The first barter club
May 1st ,1995 : the first barter club in Bernal is born, South part of BA., initiated by Horacio Covas, Carlos de Sanzo, Rubén Ravera and about 20 neighbours. They start their barter business in the garage of one of the inhabitants of the district. They want to create an alternative to the existing economic system. A solidarity exchange system, with no currency, a sort of vice versa barter economy.
To go back to facts, the Argentinian barter network was born in 1944 from two trends: one was eco-friendly (the self-sufficient regional program by De Sanzo) and the other one was entrepreneurial (professional network by Covas)). Later, between 1996 and 1997, they will be joined by a movement of popular education (The network of exchanges of knowledge and social cybernetics by Heloisa Primavera and Carlos Del Valle). They will contribute in bringing methodology, group dynamics, continuing education as a basic condition to the development of the network.
The number of barter clubs increases
The experience is rapidly copied in BA, (with the creation of Nodo Congreso) and in the North (at Olivos); always under the supervision of the founders. One year after the beginning of this initiative, 17 nodos are thought to exist.Then it is the turn of Cordoba, second district of the country to start bartering.
As soon as exchanges start between members of different clubs, The Global Barter Network is created in 1996. The barter club is now called the ‘nodo’, a part of the network. At the beginning, the transactions are made with coupons supervised by a central accounts department (like the French LETS) this way of management gets more and more difficult to control, due to the number of participants. As soon as 1996, the Global Barter Network decides to print a new currency, the ‘credito’. Yet the three people from Bernal do not imagine that this complementary currency will get a national success. They are invited on TV by Mariano Grondona on his programme ‘ Hora Clave’. The medias take up to it, barter economy is launched in Argentina.
In September 1997 the first Industrial Nodo of the Red Global del Truerque, la fabrica, is inaugurated, on the property of the former textile factory La bernalesa at Quilmes. 600 people swap products and services (electricians, barbers, accountants, artisans, cooks…..). There are about 40 nodos in the country.
The founders lose control
After a series of articles in the medias (newspapers, magazines, radios and television) the number of nodos rockets. As soon as 1997, the group of Bernal loses control. Some nodos decide to create their own creditos as an opposition to the leadership of Bernal, who has got the monopoly of the creation of currency in the network. Others create their own currency to improve local development ; but the multiplication of currencies, with no common norms, triggers misuse and dysfunction. Anybody can print and circulate their own currency, following their own rules and under no control.
They try to control and regulate.
The people in charge of the RGT try to set up the same requirements to control and issue money. This principle is the basis of the first general meeting of the members, la Jornada del No Dinero (No money day), on May 8th 1998. The commission works on standards, issueing, distributing and regulating créditos.
They take the following decisions :
- The RGT of BA. will be divided into 4 areas: North, South, West and the Federal Capital.
- Each area will have to draw up a balance sheet, with the number of creditos per member, and in what circumstances they were allowed.
- An information system will be set up, to centralize all the details about issueing and who the leaders are in each area.
- Every three months, the situation will be assessed in a report
- Locally, it will be possible to issue creditos
Some time after, new areas join the network : Rosario, Cordoba, Mar del Plata, Nord de Santa Fe. At the end of 1998, there are about 83 nodos in the whole country. In march 1999, the bimonthly ‘mega ferias’ begin, with the support of the Ministry for Industry, Trade and Work of B.A. At the end of 1999, 200 nodos exist.
In spite of all efforts to give rules, some coordinators do not stop cheating. It is a short step from clientelism to mafia-like practices.
Conflicts inside the network
In 2000, the gap between the various trends of the network widen, mainly about the concept of social franchise initiated by the founders , in 1999.
Being a member to the Franchise is a contract between the nodo coordinators and the people in charge of it in Bernal. By subscribing to the Franchise, they accept to follow the rules ( training, price control, issueing and distributing creditos) and to purchase the creditos of the RGT, called “ arbolitos”. Every new member pays ( with pesos) 4% of the amount of the requested creditos ( 50 creditos for 2 pesos). The discussion is then about the following points :who will be responsible for issueing currency ( usually, the State‘s prerogative ) , how much currency will be issued, and principally, complete openness of the circulation of creditos. This hierarchical structure discards the principle of the nodos’ autonomy. The lack of control and transparency in issueing currency, and the absence of participatory democracy are criticized. Bernal argues that the construction of a participatory system becomes difficult and points out that it is necessary to be better efficient in decision-taking, which implies methods similar to a private enterprise.
F.Sampayo, the coordinator for Zona Oeste, refuses this type of Franchise and leaves the network to create the present ‘ Red de Trueque Zona Oeste’ ( RTZO).
In 2001, the RGT splits up into 2 opposed patterns : the Red Global de Trueque (RGT) and the Red de Trueque Solidario (RTS). From then on, the Bernal group reorganizes, they close down their collective authority, called ‘RGT’s instigators’ and start to promote an enterprise. The RTS is in favour of a horizontal participatory organization, and promotes solidarity in bartering. Similarly, other networks of the country decide to become autonomous and accept their own creditos only ( like the networks of Mendoza and Cordoba.)
In April 2001, there are about 1800 nodos in the whole country. In May 2002, at the peak of the economical, political and social crisis of the country , barter clubs amount to 5000 nodos, 60% in B.A. and 2 million members.
The networks have problems with their fast growth and excesses : over -issueing, quarrels, excess, discretionary sales of creditos…which lead to the explosion of the system. To a lesser extent, the falsification of the arbolito wears down the members’ trust, essential in this sort of alternative barter economy.
The system failed, not because of the falsification of the currency ( like the founders pretend) but because of the massive sale of creditos ( which they are responsible for) and also of the boost of the economy due to the devaluation of the Argentinian peso that made the barter clubs no more vital.
What is left in 2011 ?
Bartering is now very limited in Argentina. All the people remembered this experience when we talked to them, in this survey, but only about twenty nodos still function, and there are very few members; about 4000 members in all. These ‘ survivors’ all believe in solidarity. The big networks have disappeared. The only one left is the TRZO, coordinated by Bibiana Sampayo, the wife of Fernando Sampayo who died recently. They are very isolated and they think they are the only survivors. They wish to exist locally and accept their own creditos only.
RGT and RTS have disappeared but their former leaders want to start the experience again.
Ruben Ravera, for the RGT ( interviewed by TAOA in december 2010)explains that he works on a new operating system to start the network again, still following entrepreneurial logics and he announces a new issue of creditos by 2012.
As far as the ex-RTS is concerned, former leaders and members of the barter clubs confess they are ready to start again if they find a more reliable accountancy system, such is the proposal of the Colibri Project managed by Heloisa Primavera (interviewed by TAOA, December 2010).They try a connection between the open source system of Cyclos and SMS technology to make the exchanges easier and more reliable.
- Trueque y Economia Solidaria, Suzana Hintze, available on http://bibliotecavirtual.clacso.org.ar/ar/libros/argentina/ico/trueque.pdf
- Web site of RGT : http://redglobaldetrueque.blogspot.com/2007/05/historia-de-la-red-global-de-trueque.html
- Wealth, money and Power : the short-lived Argentinian miracle of barter clubs by H. Primavera, December 2002