a backdrop of increasing prices for agricultural commodities
on international markets, driven by a confluence of factors,
including increased demand particularly from the growing
economies of Asia and a rise in the use of bio fuels,
the Argentine Government in March 2008 levied a new variable
export tax on soybeans, sunflowers, wheat and maize. No
account was taken of the parallel steep increase in input
prices. The measures were considered punitive by the four
key interest groups that represent the sector: The Argentine
Rural Society (SRA), Argentine Agrarian Federation (FAA),
the Confederation of Argentine Rural Societies (CRA) and
the Inter-cooperatives Association (CONINAGRO). Despite
the heterogeneity of these groups, as they historically
represented divergent elements of the socio-economic and
political spectrum, they joined together under the auspices
of an umbrella group, the Liaison Commission, to call
for a countryside strike. Only once before, in 1970, did
these groups unite to challenge government policy. The
strike was to last 128 days, ending in the withdrawal
of the tax by the Government. Although the key focus of
the strike was export taxation, it also exposed many other
grievances in the rural sector, which motivated even those
not directly affected by the measure to protest against
what they perceived to be a Government that was unsympathetic
to the countryside, as well as urban dwellers concerned
about the style of government.
analysis that follows will conceptually examine the strike
in the context of the generic theories of interest group
behaviour developed by the political scientist and economist
Mancur Olson (1932-1998). Special reference will be made
both to the role of Irish-Argentines, in a historical
and contemporary context, in the interest groups, and
their involvement in the strike.
many failed attempts, the constitution that forms the
basis of modern Argentina came into effect in 1853. Soon
after Buenos Aires left the Confederation and after its
return in 1860 further reforms were made to the constitution,
establishing a federal system of government. Under Article
4 of the reformed constitution, the Federal Government
was granted the exclusive right to levy import and export
taxes to finance the expenditure of the nation. Since
their introduction, import and export taxes have been
a ubiquitous feature of the Argentine taxation system.
By the end of the 1880s, export and import taxes represented
80 per cent of the Federal Government’s revenue (Barsky
& Dávila 2008:146). The levying of a specific export tax
was first introduced under the presidency of Bartolomé
Mitre in 1862 and such taxes were sporadically imposed
at various times over the subsequent 129 years. (From
an Irish perspective, it is interesting to note that President
Mitre’s great-grandfather on his maternal side, Roberto
Wertherton, was from Ireland (MacLoughlin 2006)). Under
the presidency of Carlos Menem (1989-1999), they were
abolished in 1991. However, following the economic crisis
of 2002 they were again resurrected and applied to the
main agricultural products to finance the budget deficit
and fund social programmes such as Jefes de Hogar
(1). Nestor Kirchner,
president from 2003 to 2007, continued with such a policy,
increasing export duties twice between January and November
2007. By the end of his tenure taxes reached 35 per cent
of the international price for soybeans, 32 per cent for
sunflowers, 28 per cent for wheat and 25 per cent for
(Pablo Bianchi, Clarín)
new system of export taxation introduced through Resolution
125/08 on 11 March 2008 by the Economy Minister Martín
Lousteau in the newly formed Government of President Cristina
Fernández de Kirchner, was based on a sliding scale so
that taxes would increase or decrease to reflect the Free
on Board price (2) (F.O.B).
Based on the F.O.B. price for March 2008, the export duty
for soybeans would rise to 44.4 per cent and for sunflowers
to 39.1 per cent. For maize and wheat the export duty
would fall by a little less than a percentage point, to
24.2 per cent and 27.1 per cent respectively. Lousteau
justified these new measures on the basis that they were
‘intended to strike a better balance in the farming sector
by decoupling international and domestic prices, which
would increase production and enable the country to increase
exports and provide what the world requires, while at
the same time providing food products at reasonable prices
to Argentine families.’
reaction to the announcement, the four key interest groups
representing the agricultural sector: SRA, CRA, FAA and
CONINAGRO convened a nationwide strike, by which farmers
suspended the supply of grain, meat and milk, to protest
at the Government's policy. This collective action was
accompanied by demonstrations, tractorazos (3)
and road blocks in the key agricultural provinces.
