Social Issues

Argentine gov’t faces new protests after election setback

Buenos Aires, Sep 16 (EFE).- Argentine social movements on Thursday held their first major demonstration since the ruling party’s poor showing in midterm primary elections over the weekend, demanding that the government deliver more food to soup kitchens and create more jobs.

The protest occurred in the context of a recession that dates back three and a half years and has been further exacerbated by measures aimed at mitigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The demonstrators from leftist organizations not aligned with President Alberto Fernandez’s center-left administration marched to the headquarters of the Social Development Ministry in Buenos Aires, where they had held a similar rally a month ago shortly after Juan Zabaleta had taken over as the head of that portfolio.

This latest protest came a day after several Cabinet ministers closely allied with Vice President Cristina Fernandez (no relation to the head of state) offered to resign.

That political move, which came three days after the broad-based ruling Frente de Todos coalition fared poorly in primaries to choose candidates for the Nov. 14 midterms, has sparked a crisis within the heart of Fernandez’s administration.

“There’s no reason not to” hold the march, Eduardo Belliboni, leader of one of the groups that demonstrated on Thursday, told reporters. Expressing apathy about the friction within Fernandez’s administration, he said no matter which faction comes out on top “the result will be more budget cuts.”

Belliboni said the march “has nothing to do with the political crisis that’s unfolding” and that the power struggle “has nothing to do with people’s needs.”

He said numerous soup kitchens have not received food for 70 days and that employment, wages and pension payouts have all fallen, adding that Frente de Todos paid the price at the ballot box for their spending cuts.

Argentina’s annual inflation rate stood at 51.4 percent in August, down slightly from July.

The poverty rate, meanwhile, has remained at around 42 percent of the population since surging to that level in the second half of 2020, a year in which the country’s gross domestic product plunged 9.9 percent, its worst performance since 2001.

Belliboni said protesters’ biggest demand is “genuine work,” adding that a month ago they presented Zabaleta a folder with the names of 100,000 people from different trades who could work in public works projects.

On Thursday, he expressed pessimism about the ruling coalition’s ability to deliver for people in need, saying “these people don’t have a policy to solve workers’ problems.”

He said the two factions of the current administration – the president’s and vice president’s – both support a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund in 2022 that requires Argentina to reschedule payments on the $45 billion it owes that multilateral lender.

“That will deepen the budget cuts that have already been made,” Belliboni predicted. EFE


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