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ARGENTINA | 04-04-2019 19:15

Unions, social groups demand gov't backtrack on austerity in protest

Thousands of demonstrators marched through the capital on Thursday to demand the government rollback on austerity policies.

Thousands of demonstrators marched through the capital on Thursday to protest President Mauricio Macri's austerity measures and call on the government to backtrack on its policies, turning up the heat on his government six months ahead of general elections.

Though TV news coverage focused on apparent tension between the protesters and the security forces policing the event, the protest generally passed off without incident.

The protests come amid challenging economic circumstances and n a climate of social unrest in recession-hit Argentina, with the government determined to reach a zero fiscal deficit as part of its US$56-billion bailout agreement sealed last year with the International Monetary Fund.

However, trades unions including the powerful CGT umbrella union grouping, which called Thursday's protest, say the measures are crippling the country's economy by forcing the closure of thousands of small businesses and leading citizens into poverty.

"This demonstration is one more expression of the unrest there is," Juan Carlos Schmid, leader of the Transport union Confederation, told the AFP at the march. "Keeping on this path means we are heading to the abyss. Economic policy has to change, until now there has been a policy of permanent adjustment."

Thousands of trades union members, many waving bright banners and placards decrying Macri and the IMF, defied a brief downpour to march down Avenida 9 de Julio to converge on the Plaza de Mayo.

Undeterred by his tumbling popularity ratings and soaring inflation that reached 47 percent last year, Macri is set to run for re-election in October's presidential and legislative elections, citing the need to continue tough reforms.

"We cannot afford to pay for the electricity or the gas," said 55-year-old Blanca Carmona as she marched. "Before, people in my neighborhood used to do small jobs like gardening, but now that's gone, because the middle class is collapsing – the increases are also affecting them."

The portion of the population living under the poverty line increased to 32 percent in the latter half of 2018 – up from 25 percent in 2017 – taking another three million Argentines into the poverty trap, figures released last week by the INDEC national statistics bureau showed.

"The government is getting a loan from the IMF but we're flirting with hunger," said Julian Pérez, a 19-year-old who travelled from the coastal city of La Plata to "claim jobs" with his friends from a local cooperative.

Business crisis

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (PyMES) have borne the brunt of the cuts.

"PyMES are going through a period of extreme gravity, and every day we are seeing hundreds  closing and firing workers," said Osvaldo Cornide, head of the Argentine Confederation of Small and Medium-sized businesses. 

He claimed his members were suffering "a lethal and perverse combination of unpayable tariffs, an internal market destroyed as a result of wages lost day after day through inflation, massive dismissals that remove people from the market as consumers, indiscriminate opening up to imports, deranged interest rates and unviable tax pressure."

CGT secretary-general Hector Daer, called for the creation of a broad "opposition front" to block Macri's route to re-election in October.

"We have to go forward asking for an alternative proposal and a different model for the country, We can't continue like this," he said.

- TIMES/AFP

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