Other groups with grievances also joined in the protests,
such as the workers from meatpacking plants in Mar de
Plata who demanded greater quotas for exporting meat.
With no response forthcoming from the Government, the
protests intensified with cacerolazos (4)
organised by urban dwellers sympathetic to the countryside
springing up in the major cities. The Government in turn
organised counter-protests. Whilst some minor modifications
to the plan were made, the measures were deemed unsatisfactory
by the strikers.
protests continued over the coming months with intermittent
lock-outs and demonstrations, such as one in Rosario where
it is estimated that over ‘200,000 attended’ (Barsky &
Dávila 2008: 237). The conflict worsened in late May with
the arrest of eight farmers accused of blocking a road
in San Pedro, Buenos Aires province. Incidentally the
federal prosecutor in the case was an Irish-Argentine,
Juan Murray. In an effort to break the deadlock, the president
referred Resolution 125 to Congress for approval. With
some modifications, the plan was approved by the Chamber
of Deputies (lower house) by 129 votes in favour, 122
against and 2 abstentions. Among those who voted against
were two deputies of Irish extraction: Eduardo Kenny of
La Pampa and José Ignacio García Hamilton of Tucumán.
To become law, the measure had also to be adopted by the
upper house, the Senate. In the event of a tie, it is
the role of the vice-president of the Federal Republic
who is also the Senate leader to cast the deciding vote.
On 17 July 2008, the Senate vote tied and Julio Cobos,
Vice President and leader of the Senate, cast the deciding
vote rejecting an increase in grain export taxes. The
measure was shortly afterwards rescinded by the Government.
(Carlos Carrión, Clarín)
his seminal work, The Logic of Collective Action,
Olson argued that collective action by large groups, as
manifested during the countryside strike, would be difficult
to achieve, as large groups are less likely to act in
their common interest than small ones. The basis of his
rationale was that individuals in large groups will gain
relatively less per capita from successful collective
action, whereas individuals in small groups will gain
relatively more. Hence, there are weak incentives for
large groups to organise. If such groups were to organise
it would take them longer as they would find it difficult
to agree on what type of collective good to pursue. Whilst
this theory may have had some merit in explaining the
evolution and achievements of Argentine agricultural interest
groups in a historic context, the success of the countryside
strike, which drew together such disparate groups in coordinated
action in such a short timeframe, largely invalidates
such a hypothesis in the contemporary era.
the major wave of Irish emigration to Argentina from the
1840s to 1890s, a substantial proportion of immigrants
settled in the countryside. Coming from a background of
tenanted smallholding in the midlands and southeast of
Ireland, they were lured by the prospect of land ownership.
Initially they established themselves in the sheep-breeding
sector as wage labourers, sharecroppers or tenants as
it required less start-up capital (Sabato & Korol, n.d.). As
they accumulated financial capital, over time many Irish
immigrants progressed to become estancieros (ranchers),
or midsized landholders. Some, such as Eduardo Casey and
the Duggan brothers of Chacabuco, were at the forefront
of cattle breeding. Others, such as Guillermo Mooney of
Chivilcoy, were early proponents of mechanisation.
to their position, many Irish landowners advanced to positions
of membership of the SRA and leadership in their rural
communities, and were often instrumental in the formation
of local Rural Societies. Besides land ownership Irish
Argentines became involved in the provision of ancillary
services to the agricultural sector, such as livestock
and land auctioneering. This involvement continues to
the present day, a good example being the significant
number of the auction houses at Liniers (5)
livestock mart having links to the Irish-Argentine community,
including Lynch y CIA S.R.L, Lalor S.A.C.M and F. Gahan
y CIA. S.A. Many Irish-Argentines are also involved in
the supply of services and inputs that have emerged in
recent decades. Given the number of Irish-Argentines involved
in all areas of the agricultural supply chain, it was
unsurprising that many played a prominent role in the
countryside strike either as members of the interest groups,
principally the SRA and CRA, or as independent protestors
known as autoconvocados. Their active participation
was also accompanied by unequivocal editorial support
for the strike in The Southern Cross, the newspaper
for the Catholic Irish-Argentine community.
