Conflicts & War

Argentines demand more help from gov’t as economy struggles

Buenos Aires, Jul 14 (EFE).- Tens of thousands of people marched here Thursday to demand that the government do more to help Argentines cope with high inflation and growing poverty.

Heeding a call from a broad alliance of leftist and grassroots groups, including some with ties to the governing center-left coalition, protesters shut down a stretch of a main thoroughfare in central Buenos Aires on their way to the Plaza de Mayo, where Congress and the presidential palace are located.

Some carried signs advocating the establishment of a universal basic income, while others sought targeted benefits for retirees and workers in the informal sector.

Another theme was rejection of the austerity measures announced earlier this week by new Economy Minister Silvina Batakis, though organizers said that the march would have taken place even without the announcement.

“It is a protest that was already scheduled, for the economic and social situation, for the aggravation of that social situation, for the lack of food in soup kitchens and for the general austerity that exists,” Eduardo Belliboni, director of Polo Obrero (Workers Pole), told CNN Radio.

He said that the groups behind the march are weighing whether to mount an occupation of the Plaza de Mayo if Batakis refuses to meet with representatives of the protesters.

“We are proposing emergency relief payments and discussion about the minimum salary (currently 45,450 pesos/$355 a month), a boost as a function of inflation that has consumed the income of all wage-earners,” Belliboni said.

Batakis described her policies as intended to “balance the public accounts” in accord with the pact President Alberto Fernandez’s administration signed in March with the International Monetary Front (IMF) to reschedule some $45 billion in debt to the Washington-based lender.

That pact is very unpopular with the left and the government itself is divided on the issue.

Sectors close to Vice President Cristina Fernandez (no relation to Alberto), who was Argentina’s head of state from 2007-2015, are not happy about the agreement.

During the 2003-2007 presidency of the late Nestor Kirchner (Cristina Fernandez’s husband), Argentina paid off its obligations to the IMF and successfully rescheduled most of the sovereign debt that forced Buenos Aires to default in early 2001.

But the conservative who succeeded Cristina Fernandez as president, Mauricio Macri, turned to the IMF in 2018, borrowing $44.5 billion after the Argentine peso plunged against the dollar despite desperate measures that included raising the benchmark interest rate to 40 percent.

Argentina was in recession when Alberto Fernandez took office in December 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic worsened the country’s economic woes.

Official figures show that 37.3 percent of Argentines are below the poverty line, but researchers at Universidad Catolica estimate the actual proportion is 43.8 percent. EFE jacb/dr

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