Interview with Luis Andraca, member of the Council of San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca, Argentina
The following interview was carried out on 22 November 2003 in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán (Argentina), where different organizations and social actors who had been called to « Espacio NOA » were taking part in the meeting « Social organizations and politics: Do we join in or are we already in? »
Jose Luis Coraggio, novembre 2003
What institution or organization do you belong to?
I’m a member of the Deliberative Council of the City of San Fernando del Valle, Catamarca where I am working now.
Besides that, are you involved in or perform any duties in other organizations or networks?
Yes, I’m an activist in a political party. I’m a member of the Mobilization Party , which is a provincial party, and I’m a representative in that party’s Deliberative Council.
On a national level, within the scope of the Ministry of the Interior, we have participated in initiatives organized by the Alianza team, but unfortunately this process is declining. In 1998 and 1999 there was an attempt to gather together all the country’s councilpersons with the aim of holding regular large-scope meetings, but this was later broken up into regions and in the end we set up the co-provincials, and I’m not sure if any of them exist today. But there were also other projects aimed at setting up some sort of forum of capital cities, such as the forum of the capital cities of the NEA and the NOA, which we supported for one or two years. Nevertheless, I thought that meetings in which only the Deliberative Councils of capital cities participated in was something too limited, too partial. In each province there were councils excluded from that network.
We need you to give us a short account of your experience, of how you got where you are, of the Council’s present activities.
I studied in Córdoba, I earned my law degree and I have been very involved there with the Center of Philosophical and Theological Studies where religious instruction is imparted to various orders, but which is namely headed by Christians. I took some biblical and pastoral courses there and became involved with the Liberation Theology, with Popular Ecclesiastic Communities. That led me to work with poor sectors of the population, and following an adjustment process I moved into a slum in Córdoba for three years. I was rather connected with some NGOs that worked on legal issues, or matters related with housing and habitat.
As I am originally from Catamarca and on account of my having been a member of the Mobilization Party since the Civic Front was formed, in 1991 some fellow party members who held high-ranking positions (the Vice Governor, provincial representatives, and a national representative)… invited me to participate in a provincial project that took me back to Catamarca and got me involved with that provincial project. At the beginning I worked as an advisor to the Senate, but since I had a more labour-related profile, in fact closer to social work, I was only there for a short time and then went on to the Labour Office. At the Labour Office I worked as a lawyer in labour matters, providing legal advice to workers and trade unions for several years. I was there until 1997, when I was asked to run for councilperson. I was elected councilperson for a first period, until 2001, and now I am back in office for a second period, with another two years to go.
From your perspective, working as a councilperson, what are the main projects you are undertaking to change local representation?
We have advocated participation… through public assemblies that led to a specific legislative project which was the Harmonious Living Code, the Misconduct Code. We’ve also taken on a plan for environmental urban development, which started in 2004. Participation did not evolve exactly as we planned, but this is due to the governmental and social limitations we have to face.
Moreover, we have created the forum of provincial councilpersons to reflect on State and institutional policies. It’s a very interesting opportunity to get together because we are councilpersons from different political parties,… we have worked the issue of roles and we want to work on the issue of local development as well. It’s a forum I value because we can get together even though we represent different parties and we get along because the issues discussed concern each councilperson’s functions and perspectives.
We’ve also worked the issue of neighbourhood elections, moving the Deliberative Council from its offices downtown to schools, for example, where we were able to hold actual sessions (although we had to amend internal regulations for it) and provide a little educational insight to the children and neighbours called on to participate. That has to do with the type of participation we’re promoting.
What we’re focusing on now is the participatory budget issue, which we’ve been working with for years but have made very slow progress on. First we had to persuade the Executive that we had to have a budget per program, which it grudgingly accepted, and the staff is now carrying this out more or less. The second step was to introduce the participatory budget in the municipality’s financial administration ordinance, and that was approved last year. Now we just have to present the final project… The difficulty lies in the methodology we are going to apply for the final draft.
A distinction is usually made between the social, economic and political fields. In which of them do your present political interventions have a greater impact?
I think our interventions have had a greater impact in the socio-political field, and I don’t think we’ve done much as far as the economic field is concerned. For the most part, economic issues have to do with basic institutional matters, the budget… In 1998, when I took office I was shocked by the fact that budgets were never seen, that is, they were approved without considering the contents…and that was a formality the Council could not overlook, and so we began analysing it and demanded that it be supplemented with a public works plan… Along this line, our main contribution was backing the province’s Public Investments Act. The province has generated a public investments area where projects are evaluated, and we’ve supported this, we’ve presented a project backing the Public Investments Act. That will mean the Municipality will have to set up some kind of body to assess investment projects.