The former president Néstor Kirchner
(Victor Hugo Bugge, March 2007)
developments and their contribution to the success of
the mid 1990s, Argentina’s agricultural sector had undergone
a major transformation both in terms of the nature of
agricultural production and the structure of the sector.
Paradoxically, while these changes have tempted the Government
to intervene to a greater degree through taxation and
other measures, they have also made such actions much
less likely to succeed. One can argue that they made the
effectiveness of collective action of a large group more
likely. Furthermore the hegemony of power by the Executive
arm of Government, which became very apparent during the
strike, has led to a political debate about the form of
governance, the meaning of federalism and the transparency
and role of the institutions of state. What follows is
a more in-depth analysis of these key developments.
the last thirty years there has been a radical change
in the way tillage has been carried out in Argentina.
Conventional tillage, which includes activities such as
annually ploughing the soil and inter-row cultivation,
has been replaced to a large extent by direct sowing.
Under direct sowing the seed is planted directly into
the soil by a mechanical seeding machine. In parallel,
the introduction of the herbicide glyphosate by Monsanto
in the 1970s, which was less toxic than other varieties,
enabled direct sowing to become a viable proposition.
By the end of the 1980s, over 92,000 hectares had been
planted using this method (Barsky & Dávila 2008: 42).
The fall in the price of glyphosate in the late 1990s
made direct sowing even more popular in Argentine farming
in the development of genetically modified crops in the
1990s led to the introduction of soybeans resistant to
glyphosate, known as Roundup Ready® (RR) in 1996.
This innovation enabled farmers to spray the herbicide
on the crops without causing them harm. In addition, the
cost of herbicides for RR soybeans was lower than for
those used in traditional no-till systems. By 2001, RR
constituted 90 per cent of all soybean varieties planted
in Argentina (Barsky & Dávila 2008: 43). Analogous to
the spread of soybeans was the emergence of double-cropping.
This allows farmers to sow a double crop; wheat and a
short-cycle variety of soybean, thereby maximising income.
This led to the rapid diffusion of soybean production
in Argentina and small farmers in particular began to
rely heavily on this crop as part of a profit-maximisation
strategy, in order to contribute to the (short-term) economic
viability of their farms (Trigo & Cap 2006: 5). Due to
Government intervention in the livestock sector, which
has reduced prices, and the low regulated price for milk,
many larger farmers also engaged in soybean and wheat
production to increase profitability. As a consequence
there has been a convergence of interests between smaller
and larger farmers, creating a nexus for coordinated action.
have also been structural changes in the forms of land
ownership, and the land and the actors involved in the
supply. As Bisang (2008) observes, Argentine agriculture
is no longer vertically integrated, it outsources production,
forming networks of sub-contractors (similar to an industry
supply-chain). Although the practice of leasing land had
largely disappeared by the 1970s, it is now once again
a common feature of the agriculture scene. Typically,
smaller property-owning producers are also renting to
enable them to expand and benefit from cash crops and
economies of scale. Another type of producer, known as
a contratista-tantero (a non-property owner),
rents the land from a third party for one harvest and
pays a fixed price or part of the production. A vibrant
industry in service contracting has also emerged, such
as machinery contracting services for sowing, harvesting
and spraying herbicides. A number of Irish-Argentines
contract such services, such as Donaldo Kelly e Hijos
SRL in La Plata, who offers direct sowing, fertilising,
spraying and other services and Tomás Deveraux of San
Antonio de Areco, who offers direct sowing services.
in the early 1990s, a new feature of agricultural organisation
began to appear; sowing pools (pools de siembra).
Due to a paucity of capital for the expansion of large-scale
cereal production, the sector began to seek speculative
investment funds as a source of financing, obviating reliance
on the banking sector. The key features of a pool are:
the organiser of the pool develops a business plan and
offers it to potential investors; land is leased from
a third party; the work is done by contractors from the
area; and marketing is done through certain buyers, manufacturers
or exporters. Generally the risk inherent in agricultural
production is managed through diversification of products
and locations. During the 1990s there was a significant
growth of pools as an investment vehicle. More recently,
factors including the banking crisis of 2001, the low
opportunity cost of capital and an increase in the prices
of some cereals have made the sowing pools even more commonplace.
