Thousands protest as hunger grows amid Argentine austerity

Thousands protest as hunger grows amid Argentine austerity
Thousands protest as hunger grows amid Argentine austerity

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - In this aerial view members of social organizations gather outside the Ministry of Human Capital to protest against food scarcity at soup kitchens and President Javier Milei government's austerity plan in Buenos Aires on February 23, 2024. — AFP pic

BUENOS AIRES, Feb 24 — Thousands protested across Argentina yesterday to demand food aid for the poor as soaring inflation and President Javier Milei’s harsh austerity measures take their toll.

Since he took office in December, Milei has slashed public spending, winning the approval of the International Monetary Fund and securing a budget surplus for the first time in 12 years in a country whose previous governments oversaw rampant inflation and multiple fiscal crises.

However, annual inflation has still risen to 254 per cent, the price of bus tickets has more than tripled, and the government has frozen crucial aid to soup kitchens that have ever more mouths to feed.

“In a little more than two months, this government has generated a very critical situation of poverty,” Alejandro Gramajo of the UTEP union told AFP.

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“No to the increase in transport costs,” protesters chanted, along with cries of “Hunger doesn’t wait” and “Pots are empty, pockets are too.”

Argentina’s 38,000 meal centres, which provide a hot plate of food to those in need, received their last batch of government-provided supplies in November before Milei — a libertarian and self-described “anarcho-capitalist” — was inaugurated.

Milei’s government says it plans to audit the needs of each individual soup kitchen and put in place a system of direct aid, aiming to exclude intermediaries such as social movements he describes as “poverty managers.”

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“There is no money,” said Milei when he took office, vowing to put an end to “decades of decadence” by his overspending predecessors, whose governance was marked by repeated inflationary crises and debt.

The 53-year-old leader devalued the peso by over 50 per cent, cut tens of thousands of public jobs and halved the number of government ministries.

An outsider elected on a wave of fury over the country’s decline, Milei has warned the population that the economic crisis will get worse before it gets better.

“When we hit rock bottom, we will bounce back,” he said.

Social tensions are rising, with train drivers and healthcare workers going on strike this week, and teachers due to down tools the next.

However, Milei’s government has received praise from the International Monetary Fund — to which it owes US$44 billion — for its “bold actions to restore macroeconomic stability.”

The government says that monthly inflation is coming under control and should be in the single digits by the second half of the year.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Milei in Buenos Aires on Friday, and said the “work that is being done to stabilize the economy is absolutely vital.”

“We see extraordinary opportunity here in Argentina,” he said, adding the country could “count on” the United States as it works to end its economic crisis. — AFP

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