You said you haven’t done much as far as the economic field is concerned, but you must have your own views on the economy.
Based on what I learned some time ago, I would say the economy is about administration of resources within a framework characterized by significant shortage. In the Municipality we have dreadful collection problems, collection is in fact at its lowest, and almost everything is done with provincial co-participation.
People say that global economy, national economy, the economy as a whole is in a crisis. What do you think about this economy? Why does the economy go up and down? What do you think about « The » economy?
It took me some time to understand these economic models, to realize that the economic model applied from 1976 to date has to do with capital and finances. Now we’re hoping this model will shift to a new one based on production, based on participation, but that’s still a wish… one of the main concerns is how to foster that change, which should not only be regional or national, but also global so that we can achieve an economy with a more human face, an economy where humans are really the focus.
Do you think today’s economy should be more participatory? or should an alternative economy be developed?
I don’t know whether we should take steps towards… I don’t have a clear idea on this… I think the latter would be the ideal option, but perhaps the former is more realistic.
Have you thought about that ideal option? What would you call it? What would that ideal human-centred economy be like?
We are moving from the general to the specific. We embarked on very simple things that seemed very basic (such as getting in the « barter clubs ») to explore a different economic model, a model based on different values, a notion of resources that is completely different from that shortage theory we thought of as a Municipality. A model based instead on a theory of abundance as a paradigm of labour.
I think this socio-economic issue as we are beginning to see it now -and I must admit I’m just beginning to discover it- constitutes a very strong element of organization, because popular marketplaces and barter clubs attract people, people get really involved in them… and that promotes reflection on citizenship, democracy and cultural issues. You can see it in the barter clubs, which are true citizenship schools: how they make decisions, how they choose a coordinator, they decide by vote in every assembly, members pay contributions. There’s a whole system with a new, refreshing philosophy that encourages members to share what they know, to teach other members and to give each other tools, tools which will prove truly liberating.
There are endless discussions on how to insert that solidarity-based economy in a political state-focused world, a world that holds totally different views on the economy. There are chasms there. Personally, I have trouble deciphering the informal economy to try to influence the State in that sense, when the State in all its areas is based entirely on a capitalist conception. And that’s were the greatest resistance is. We have to look into interesting models of alternative markets, work with solidarity-based networks, with micro and neighbourhood initiatives.
I understand you have not yet « defined » what that alternative economy is about, but you are on your way there…
I must admit I lack training. One of the main faults councilpersons have is their urge to be an expert in absolutely everything and that’s impossible. We did not have the chance to be trained better so we rely on team assistance.
If there was a chance to develop that alternative economy, do you think of it as opposed to the capitalist economy? do you see it as a « niche » or as coexistent with the capitalist economy?
I think the step should be towards coexisting; to start showing that the capitalist model, its structure and the way it operates and builds its power is not sustainable. Because it permanently excludes people. We have to figure out how to influence public spheres. Those of us working in popular centres need to influence public spheres in order to change reality. We need to strengthen ourselves and shape this new model we are proposing. The contradiction lies in that many fellow activists working on socio-economic issues are against the State and its practices, and that makes it hard for all of us to sit down and discuss, to try to see where we could have some influence…
What values are associated with your socio-political practices?
Honesty, in the first place. I think there’s a strong demand for us representatives to keep our hands out of the till. Honesty does not only mean complying with legal requirements. We must also base our conduct and actions on convictions. That’s one of the main issues. Another is striving to be efficient.
Would you say the people you are involved with, the citizens, share these values? or are these only your values and people have other values?
Some do have them, others don’t. In fact, I’m not sure we are able to communicate those values, I don’t know if people see them in us; I think most of them don’t. There’s also another issue, which is that however hard we try to transmit these values we can never be sure what people are actually seeing.
« How would you define « efficient »?
Trying to do things the best you can, trying to give it our best. I am committed 24 hours a day… Efficiency is about committing your time to seeking the necessary support in terms of knowledge; I have no problem knocking on anybody’s door if they can offer guidance. Efficiency means that when we carry out an activity we have to plan it first, with some idea of the steps we’re going to take.
In public administration, and as far as results are concerned, what does it mean to be based on efficiency?