Many middle-class urban dwellers have invested in these
pools, thereby creating a symbiotic relationship with
the countryside which was perhaps a significant factor
in urban support for the strikers.
fiscal federalism (6)
is characterised by a severe vertical fiscal imbalance
(7). While the provincial
governments have responsibility for the collection of
taxes on income, consumption and wealth, in practice they
have delegated responsibility to the Federal Government
under co-participation arrangements. These arrangements
were given formal status in 1988 under Law 21,548, which
established that the Federal Government would retain 42
per cent of these taxes while 57 per cent would be distributed
among the provinces, with the remaining 1 per cent set
aside to finance unforeseen crises in the provinces. Further
legal protection was accorded to the principle of co-participation
through its inclusion in the Constitution in 1994. The
Argentine system of fiscal federalism ‘is considered to
be very inefficient by all specialists’ and ‘its system
of intergovernmental transfers does not correspond to
any economic criteria’ (Tommasi, Saiegh & Sanguinetti
2001: 147). It became evident during the countryside strike
that there was a general concern about the manner in which
these intergovernmental transfers were managed and that
state governments would not automatically benefit from
the additional tax from the export taxes.
Demonstration at roundabout linking
national routes Nº 8 and Nº 33, Venado Tuerto 15 May
(Archivo Sociedad Rural de Venado Tuerto)
history and dynamics of the four key agricultural interest
groups and Irish-Argentine influences
Rural Society (SRA)
Argentine Rural Society (SRA), which brings together the
interests of landowners and producers, has the longest
pedigree of any of interest groups involved in the strike.
Established in 1866 during the presidency of Bartolomé
Mitre, the key movers behind its creation were large landowners
from the Pampas, led by José Martínez de Hoz, Jorge Temperley
and Ricardo B. Newton. This group had ‘also interests
in commerce, finance and other urban investments, particularly
in the city of Buenos Aires’ (Barsky & Dávalia 2008: 107).
It was in essence, as Sesto (2005: 51) points out, the
institutionalisation of a circle of friends who were pioneers
in livestock breeding. From the early days membership
was dominated by estancieros. The SRA began to
exert a very powerful influence on government policy.
The address by the president of the SRA at each year’s
annual fair in Palermo became ‘a barometer of how the
incumbent politicians stood vis-à-vis the country’s
most powerful interests' (Lewis 1992: 22). In an analysis
by Smith (1969), five of the eight Argentine presidents
between 1910 and 1943 were members of the SRA, four vice-presidents,
four finance ministers and for the most part the foreign
affairs and agriculture ministers were also members. With
the ascent of Juan Perón to power, the SRA lost much of
its influence and was ‘also forced to subsidise the populist
policies of the new regime, which continued under subsequent
Radical Governments’ (Manzetti 1992: 601).
response to the changing political landscape from 1943
onwards, the SRA began to broaden its membership beyond
its core base of estancieros. An examination
of the history of the first seventy-seven years of the
SRA’s existence gives some weight to Olson’s theory that
smaller interest groups are quicker to organise and more
effective in their pursuit of collective goods. Today
the organisation has ten thousand members. Whilst traditionally
it represented the livestock sector, in recent years,
its membership has also evolved to include agriculture
producers and dairy farmers. Although none of its founders
were of Irish origin, as the Irish were at that time in
the process of establishing their foothold on the land
property ladder, those that became estancieros
would later join the Society. Since its foundation there
have been three presidents of the SRA with Irish roots:
Dr Emilio Frers Lynch (1908–1910) who was also the first
Argentine minister of agriculture; his son Enrique G.
Frers (1950-1954) and Guillermo Alchouron (1984-1990)
who has Irish ancestry on his maternal side. In the contemporary
era, Eduardo Ramos, who is Vice-President and is responsible
for political campaigns, has Irish links through his grandmother’s
side. Mercedes Lalor, who comes from an Irish-Argentine
family prominent in the agricultural sector, joined the
board as director last September, the first woman in its
history to do so.
