Picketeers and social organisations brought Buenos Aires’ main thoroughfare to a standstill on Thursday, sparking traffic chaos in the capital.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly members of left-wing groups and social organsiations, demanded the government of President Alberto Fernández provide more assistance to soup kitchens and food banks.
Initial estimates put the size of the demonstration at some 80,000 people, though the crowd seemed to be somewhat bigger.
Marching on the Social Development Ministry on Avenida 9 de Julio, three columns of Unidad Piquetera demonstrators encroaching the city from the south, north and west of the capital also clashed with the security forces at Pueyrredón Bridge, where officers were seen pushing and shoving and deploying pepper spray as protesters were briefly held up.
Polo Obrero leader Eduardo Belliboni accused the security forces and police of seeking to attack a peaceful demonstration and acting heavy handed.
"We are rallying to reject the austerity on the canteens in the neighbourhoods, for the reopening of social programmes and because we want genuine work – a demand that we have been asking for for a year," said Belliboni.
Marching to reject the government’s economic programme and demanding greater food aid and rises in welfare support programmes, the protesters brought havoc to the capital as the mobilisation advanced on Avenida 9 de Julio.
"This is a food-producing country, we produce for 400 million people and here we are 47 million. It cannot be that there are families who today cannot put a decent plate of food on their table," Silvia Saravia, coordinator of the Barrios de Pie organisation, told AFP.
She accused the Social Development Ministry of failing to meet promises to provide greater assistance to soup kitchens and improve access to better quality food in larger amounts.
Saravia insisted that "there is a very serious situation, because of the deterioration of incomes due to inflation. Food inflation is higher than average inflation," he warned.
"There is an austerity plan underway and the majority of the people are suffering from it," he said.
A total of 25 organisations participated in Thursday’s event, including Polo Obrero, Barrios de Pie, Frente de Organizaciones en Lucha and the Frente Popular Darío Santillán, among others. They gathered under a banner of three demands: "For work, against hunger and poverty"; "To recover fallen wages"; "Against International Monetary Fund austerity."
Protesters also plan to take to the streets next Monday (June 13), descending on the Obelisk to “vote on a plan of struggle against austerity measures."
Inflation in April reached six percent, with most experts expecting it to come in at around five percent for May. Between January and April, prices jumped 23.1 percent, totalling 58 percent over the last 12 months. Food and non-alcoholic beverages have risen sharply, by 62 percent over the past year.
Poverty in Argentina stands at 37 percent, according to the INDEC national statistics bureau.