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ARGENTINA | 07-05-2024 16:26

Protesters march on presidential residence to demand food aid

Tensions between social groups and picketers soar during rallies seeking greater welfare and increased aid for local soup kitchens.

Two days before a major general strike, left-wing parties, social organisations and picket groups took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against the economic policies of President Javier Milei’s government.

Multiple marches were held across the country as the groups called for increased food aid for community soup kitchens, which have seen funding cut since Milei’s arrival in office last December. 

The main rally took place around midday in front of the presidential residence in Olivos, on the northern outskirts of Buenos Aires, where hundreds of demonstrators marched to demand more government assistance.

A heavy security operation involving the federal police, Border Guard and Coast Guard officers was mounted around the residence to dissuade the arrival of the demonstrators and clear traffic. Nevertheless, delays were caused as tensions soared.

Hydrant trucks and teams of motorised police also took part in the operation deployed several blocks from the site. 

President Javier Milei, who arrived back in Buenos Aires around midday from a tour of the United States, was not present.

"The operation is a disgrace because there are no murderers or criminals here, there are people here who are hungry, in need and who are making a demand, and they have the right to do so," picket leader Eduardo Belliboni told journalists.

Protest organisers announced 500 roadblocks throughout the country, although mostly outside the capital in order to avoid the implications of Security Minister Patricia Bullrich’s “anti-picket protocol.”

The demonstrations, which lasted more than three hours, were called in rejection of “the cutbacks, the elimination of social programmes and the closing of soup kitchens” due to the lack of aid. 

The social groups involved included Polo Obrero, UTEP, Barrios de Pie-Libres del Sur and Frente de Organizaciones en Lucha, among others.

Human Capital Minister Sandra Pettovello has been summoned by the courts to detail the level of assistance provided since December to soup kitchens. 

In February, lawyer Juan Grabois, the leader of the Movement of Excluded Workers (MTE), filed a criminal complaint against Pettovello "for not providing for the delivery of food in neighbourhood and community canteens throughout Argentina, thus violating norms that order to guarantee food to those who are suffering from extreme poverty.”

Pettovello has signed food assistance agreements with evangelical churches and with Caritas Argentina, which is linked to the Catholic Church.

The demonstrations took place in a week of social conflict in Argentina. A partial transport strike took place on Monday and a general strike is planned for Thursday, the second called by the CGT umbrella union grouping since Milei took office.

Demonstrators, most of them belonging to picket organisations, initially gathered at Puente Saavedra and then moved on to the Olivos residence in Vicente López, where they came face-to-face with a heavy security presence.

As a precaution, locals and neighbourhood shops closed their doors and shutters until the protest was over.

Security forces initially accompanied those protesting without interruption, but six blocks away from the president’s residence, they began blocking the march and engaging with demonstrators.

“This operation is shameful,” said Belliboni. ““There’s someone in hospital. The police advanced after talking to a mediator, after we had agreed to open a lane going towards the City and again they pushed and beat us.”

“We still haven’t met those responsible for this situation, with soup kitchens closed and social programmes destroyed,” he added, referring to Pettovello.

The objective of the march, as stated by the social leader, was the handing over of a petition and the claim for a new meeting with government authorities.

"The strike has no other motivation than strictly political," said Presidential Spokesman Manuel Adorni dismissively, highlighting “all the damage and evil they have done under the previous government.”

Argentina is going through a severe economic recession. Inflation is running at almost 290 percent year-on-year and Milei’s budget-slashing policies have seen the closure of state agencies, thousands of layoffs and the removal of subsidies for utilities.


– TIMES/AFP/NA

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