The first demonstration of the
countrywide strike at national level in the presence
of Mario Llambías and Eduardo Buzzi
Venado Tuerto, 17 March 2008
(Archivo Sociedad Rural de Venado Tuerto)
Agrarian Association (FAA)
the fall of the Rosas regime, the colonisation of Santa
Fe province began. During the period between 1858 and
1895, the population of the province grew from 41,000
to 395,000 (Barsky & Gelman 2005: 127), in the process
becoming the granary of Argentina, producing wheat, maize
and linseed. As the colonies evolved, many of the entrepreneurs
sold land to small farmers, known as chacareros,
and these either co-existed with or were absorbed into
the colonies. The predominant emigration to the rural
areas was Italian. Consequently, the area became known
as the pampa gringa. With the spread of the colonisation
process to the south of the province, the structure of
land ownership also began to change and the granting of
land ownership became a less formal feature of the settlement
process. This resulted in a rise in lease-holding and
sharecropping. Similar trends began to emerge in the south
of Córdoba province.
the spike in land prices in the 1880s and their subsequent
collapse in the 1890s, many immigrants decided not to
invest in land ownership and to rent instead. The failure
of the harvest in 1911 meant that the chacareros
could not cover their debts to various intermediaries
such as the general stores, who had given them credit
until the harvest. A bumper harvest in 1912 led to an
over-supply in the market and this, combined with a decrease
in demand, meant that the price collapsed. Together with
the previous indebtedness and a rise in the price of inputs,
this exacerbated the problems of the chacareros.
high rates of interest they had to pay, previous indebtedness
and the rise in the price of agricultural inputs gave
origin to a protest movement which culminated in an assembly
of farmers at the Italian Society in the town of Alcorta
in 1912 (Barsky & Gelman 2005: 127), known as ‘el
grito Alcorta’ (the declaration of Alcorta). This
led to the creation of the FAA, which was a seminal event
in that it represented the creation of a competing pressure
group to the SRA. Manzetti (1992:594) contends that in
line with Olson’s theory, larger groups such as those
that would form the membership of the FAA would take longer
to organise, ‘as they are unlikely to agree on which type
of collective good to pursue’. Through successful lobbying
by the FAA, in 1921 tenant farmers were given more protection
through the regulation of agricultural rents, anti-competitive
practices were prohibited (such as the requirement to
use a particular supplier) and a minimum four-year lease
was established. During the government of Juan Perón,
farmers were given long lease extensions, which made leasing
unattractive to landowners; this measure, combined with
generous loans from the state, enabled many chacareros
to become landowners. Of the three main farming groups,
there is no evidence of involvement of Irish-Argentines
in the organisation either historically or in the contemporary
era; the vast majority of FAA members are of Italian extraction.
Confederation of Rural Societies (CRA)
beef production in Argentina was non-vertically integrated.
In the poorer non-cultivated land with drainage limitations
– the Cuenca del Salado region of Buenos Aires province,
the cow-calf system predominated, while in the areas with
better soils producing higher quality forage, cattle rearing
and fattening prevailed. Prior to the First World War,
Argentine meat exports largely consisted of chilled beef.
With the advent of the war, Britain introduced chilled
beef quotas. At the same time there was a change in the
demand profile. Both Britain and France began to purchase
lower quality meat in large quantities, to feed their
troops. This led to a rise in the demand for beef overall
and a substitution effect towards canned and frozen beef.
Between 1914 and 1921 the cattle stock in Argentina increased
by 50 per cent (Rock 1987: 204). The boom came to an end
in 1921, when Britain ended the stockpiling of Argentine
all strands of the beef production sector were impacted
by the collapse in demand, the estancieros who
specialised in cattle fattening were able to mitigate
its effects by reverting to the chilled beef trade and
maintaining their margins by paying less to breeders.
The breeders felt that they were not getting an equitable
distribution of the profits from the changed market conditions.
