Thousands join Argentina protest
Thousands of people have flooded the streets of Argentina’s capital in one of the country’s biggest anti-government protests in more than a decade.
Angered by rising inflation, violent crime and high-profile corruption, and afraid Argentine president Cristina Fernandez will try to hold on to power indefinitely, the protesters marched on the obelisk in Buenos Aires, chanting: “We’re not afraid.”
Demonstrators reached the presidential residence in scorching summer heat, banging on pots, whistling and holding banners that read “Stop the wave of Argentines killed by crime, enough with corruption and say no to the constitutional reform”.
“I’m marching against all the things that are going on — the lies, the inflation, (the treatment) of those in retirement. Let’s put an end to the lies and the corruption,” said a 73-year-old protester. The woman, who gave only her first name, Edith, said she was still working because she could not afford to live on retirement money.
Demonstrations were held on plazas across Argentina, including major cities like Cordoba, Mendoza and La Plata. Protesters also turned up outside Argentine embassies and consulates around the world.
In Rome, about 50 protesters, all Argentine expats, held a noisy protest outside the consulate on Via Veneto. Among the slogans being shouted was “Cristina, go away”.
The protests hold deep symbolism for Argentines, who recall all too well the country’s economic debacle of a decade ago. The “throw them all out” chants of that era’s pot-banging marches forced presidents from office and left Argentina practically ungovernable until Ms Fernandez’s late husband, Nestor Kirchner, assumed the presidency in 2003.
The current president’s supporters sought to ignore two earlier protests this year, but when it became clear the latest effort could turn out huge numbers, her loyalists came out in full force.
They dismissed the protesters as part of a wealthy elite, or beholden to discredited opposition parties, and misled by news coverage from media companies representing the country’s most powerful economic interests.
“The people don’t feel represented by anyone. It’s a complaint everyone has. The people are begging for the opposition to rise up, and for the government to listen,” said Mariana Torres, an accountant and mother of three who was among the leading organisers of the protests.
In a speech yesterday, Ms Fernandez did not directly refer to the protest, but she defended policies that she said helped rescue Argentina from its worst economic crisis a decade ago and buoyed it during the 2009 world financial downturn.
“During boom times it’s easy to run a country but try running when it’s crumbling down as it was during 2003, 2008 or 2009,” she said as she asked Argentines to continue to support her campaign to improve education, industry and housing.
“Never let go, not even in the worst moments,” she said. “Because it’s in the worst moments when the true colours of the leaders of a country come out.”
Polls suggest neither side has a firm grip on people’s sympathies.
Ms Fernandez was re-elected by a landslide of 54 per cent over a divided opposition just a year ago but saw her approval rating fall to 31 per cent in a nationwide survey in September by the firm Management & Fit.
The survey of 2,259 people, which had an error margin of about two percentage points, also said 65 per cent of respondents disapproved of her opponents’ performance.
Many Argentines are worried mostly about their pocketbooks, angry that government decrees designed to maintain the central bank’s dollar reserves and combat tax evasion have made it all but impossible to legally trade their inflationary pesos for safer currencies.
Pro-government voices say what is really at stake is the model of social inclusion that the Kirchners pursued, such as payments to the poor and unemployed and directing billions of dollars from the nationalised pension fund to social welfare projects.