Well, there are a series of parameters to assess deliberative bodies, from the National Congress to the Deliberative Council. There are a series of parameters to evaluate parliamentary activities. In that sense, last year we (I’m president of the bloc) carried out an assessment taking into account criteria applied by the National Congress and this year we are doing it again. I’m not sure it helps much, but it has to do with the bills that are enacted, the quality of the bills, along with a subsequent evaluation of how those legislative bills are actually implemented. It’s about the work of the commissions, the extent of the debates in the sessions.
For instance, they may go to a bar and say: “look, we’re transparent, efficient, we’ve come to the neighbourhood to deliberate so that you can see us”, and people might answer: “yes, but we want you to pave the street.”
What we do locally is get involved in the processes that take place at the grassroots level, processes that imply learning, and help people develop their skills and values, and begin to give them some basic tools, to pose questions such as: “Why is there conflict in the organization? What’s going on with us? And some specific things start to emerge, like: “no, the thing is that we’ve been given a fund but we don’t know who’s got it, we don’t know how to manage it.” These are relevant issues that groups have to deal with, in terms of transparency of accounts. There’s always some distrust when you manage funds, because the fact is we don’t trust each other. How can we give values back to the people? How can we rebuild trust?
Do your think traditional organizations have a role to play in this process in light of the new challenges? Do you think they have to change or should they be replaced by new types of organizations?
We have to acknowledge organizations that have a long tradition in our city: neighbourhood centres, social development institutions, the Church, and which are all working along this line.
We noticed that there was never a place for discussion among the different organizations, a place to think about what we are doing and thereby change. Assistance for the sake of assistance is no good. We need to have a plan that deals with core issues, something that has always been lacking. We could really coordinate our actions and do something really useful, achieving a new line of action. Learning to live together with what is different is one of the approaches we’ve always advocated.
What are the new challenges of the organization now? Do these challenges require some sort of change in terms of the strategies that had already been adopted?
In fact, the Civic Front (the cornerstone of our politic structure at the provincial level) is undergoing a crisis, a crisis that has to do with 12 years of administration and significant hegemony. That is why we are now revising our charter of principles, which we drafted in 1983. Twenty years have gone by and a lot of things have happened.
The Civic Front is a small, provincial party, that rests essentially on 2 or 3 relevant personalities with a very media-oriented progressive profile, and what we are proposing is something else: that a social body be formed to work in the neighbourhoods; it’s a kind of intervention that in spite of not having many supporters in the party (because they say the task is too demanding, that it will take us 200 years to achieve) it’s the road we’ve chosen… I think there’s room in the party for a group willing to work more on the strategies that have been applied till now, and another group willing to work along these other lines. But we are actually rethinking the strategies, we’re proposing it now at the institutional level, but we’ve actually been revising our practices for 2 or 3 years.
On the one hand, we want to keep working at the social level, and on the other, there’s an initiative that emerged in the plan for environmental urban development, which would allow for the participation of other actors…even though we are trying to enhance our involvement with popular sectors, it seems clear that local development does not involve these sectors alone. So the environmental urban development plan, the plan’s Council and a Council that enables the participation of businessmen, chambers and the university will give the project a touch of reality, encompassing society as a whole.
Now let’s talk about what people think. Do you think people prefer to work with a boss, be involved in an associative or cooperative project, or work on their own as individual, autonomous and independent agents?
In Catamarca, the State is the main source of jobs, and the struggle to secure a position in public administration has been going on incessantly for a long time ago; and although the State has been opening fewer and fewer positions for some time now, there’s still a high demand for public jobs …which is why there is still that sort of paradigm of wanting to have a boss, and if possible, a boss in the public sector, because in Catamarca the State is the strongest boss, and the private sector is insignificant.
Do you think that the benefits provided for women and men heads of household  should be granted under the present condition of compensation with labour or that they should be granted as a right without any compensation?
I am in favour of guaranteeing a minimum income to all citizens and eliminating all those nonsense compensations. I think it should be proposed as a citizen income. What would be interesting would be to apply some other type of policy in the field of labour.
How about the new policy on local development and social community? Have you heard about the « Let’s Get to Work » program? Do you know who’s promoting it? And, in what respect does it differ from the Women and Men Heads of Household program?
The Minister of Social Development is promoting it. We haven’t submitted any project. The province has submitted a great number of projects, but our priority is to consolidate organization-related processes which we see as being prior to the presentation of the project… what’s going on now is that they’re getting together just for the funds, but that’s all there is to it. They come up with a project and get together for the funds, but there’s no organization, no actual movement. So what can we do with a group like that? Just put in money and generate more conflict. There’s no transparency, no organization.
Is there discrimination and conflict among popular sectors? If so, which are the main ones?