Furthermore, the monopolistic practice of the meatpacking
firms created further unease. Many of the firms engaged
in anti-competitive practices, such as artificially restricting
the supply of cattle to Liniers market and paying low
prices to producers while at the same time getting good
prices on the English market, the principal export destination.
the government of Marcelo T. Alvear (1922-1928), attempts
were made to set a floor price for producers, but these
attempts were thwarted by meatpacking plants. This led
to tension within the SRA between the breeders and fatteners,
and created the pretext for creating a separate interest
group, the Confederation of the Association of Rural Societies
of Buenos Aires and La Pampa (CARBAP), to represent the
interests of smaller and medium breeders. A number of
rural societies from the interior of Buenos Aires province
affiliated with the organisation, including Trenque Laquen
and Azul. Over time, the number of rural societies affiliated
to CARBAP increased and other regional groups were founded
such as CARCLO, representing the north of Santa Fe, established
in 1938. In 1943, the Argentine Confederation of Rural
Societies (CRA) was founded to represent these regional
groupings at a Federal level.
Bust of Tomás Kenny, founder of
Sociedad Rural de Venado Tuerto, Santa Fe
(John Kennedy collection)
Irish-Argentines have played a significant role in the
foundation of many of the rural societies in Buenos Aires
province, which would later come under the umbrella of
CARBAP and at a federal level the CRA. Thomas Maguire,
from Empor, County Westmeath, was one of the founders
of the Rural Society of Mercedes in the nineteenth century.
A number of Irish-Argentines were founding members of
the Rural Society of Suipacha, including Alfredo MacLoughlin
(1917-1991) who was its first president. In Santa Fe province,
Irish-Argentines were also prominent in the establishment
of Rural Societies. As Landaburu (2006: 70) notes, the
Rural Society of Rosario established in 1895 included
two Irish-Argentines among its founders: Enrique Coffin
and Ricardo Murray. Tomás Brendan Kenny (1883-1940), physician
and surgeon, born on 23 July 1883 in Salto, was a founding
member and first president of the Rural Society of Venado
the CRA represents almost 110,000 farmers who belong to
three hundred Rural Societies across the country. This
is the largest agricultural interest group and has the
widest social base, bringing together small, medium and
large producers engaged in a wide range of agricultural
activities, from livestock to winegrowers, horticulturalists
and beekeepers. Of all the groups involved in the farmers’
strike, the CRA has the strongest representation of Irish-Argentines
through membership of their local Rural Societies. Many
play key roles in their local organisations, as well as
at regional and Federal level. At the Federal level, Manuel
Cabanellas, a descendent of Timothy O’Conor [sic] from
County Cork, was a former President of the CRA and played
a prominent role in the strike. Jaime Murphy of La Pampa
province was Vice-President of CARBAP during the strike
and another Irish-Argentine, Mario Conlon, is currently
Treasurer of CARBAP.
first rural cooperative established in Argentina dates
back to 1898, when a group of French settlers founded
a cooperative in Pigüe, in the south of Buenos Aires province,
to provide cover against the risk of hail. However, the
first cooperative farming organisation was not created
until 1904 in Junín in the north of the province of Buenos
Aires. CONINAGRO was founded in 1956 to represent the
cooperative movement and has a presence in all the provinces,
with a membership of over 500 cooperatives which, according
to Besada (2002: 10), represent 20 per cent of the total
grain and 26 per cent of the dairy products sold in Argentina.
It is estimated that it indirectly represents some 100,000
members. Besides representing the dairy and grain sector,
it also acts for producers of rice, cotton, wool, tea
and tobacco. Irish-Argentines have played a role in the
cooperative movement throughout its history. La Suipachense,
a dairy co-op, which is part of the Council of Inter-cooperative
Milk Producers and an affiliate of CONINAGRO, has among
its past presidents Heriberto MacLoughlin and Guillermo
the countryside strike a new group emerged, known as the
autoconvocados. These were people who did not
belong to any organised agricultural interest group, but
nonetheless made a significant contribution both on an
individual and collective basis to organising spontaneous
pickets, roadblocks and other forms of protest. This eclectic
group of participants included farmers not aligned to
any of the agricultural interest groups, commodity traders,
students, professionals, service providers, government
officials, agricultural machinery dealers and lorry drivers.
One prominent independent campaigner was Alejandro Gahan,
a veteran of collective action through his leadership
in the campaign against the Botnia pulp mill in Uruguay.
Alejandro was the victim of an assault by the Government
sponsored piquetero (8)
Luis D’Elía at a countryside protest in March 2008 at
the Plaza de Mayo in the city of Buenos Aires, which was
filmed live on prime-time TV.
