Sunday, May 26, 2024

ARGENTINA | 16-05-2024 17:21

Police raid soup kitchens as government claims 47% ‘do not exist’

According to the Human Capital Ministry, almost half of registered soup kitchens and emergency canteens surveyed presented irregularities such as ghost addresses. No details of full list, but government claims address of one was listed as residence in a gated community.

Government officials said Tuesday that dozens of raids had been carried out against soup kitchens and groups that manage them, as part of a probe into alleged extortion of the poor.

The investigation comes after aid to some 38,000 soup kitchens was frozen when President Javier Milei took office in December, vowing to slash spending and weed out corruption regarding social aid.

According to the Human Capital Ministry, which is in charge of social aid and welfare, 47 percent of the more than 2,600 canteens surveyed presented irregularities and could not be audited. Some places registered as soup kitchens were found not to be providing the service.

The government did not provide a full list of these "non-existent" establishments, though it named several. 

"Anti-poverty plans generate more poverty," Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni wrote on social media.

The Security Ministry said police had carried out raids on Monday and Tuesday on 27 soup kitchens and the homes of social leaders following accusations the poor were forced to attend anti-government protests in exchange for food.

The raids included private homes and party headquarters, such as the central office of the Partido Obrero, according to its leader, Eduardo Belliboni, who vowed he would "kick out" of the organisation anyone found to have committed extortion.

Milei's government had set up a hotline for people to denounce extortion.

The protests were allegedly organised to pressure the government into doling out more social money or food, part of which never found its way to the intended recipients.

"The accused channelled the illicit funds from the extortions through 'cooperatives', with the final destination of the money unknown," the Security Ministry said in a statement.

Milei is seeking to eliminate the practice of using social movements as intermediaries to deliver aid and end what he calls "the business of poverty."

Social movements slammed the raids and alleged the complaints are an effort to discredit and persecute their leaders, who are mostly fierce government critics.

The left-wing Frente de Organizaciones en Lucha (FOL) movement accused the government of "emptying soup kitchens, taking food from millions of families" with its freeze on aid.

The investigation was sparked by at least 12 allegations claiming the delivery of aid was delivered in exchange for participation in anti-government demonstrations.

The survey was held within the framework of a policy "of transparency and anti-corruption" on the part of the Milei government and its drastic cuts in social programmes, including food assistance, in line with its "chainsaw and blender" plan. In this case the allusion is to food assistance implemented by Alberto Fernández during the Covid-19 pandemic to confront the crisis, an initiative known as "Argentina against hunger."

El Registro Nacional de Comedores y Merenderos Comunitarios de Organizaciones de la Sociedad Civil (RENACOM) was the long-winded title of the subject of the audit, carried out between February 7 and April 26. 

According to the report, to which Infobae had access, a total of 2,646 establishments were surveyed, of which 1,247 (47.7 percent) could not be validated as soup kitchens due to various reasons, among which were that they were no longer operating as soup kitchens (32 percent of such cases), discrepancies between their registered data and the reality (25 percent) and declared addresses which had never housed a soup kitchen (almost 16 percent).

One of the most notorious cases is that of the self-styled soup kitchen "Gauchito Gil," whose location upon investigation was determined to be "in reality a gated community." Similar situations were found in other cases such as "Sol de Barrio," whose address could not be verified with neighbours denying that they had seen a soup kitchen operating there.

This alarming scenario is closely linked to previous investigations which had already thrown light on the irregular flow of food. It was discovered that vast quantities of products, mainly dry food, had been withdrawn from the warehouses of the former Social Development Ministry and then transported in trucks at government expense.

Yet instead of going to the needy soup kitchens, this food ended up being presumably stored in sheds belonging to social organisations, many of them linked to the UTEP (Unión de Trabajadores de la Economía Popular) grouping clustering informally employed workers and other social movements, as indicated by the Human Capital Ministry.



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