There is much violence, and it’s alarming because it takes place within the family, between neighbours, disputes pitting poor against poor …that’s just too much. In fact, soups kitchens in general have caused a lot of trouble, contributing to the fragmentation of families and society. Dwindling resources and poor people just being left to fend for themselves, that always leads to confrontations, it wears any process out…
What is the role of women in all this?
One thing I’ve learned from working with popular sectors is that women are always present in organizational, economic and household issues, while men are in the group of decision-makers. In the barter club, all 70 members were women, but they had a male coordinator; it was the men who made the decisions.
Are young people playing their part, or they are left aside as you said women were?
I sense that most of them are apathetic, and that worries me a lot. The youth that does participate is great, but they are a minority. There’s a whole group of young people in the party that we have to listen to, we have so much to learn from them, we must be open-minded, hear new proposals.
Do you know of any other group that has been able to achieve any of your paradigms or visions? And If so, are they a point of reference for your project of a different municipality and society?
The Porto Alegre event has had great coverage in the media and has allowed this participatory budget issue to be known as far away as Spain. It has been carried out throughout the world. It’s a very interesting subject that goes beyond what one may have experienced or read. I can say this because we are precisely working on the issue of a participatory budget, but there are some municipalities that have already made progress in specific areas: Rosario in health care, Laprida in the area of refuse. There are many municipalities that have had some successful experiences. But I think the event in Porto Alegre is to be regarded as a very interesting global experience.
What are the chief difficulties you have now, and what do you think should be done to keep moving forward?
The issue of keeping up with the changes that are taking place in society is difficult. I like that naive view that changes can be made from the government. A great difficulty lies in the contradiction between what we have and what we want to do, and in how to convince most people of what we want to do. Another difficulty is isolation; I think that locally people are very self-absorbed. I believe it helps a lot if we look up from our local situation to see things from a regional, national and international perspective. Isolation and fragmentation prevent us from knowing the many people who share these views.
The other difficulty is ignorance. There are many things we are discovering. Training helps a lot.
This interview was commissioned by Vision Workgroup to José Luis Coraggio and Inés Arancibia, of Argentina. Mariana Moyano helped proofread and edit the text.
Espacio NOA is formed by social organizations of North West Argentina who have joined efforts to build a more democratic, just and solidarity-based region. More information is provided on the website of Centro Nueva Tierra, the organization that promotes Espacio NOA: www.nuevatierra.org.ar
San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca is the capital of the Province of Catamarca. It is situated in North West Argentina, some 1150 km. from the Province of Buenos Aires.
Partido Movilización (Mobilization Party) is a provincial political party. Some members of this party presently hold positions within the structure of the Provincial Executive.
The « Alianza » was founded in 1997 by a traditional Argentinean political party, UCR (Unión Cívica Radical or Radical Civic Union) and a new emergent movement of the 1990’s called FrePaSo (Frente por un Pais Solidario or Front for a Solidarity Country)
North East Argentina comprises the provinces of Formosa, Chaco, Misiones, Santa Fe, Corrientes and Entre Ríos.
North West Argentina comprises the provinces of Tucumán, Santiago del Estero, Salta, Jujuy and Catamarca.
Party Coalition of the Province of Catamarca.
The “Women and Men Head of Household Plan” has a national scope and aims to give a monthly economic aid of 150 pesos to unemployed women and men heads of household in order to assure their family right to social inclusion thus enabling their children to attend school and access health care, their own inclusion in the formal education systems and in training courses addressed to help their future re-entry into the labour market, and also their inclusion in production projects or community services with an appreciable impact as regards labour. Source: www.observatorio.net/politicas
The “Let’s Get to Work National Plan for Local Development and Social Economy” is intended to finance production projects arising from the different experiences, trades, resources and abilities of the various members of a community, as well as from the characteristics of each municipality and town, in order to help social inclusion. It is aimed at groups of people in need of work organized in associations who already have a labour alternative underway or are looking for support to start their own project. Unemployed beneficiaries of the “Women and Men Heads of Household Plan” will also be allowed to take part in this program. Source: www.desarrollosocial.gov.ar
Rosario is a city situated in the South of the Argentinean province of Santa Fe, about 300 km. from the city of Buenos Aires; Laprida is a Municipality situated in the Mid-South of the province of Buenos Aires.
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Organizations and different social actors who had been called to “Espacio NOA” were taking part in the meeting “Social organizations and politics: Do we join in or are we already in? »
Jose Luis Coraggio, janvier 2004
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