Group from Murphy, Santa Fe, in
Rosario, 25 May 2008
(Archivo Sociedad Rural de Venado Tuerto)
of Irish-Argentine participants in the strike
comes from a prominent Irish-Argentine family, who are
inextricably linked with the agricultural sector. Her
great-grandfather Juan Lalor came to Argentina from County
Wicklow in 1830, where he married another Irish immigrant,
Emilia O’Neill. His son Eduardo married Maria Alicia Maguire,
whose Irish-Argentine lineage stretched back to 1830.
Mercedes made history in September 2008, when she became
the first woman to be elected a Board Member of the SRA.
She specialises in breeding and fattening Aberdeen Angus
president of her local rural society, General Villegas,
which is affiliated to both CARBAP and the SRA, she played
a key leadership role in the countryside strike. Of particular
importance was the work she did on the communications
front and in liaison with the other striking organisations.
She also engaged political commentators and analysts,
such as Rosendo Fraga, an advisor to the Vice-President
Julio Cobos, whom she invited to speak at the General
Villegas Rural Society. Mercedes believes that the extensive
use of ‘communications was the defining factor’ in creating
a successful outcome. The use of text messaging and the
internet were central to the mobilisation of the countryside.
Another critical factor she opines ‘was the media’: the
countryside was able to effectively exploit the use of
television and radio to get their message across, and
at the same time generate ratings.
Boracchia, a great-great grandson of Diego Gaynor, is
president of the Rural Society of Exaltación de la Cruz,
Campana and Zárate, a part of Buenos Aires province with
a significant concentration of Irish-Argentines. He is
a soybean, corn and wheat producer and also fattens cattle
for export to the European Union. Fernando played a visible
role in the in the countryside strike, appearing on many
television programmes and doing interviews for the media.
Besides his media role, he also lobbied the mayors and
other public officials and organised the first tractorazo
in Capilla del Señor, which was twenty blocks in length.
believes that the main reason for the strike’s success
was that ‘the government tried to subjugate the countryside’,
a countryside whose ‘values are common to everybody, even
if they do not own a centimetre of land’. Essentially,
Argentine identity and consciousness is closely intertwined
with imagery of the countryside, for example the Pampas,
the ombú tree, gauchos, mate, dulce de leche,
Martín Fierro and beef. This was a key reason why many
urban residents with no connection to the countryside
also rowed in behind the strikers. Fernando also adds
that the country in general ‘woke-up to the huge transfers
of resources to the Federal Government, which only re-distributes
them to their friends'. The political strategy of the Government
also turned people off’. There was a general feeling of
disenchantment with the behaviour of a government that
resorted to ‘shouting, fighting and intolerance’.
Garrahan is an Irish descendent who runs a dairy farm
in Carmen de Areco, with a herd of 250 Friesian (Holstein)
cows and an annual production of 1,400,000 litres. Like
many dairy farmers, due to the low profitability of dairying,
he has diversified into soybean, maize and wheat. He is
auditor of the Association of Agricultural Producers of
Carmen de Areco, an organisation affiliated to CARBAP.
his experience of the strike he said that ‘I never thought
we were going to have to go out on to the roads and protest’.
A key part of his role was to provide information to drivers
who stopped to speak to protesters on the road. He also
went from door to door in his community to canvass support
and provide information to those who did not have links
with the countryside. The principal source of information
was communications via the internet from CARBAP. Like
the others, he also stressed the importance of text messaging
in mobilising support. José believed the key reason why
the strike was ultimately successful was because ‘the
country realised that in one way or another it was dependent
on the countryside’.
Moore is a sixth-generation Argentine, whose ancestors
came from Ireland by way of the United States in 1827.
He farms in Lobos, Buenos Aires province. The family farm
‘El Pinos’ has been in Moore’s family for many
generations. He is a cattle farmer and also produces corn,
sunflowers and wheat. A current board member and former
president of the Rural Society of Lobos, he played an
active part in the protests against Resolution 125. Among
the roles he played was to distribute information and
persuade those with no connection to the land of the merits
of the farmers’ case.
believed that the key reason for success was that ‘the
countryside united like never before’ and ‘had the moral
upper-hand’. He felt that the Government did everything
possible to antagonise the countryside and exhibited nothing
more than ‘hatred and revenge’.
