Thursday, June 13, 2024

ARGENTINA | 24-08-2023 09:51

Government blames Milei, Bullrich for 'prepared campaign’ of looting

Blame game among politicians as looting outbreaks are reported in several provinces nationwide; Government leaders claim libertarian leader Javier Milei and PRO leader Patricia Bullrich are responsible for unrest.

After repeated looting at shops and supermarkets in several provinces nationwide, officials from Argentina’s government have taken to the airwaves to blame opposition leaders for stoking the unrest.

The country has been hit by a wave of looting over the past week that has ratcheted up political tensions ahead of the October elections. Since Friday, groups of people, sometimes dozens at a time, have forced their way into supermarkets and other stores, often fuelled by calls on social media, authorities claim.

While some attribute the plundering to the current economic crisis, others see it as an orchestrated effort to destabilise the country ahead of October 22 elections.

Government Spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti followed that line on Tuesday, blaming presidential frontrunner Javier Milei for the unrest. She claimed the libertarian leader had generated the climate that led to mass vandalism on social networks. 

“When no specific incident had taken place, with only a few WhatsApp groups encouraging it, Milei said this was 2001 on social networks," she said. “The whole climate was created on those networks, we have to consider them the main culprit.”

Cerruti said Milei and fellow presidential hopeful, hard-line PRO candidate Patricia Bullrich, were responsible for the looting taking place in some Buenos Aires Province neighbourhoods and in the provinces of Mendoza and Córdoba.

“We have opposition candidates running for office in October. The atmosphere created came from accounts linked to La Libertad Avanza and also Bullrich’s groups,” she claimed during a radio interview.

“We have to pay attention to these things, this causes serious damage to democracy. Patricia Bullrich and Javier Milei are two candidates building their speeches on the basis of nostalgia for a crumbling and destabilised democracy,” she said to Futurock Radio.

Reacting to the crimes, Security Minister Aníbal Fernández announced the creation of a new operation comprising the different security forces to repel any attempt to loot, amidst rumours and fears by business owners. 

Fears of widespread looting, evoking memories of the 2001 financial meltdown, have spread wildly online. In response, some local shopkeepers have posted videos warning potential looters that they will defend their stores by force if necessary, prompting fears of vigilante violence.

Pouring fuel on the flames, Milei tweeted on Tuesday night that “it is tragic after 20 years to see the same images we saw in 2001. Poverty and looting are two sides of the same coin. Argentina can no longer handle this deteriorating model sustained by the forcé of those living at the expense of the efforts of proper Argentines.”

According to officials more than 200 people have been arrested nationwide for criminal acts. Incidents have been recorded in areas including Buenos Aires Province, several Patagonian regions and Mendoza Province. 

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof alleged that “a few political leaders” had “worked consistently” to promote criminal acts. 

“It was fostered at the weekend, with false reports, fake images, such as those on the outskirts of Buenos Aires linked with theft and violence,” he said.

The governor spoke at a police station in La Matanza after meeting with provincial Security minister Sergio Berni, who afterwards told reporters that there were “over 150 attempts” at looting that had been “curbed by the police."

Nevertheless, many small business owners remain worried that they and their stores could be the victims of the next outbreak. Video images of attempted lootings have gone viral repeatedly this week, exacerbating the fears.

On Tuesday, a frantic day of attacks on several businesses, a Chinese supermarket in La Reja, Moreno, was brutally ransacked. Not only were aisles emptied, the entrance was destroyed and storage areas were set on fire.

“Very scared. I came here 15 years ago and it’s the first time. First they threw rocks, then they lit it on fire and then they broke the shutters. They took everything”, said Elena, the shop’s owner, as she complained about the lack of police response.

In related news, social leader Raúl Castells was denounced before the courts on Wednesday for the alleged “inciting” of lootings in different points of the country. The move came after the Movimiento Izquierda Juventud Dignidad (MIJD) leader seemed to indicate in a televised interview that some of the criminal behaviour was being coordinated.

After appearing before a judge, Castells warned that his group would “stay on the streets” if the government did not respond to his group’s demands.

“People are out looking for food, and if they don’t find it, we’re calling for this, we’re telling them that, without stealing money or breaking anything, to take whatever they can, at least to swap for food,” he said during the interview.

“Whoever said this is a crime was lying. The crime is that one kilo of milanesas is 4,200 pesos, a kilo of potatoes is 1,000 pesos, a kilo of sugar 1,000 pesos, a kilo of mate is 2,000 pesos, that’s the crime. They should say that instead of insulting the Argentine people,” Castells said.




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