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ARGENTINA | 19-09-2019 10:35

Senate approves Food Emergency law as demonstrators demand action

Lawmakers in the upper house offer unanimous approval for the legislation, which will boost aid packages by roughly eight million pesos.

Lawmakers on Thursday approved the Food Emergency Law that paves the way for more resources to be dedicated to the fight against food poverty.

Its passage comes with the country gripped by recession and economic crisis, with more than a third of Argentines now living in poverty, according to official data.

The law was passed unanimously in the Senate on Wednesday night as social organisations and labour groups demonstrated outside Congress. The legislation had already cleared the lower house Chamber of Deputies last week with ease, after the ruling Cambiemos coalition indicated it would back the bill.

"If in Argentina, which produces food for more than 40 million people, we have to go out and vote on a food emergency law, it is clear that the social crisis is very, very big," said protester Omar Giuliani, as he stood Wednesday outside the gates of Congress.

The law will grant a 50-percent increase in aid and food assistance items, equivalent to about 8,000 million pesos (US$135 million).

Officially, Argentina has had a food emergency declared since 2002, when the country was in the midst of a dire economic crisis. The legislation, however, must be renewed. The current law extends the declaration until December 2022.

"The face of poverty challenges us all," declared Senator for Formosa Luis Naidenoff, a Radical and the leader of the Cambiemos coalition bloc in the upper house.

He said that provincial and local governments are also responsible for addressing the crisis, not just the national government.

"Obviously, the law is a palliative [measure]. The only solution is for the country to grow," countered Carlos Caserio, a senator for the opposition Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist).

Though Cambiemos lawmakers eventually decided to back the opposition-led bill, some have expressed views that the crisis is being oversold, including President Mauricio Macri's vice-presidential running-mate Miguel Ángel Pichetto. Speaking earlier in the week, Pichetto described the crisis as "an exaggeration." 

"To say that people do not eat in Argentina is an exaggeration," he said, arguing that the legislation would not solve the issue of poverty in the country.

Argentina, which undertook a programme of austerity measures in the wake of the record US$57-billion credit-line with the International Monetary Fund, has been in recession since 2018. Poverty rose to 32 percent, according to official data, in 2018 and unemployment has risen to 10.1 percent. Inflation looks set to clock in this year at over 55 percent.

In a televised interview earlier this week, Miguel Angel Pichetto, Macri's vice presidential running mate, said the picture being painted of hunger in Argentina is an "exaggeration" and that the law is not a solution.

"If it's with the goal of achieving social calm, well, OK. But they're not going to leave the streets. They already said the streets are theirs," he said.

– TIMES/AFP

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