Conlon’s great-grandparents emigrated from County Cork
in the 1890s. He is Vice-President of the Rural Society
of Laprida and treasurer of CARBAP and also presides over
the provincial commission that deals with locust plagues.
Mario’s principal activity is small-scale livestock production
and he also administers mixed farms, growing soybeans
and other crops combined with livestock, for third parties.
Demonstration in Rosario, 25 May 2008
During the countryside strike, as a board member of CARBAP, he
played a prominent role in the demonstrations in Rosario
and Buenos Aires. Mario also accompanied local producers
in the roadside protests and organised cacerolazos
and tractorazos in Laprida. One of his responsibilities
was to participate in meetings with legislators prior
to the Congress vote. CARBAP’s lobbying strategy not only
centred on alerting legislators to the impact on producers
of Resolution 125, but also the effect it would have on
the rural community at a wider level. Another key element
of their strategy was to emphasise the point that revenue
from the export tax increase would not be directed back
into the communities that generated them, but would instead
be spent in a discretionary manner by the Government.
cites a number of factors that led to the success of the
strike. Firstly, he cited ‘the unity of the producers
from the different organisations’, who pursued a single,
clear objective. Secondly, he mentioned ‘the support of
the urban classes, which was spurred on by the pronouncements
of the President and the behaviour of some of her supporters
and cronies’. Thirdly, he commented that the legislature
had an opportunity to scrutinise and debate the measure.
But above all he believes the decisive factor was ‘persistence’.
in the structure of Argentine agriculture in recent years,
driven by technological and financial innovations, have
led to the emergence of new actors in the sector, such
as various suppliers of services and inputs and private
investors. The sector ‘has moved towards creating production
and innovation networks based on relationships that go
beyond specific commercial ties governed by prices’ (Bisang
2008) – a point that did not seem to be well understood
by Government policy makers. These symbiotic relationships
created a basis for the disparate interests groups to
join together under a large umbrella group, the Liaison
Commission, and succeed in collective action.
a political science perspective, the success of the strike
challenges Olson’s theory that large groups were unlikely
to achieve their objectives through collective action
- and if they did that it would be a lengthy organic process.
The testimonies of Irish-Argentines who participated in
the strike give us a powerful insight on a practical level
into the methods deployed by the interest groups and how
they contributed to a successful outcome. Beyond the boundaries
of those with an interest in the agricultural sector,
the strike also drew general support from those who were
critical of a style of Government has been termed ‘hyper-presidential’
by Berensztein (2008: 48), ignoring the realities of a
federal system, and also from those worried about the
quality of the institutions of state.
owe a big debt of gratitude to Federico Aramendi (Chapuy,
Santa Fe) for his wonderful hospitality and for guiding
me through the vagaries of the Argentine agricultural
scene and to Eduardo Sánchez de Bustamante and all the
staff of the Rural Society of Venado Tuerto. I am also
extremely grateful to Guillermo MacLoughlin, José Garrahan,
Ernesto O’Connor, Alejandro Gahan, and Luigi Manzetti
for all their helpful advice.
The Jefes de Hogar (Heads of Household)
Project is the workfare part of a social safety net launched
by Argentina in April 2002 to alleviate the impact of
rising unemployment due to the worsening economic crisis.
The price actually charged at the producing
country’s port of loading.
Tractor protests or “tractorcades”: these
are a common form of protest by the farming sector in
the European Union.
This is a form of popular protest in
Argentina whereby people create noise by banging pots,
pans and other utensils.
Liniers cattle mart is the major livestock
trade centre in Argentina.
Fiscal federalism deals with how competencies
(expenditure side) and fiscal instruments (revenue side)
are allocated across different (vertical) layers of the
The difference between the relative revenue
and spending responsibilities of the Federal Government
and provinces is known as a vertical fiscal imbalance.
A piquetero is a member of a politically
orientated group, whose modus operandi is to organise
groups to picket businesses or block roads in pursuit
of a particular demand.
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