Conflicts & War

Rising poverty spurs call for guaranteed basic income in Argentina

Buenos Aires, Jul 20 (EFE).- Leftist and community organizations organized dozens of protests Wednesday to advocate for the adoption of a universal basic income as more and more Argentines fall below the poverty line.

Organizers planned to mount demonstrations on 50 major highways in various parts of the country.

In Buenos Aires, a contingent led by Polo Obrero (Workers Pole) marched to the Obelisk in Plaza de la Republica to press demands for increases in existing public benefits and a greater provision of food to soup kitchens.

The proposal for a universal basic income envisions a monthly payment equivalent to the cost of food at subsistence level.

Activists also want across-the-board pay hikes for workers in both the public and private sectors and a boost to the minimum retirement pension.

One of the groups taking part in the demonstration in the capital was the Movement of Excluded Workers (MTE), whose leader, Juan Grabois, has ties with the governing center-left coalition.

Recently, lawmakers close to the MTE presented a draft bill for a universal basic income that was endorsed by Vice President Cristina Fernandez, but President Alberto Fernandez (no relation) rejected the idea as beyond the government’s means.

Protests will continue “every week until the social problem in Argentina is resolved,” Grabois told reporters Wednesday.

More than 37 percent of the population was living below the official poverty line at the end of 2021, while 8.2 percent of Argentines were classified as indigent.

Inflation is running at 64 percent.

The government recently announced a package of austerity measures in accord with the pact the president signed in March with the International Monetary Front (IMF) to reschedule some $45 billion in debt to the Washington-based lender.

“International financial interests are being prioritized, not the enormous needs of the people,” Polo Obrero chief Eduardo Belliboni told Efe.

Sectors close to Vice President Fernandez, who was Argentina’s head of state from 2007-2015, are also unhappy about the agreement with the IMF.

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. EFE vd/dr

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