53 minutes, 2006, Argentina, United States Directed by Pascal de Raglaude, Produced by Zarafa Films in French and Spanish with English subtitles
ABOUT THE FILM
DISCONTINUED July 2022.
By any standard Argentina was a very rich country until the 1970s, with competitive industries, modern agriculture, and a prosperous middle class. By 2001, 21 out of 36 million people were living below the poverty level, and formerly eradicated diseases such as tuberculosis and leprosy reemerged. May Justice Be Done goes into the streets of Argentina, tracing the roots of the crisis in scholarly detail, back to the irresponsible lending policies of the international lending financial institutions. Millions took to the streets to express their frustration at this crisis, and police responded, often brutally, resulting in over 30 deaths and thousands wounded.
In making this informative documentary, the filmmakers gained access to economists, officials, and regular workers. We hear from an Argentine economist who explains how the policies of the military dictatorship of the 1970s set the stage for the default in 2001. The regime accumulated massive external debts, liberalized markets, and opened the border to unconstrained capital. Between 1976 and 1983 Argentina’s debt increased from $8 billion to $45 billion. In 1991, in a drastic measure intended to fight inflation, the Argentine government decided to peg the Argentine peso to the dollar. Following the advice of the International Monetary Fund, most of the public sector was privatized and sold off to European and American multinational corporations. Hailed as the champion of neo-liberalism, the Argentine government was then rewarded with generous new loans. When economic crises reverberated throughout the world in 1999, Argentina became unable to service its massive $130 billion debt.
May Justice Be Done carefully follows the renegotiation of the external debt, actions referred to as the Megacanje. a bond exchange program designed to postpone impending maturity dates in exchange for an increased interest rate. When the state could not reimburse the bonds as they matured, government officials, betting on economic recovery, exchanged the treasury bonds with creditors for bonds at a higher interest rate that would be redeemed at a still later date. By law, Congress needed to approve the transaction. On the contrary, however, the Congress was not involved in the process.
Instead of negotiating the debt through official channels via the Central Bank, government officials arranged deals directly with seven banks, including Credit Suisse First Boston, JP Morgan, and a Citibank subsidiary. Eschewing the laws of the market they claimed to champion, government officials assigned interest rates for bond investment that were far higher than the true market value. The result was the destruction of local industry, as credit became inaccessible and the export market suffered from unfavorable terms of trade. The international banks and investors, on the other hand, profited from these above market rates and banking commissions of more than $130 million. The inevitable default came in 2001 as a quarter of the population was reeling from rampant unemployment and the neo-liberals’ destruction of the social safety net.
The film transports us to the poorest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires where we come face-to-face with the victims of neo-liberal economic policies, those suffering from a lack of food, health care, and employment. Spontaneous demonstrations broke out in 2001, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency. New social organizations and neighborhood groups were formed, demanding that justice be served. Several community groups have charged the state actors involved with financial malfeasance, citing fraud, association with criminals, a betrayal of civil duty, and economic subversion. May Justice Be Done reveals that the Argentine population has not stood idly by throughout the devastation of the country’s economy.
One community activist quotes former U.S. Secretary of Treasury, Paul O’Neill, as stating “we will help Argentina when it has reached the limits of the bearable”. Who determines what those limits are, however, and who is to be held responsible for pushing a quarter of the country to these conditions of abject poverty? May Justice Be Done is an excellent catalyst for discussion on issues of economic justice, globalization, corporate power, and neo-liberalism.
“Economic discussions don’t always translate in to compelling cinema, but in this case May Justice be Done presents the decline and fall of Argentina’s economy in a manner that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally devastating. Highly recommended.”
"A stunning indictment of the stupidity, cruelty, and corruption of the IMF inspired policies that drove Argentina from prosperity to widespread poverty. May Justice Be Done is a must see."
Michael Perelman, author of Confiscation of American Prosperity
"May Justice Be Done demonstrates how neoliberal economic policies in Argentina-policies that placed the country's well-being in the hands of financial speculators-led to mass unemployment, sharply rising poverty, and assaults on the rights of workers and the poor. The film shows how decisions by Argentina's right-wing political leaders, following the lead of the International Monetary Fund and U.S. Treasury, produced this economic calamity. But the film also shows the resistance of ordinary people to neoliberal capitalism, and their struggles to build humane alternatives.
The economic issues are clearly explained, and the story is passionate and compelling."
Robert Pollin, Professor of Economics and Co-Director, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts-Amherst