Thousands of protesters from left-wing groups and social movements descended on Buenos Aires on Thursday as another massive demonstration against soaring inflation and falling purchasing power brought the city to a standstill.
The “Federal March for Work and Wages, and Against Hunger and Poverty” was supported by thousands of people from outside the capital, responding to the call of several unions and groups critical of the regard to the social policies of President Alberto Fernández.
Calls for demonstrations have multiplied since the beginning of the year and the economy shows no sign of stemming its inflationary trend.
In the first four months of 2022, prices rose 23%, including a 6% jump in April, according to official data released as protesters gathered outside Casa Rosada. Having already recorded inflation of more than 50% in 2021, the current rate would exceed even the worst estimates of 60% by the end of the year.
“The situation is complicated, the money is not enough. We are trying to open a soup kitchen. like me,” said Cristian Alegre, 36.
The Unidad Piquetera columns, identified with the red flags of left-wing parties and the banners of social organizations such as Movimiento Teresa Rodríguez and Barrios de Pie, called on the Peronist government to do more to help the poor.
Speaking from Paris on a European tour, Fernández said on Thursday that Argentina is “developing a lot” but he admitted his government “is struggling to correct income distribution and that is due to inflation “. He said the uncontrolled price hikes were “very harmful” and “must be stopped quickly”.
Caravans of protesters began the march last Tuesday from the provinces of Jujuy (northwest), Misiones (northeast), San Juan (west) and Tierra del Fuego (south), with organized events and rallies underway of road.
“Housing is a tragedy, we pay rent, it is more difficult every day. I could not afford university. We, the young people, have no future. We, the workers , have to take to the streets,” said Lucía Barrios, a gas station cashier.
The 20-year-old lives with her mother, grandfather and two siblings aged 5 and 11, who receive food subsidies. But “it’s too little, it’s enough for two weeks and it’s poor quality,” Barrios said.
More jobs, more help
The demonstrators demand the extension of social assistance and food assistance programs. In Argentina, one of the world’s leading food producers, more than four million people – almost 10% of the population – depend on state subsidies for food.
The basic food basket increased by seven percent in March alone. A family of two adults and two children needed an income of at least 90,000 pesos ($737) to avoid falling below the poverty line, according to data from the INDEC national statistics office.
In April, the government increased food allowances for vulnerable families by 50% to 18,000 pesos (about $150). In addition, it provided for an extraordinary bonus and an increase in the minimum wage, which from June would reach 45,540 pesos (about 373 dollars at the official exchange rate).
The state also funds meals in school canteens and supports some 1,600 community organizations in the country’s poorest neighborhoods.
The rise in inflation is part of a context of economic growth. Gross domestic product improved 10.3% last year, has been rising for 12 consecutive months and recorded a year-on-year increase of 9.1% in February.
Unemployment currently stands at 7%, with poverty affecting 37.3% of the population.
“The debt belongs to the people”
Protesters are also angry at the government’s fiscal restraint, a necessity during debt renegotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which will see the country attempt to reduce its annual deficit from 3% of GDP in 2021 to zero d 2025.
The targets are the result of the recent restructuring of the remaining debt of the record $57 billion stand-by loan granted to the Mauricio Macri administration in 2018.
“The priority is not us, it’s paying the debt to the Fund. We’re like that, thinking of fighting it day by day. Do you think that’s enough to live on?” asked Martha Lita, 62, as she rallied.
Lita who traveled from the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires to “protest and work”. She traveled with ingredients to make food, which she cooked to sell to protesters.
There are good days, she says, when she manages to raise up to 1,000 pesos ($8) but “today I haven’t sold anything yet,” she laments.
The Argentinian left and extreme left have little influence at the polls but a great capacity to organize street demonstrations. They vehemently oppose repayment of the country’s debt to the IMF and demand more generous social aid.
One of their main slogans is: “The debt belongs to the people”.
As the Frente de Todos administration tried to limit expectations for additional aid, splits began to appear within the ruling coalition, with Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner openly criticizing the government’s economic plans.
“I don’t think we will honor all the expectations, all the trust, all the hope that has been placed in us,” she told the president a few days ago in a veiled beard.
by Sonia Avalos, AFP
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