor yet they own expensive automobiles, sophisticated arms, and enjoy police-free zones,” because of the police, or in other words, they act with the complicity and the backing of security forces due to “consent, protection, or fear .”
Those gangs fight over territory for drug dealing. The Independent Investigative Commission’s analysis which is as straightforward as it is convincing sets the record straight: there can be no drug trafficking without some type of police protection.
Pedro Salinas of the June 26th Movement and member of the Commission, indicates that the objectives have been to “investigate the crimes and reveal the structural causes that allow them to take place. In other words, the structure of complicity and collusion between the regional criminal sector, the police forces, and the sectors of political and judicial power that protect them.”
“We view the Moreno massacre as a subjugation of youth that inhabit working-class neighborhoods, which is the most vulnerable sector of society. The scapegoat of the score settler has been created so that investigations will not proceed and operates as a type of tranquilizer for the middle classes who during the dictatorship would say ‘they must have done something’ in regards to the disappeared and now say ‘let them kill each other off,’” Salinas asserts.
In his opinion, “victims as well as victimizers are youth from the working-class neighborhoods, victims of disputes over territorial control for drug trafficking driven by the big dealers that push children from 10 to 15 years-old into becoming their soldiers, who are the ones that lay down their lives in this war.”
The results of the work of the Commission and the social movement are important. The Minister of Security in the Province dismissed 70% of the province commissioners and removed the chief and sub-chief of police in Rosario. On May 29th, a few days before the forum, the judge issued a sentence against the five accused of the crime in Moreno. In addition, the case continues against two police officials and the police inspector of the region where the murders took place.
As one can imagine, the impact of these actions is very important since it encourages people in neighboring zones to organize and confirms the idea that protest yields results. “Family members of murdered youths come to us and clam that their children were killed by the same gang and they testified in this case,” explains Salinas.
“For the poor, organizing is a form of self-defense, but it is also a great risk because now they are not only targeted by police, but also by drug traffickers who are losing their territory and their cheap labor because each youth that dedicates himself to activism is one less that works for them,” he concludes.
The main marquee of the forum bears the nicknames of the three murdered youths, Patón, Jere and Mono. It is a tribute to three young men that would have been in the same marquee if they had not been killed. It is also a way to demonstrate that one sector of young university students has bound its life with those most punished by the system.
Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst for the weekly Brecha of Montevideo, professor and researcher on social movements in the Multiversidad Franciscana of Latin America, and advisor to several grassroots organizations. He writes the monthly “Zibechi Report” for the CIP Americas Program www.cipamericas.org.
Translation by Marlene Medrano
 In the classrooms and in the streets, op cit.
 Ibid p. 61.
 Ibid p. 62.
 “Revista del III Foro Nacional de Educación para el cambio social”, p. 19.
 Comisión Investigadora Independiente en base al diario La Capital, 9 de diciembre de 2011.
“Comisión Investigadora Independiente del triple crimen de Moreno”, Rosario, junio 2012.
Raúl Zibechi, entrevistas a Emilio Taddei, Esteban Domínguez y Pedro Salinas, Rosario, 8 de junio de 2012.
Espacio Nacional de Estudiantes de Organizaciones de Base (ENEOB), “Revista del III Foro Nacional de Educación para el cambio social”, 2012.
María Dolores Liaudat, Santiago Liaudat y Nayla Pis Diez, En las aulas y en las calles, Herramienta, Buenos Aires, 2012.