Zanon ceramics factory, one of the most prominent of the recuperated, worker-run factories in Argentina, was taken over by workers in 2001 and since then has been economically successful as a cooperative. However, as a major symbol of Argentinaâ€™s recuperated factory movement, (over 200 such cooperatives exist in the country), it has been a target for right-wing hostility. Workers at the factory have received death threats and have been violently oppressed during protests. Recently, this intimidation escalated: a woman who works at Zanon was kidnapped and tortured by a group workers believe is linked to the local government.
In the afternoon on March 4th in Neuquen, a city outside Buenos Aires, the woman (whose name has not been released) was leaving the factory when a group of people forced her into a green Falcon car, the same type of vehicle used during Argentinaâ€™s dictatorship in the seventies to kidnap and torture “leftists”. The group in the car began to insult her and said they knew where she lived, where her family worked and where her daughter plays after school. Then they began to cut her with a knife, taunting her by saying things like “cut her more so that the blood will flow in Zanonâ€¦” After cutting her arms and face they threw her out of the car and said they were going to go after her daughter next.
The woman called the workers at Zanon and the police. Police surrounded her house to protect her family throughout the night. By morning, however, there was only one policeman on guard. At 9 am one of her kidnappers returned through the back door and repeated what he had done to her in the car: insulting her and cutting her with a knife. When the man left, the one policeman who was on guard said he did not hear or see anything.
“This is one of many things that have happened to Zanon workers. Last year, Pepe, a Zanon worker was seriously injured in the eyes with pellets from police during a protest,” said Esteban Magnani, author of “El Cambio Silencioso” (“The Silent Change”), a book about worker cooperatives in Argentina. “In Neuquen you have Jorge Sobisch, a right wing governor who wants to be the new Carlos Menem (president of Argentina during the nineties who enacted numerous neoliberal policies which many believe greatly contributed to the countryâ€™s economic crisis). Sobisch wants to show how tough he is, so he is trying to get rid of Zanon.” The governor recently declared he will run for president in the next elections.
“The police are related to this because they didnâ€™t protect the woman so that the kidnapper was able to return,” Maganani continued. “No one officially knows who conducted the kidnapping, but most people are pretty sure those involved in it are related to the local governmentâ€¦Zanon is very politicized and famous, which is bad for a governor who wants to be seen as a right wing savior. Sobisch feels the need to crack down now, because the longer he waits, the more powerful Zanon becomes.”
At a press conference held by Zanon workers regarding the kidnapping, Alejandro Lopez, the general secretary of Neuquen ceramic workers, said, “The police have not helped Zanonâ€¦nothing goes on in Neuquen without the consent of the local government.”
“Neuquen is not an island,” Lopez continued. “What happened there has happened elsewhere. Subway workers (a strong union group which recently went on a city wide strike) have been threatened and are under constant surveillance. Student groups have also been threatened.”
Hundreds of people were in attendance at the press conference, which was held in the worker-run Hotel Bauen in Buenos Aires. The mood at the conference was somber. The memory of the dictatorshipâ€™s killings and torture still weighs heavy in the hearts and minds of Argentines. This kidnapping was a harsh reminder that after years of fighting against such horrendous acts, they still do occur.
Hebe Bonafini is a member of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group of women whose sons and daughters were “disappeared” during the military dictatorship. For decades the women have been fighting for social justice, human rights and answers regarding the whereabouts of their children. “We cannot permit this to happen,” Bonafini said, referring the kidnapping. “The government needs to intervene in this now. I called the Ministry of the Interior and he knows all about this. He just needs to do something.”
“Kirchner and Sobisch are enemies,” Magnani said. “Kirchner wants to be the leftist leader and Sobisch wants to be on the right. One of Kirchnerâ€™s flags is human rights. Now with this kidnapping and the continued threats, Kirchner shouldnâ€™t have any excuse to not do something about this.”
Protests regarding the kidnapping and intimidation have taken place in Neuquen and Buenos Aires and various political, human rights, student and activist groups have gathered in solidarity to fight for justice and to prevent such brutal acts from happening again.
Benjamin Dangl is a freelance writer currently working in Latin America. Heâ€™s the editor of www.upsidedownworld.org , an online magazine about activism and politics.