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. Some demonstrators, however, attempted to camp overnight next to the former Social Development Ministry building on Avenida 9 de Julio, causing traffic problems long into the night.
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, trade 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 austerity.”
Thousands of trades union members and members of social activist groups, 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.
“We cannot afford to pay for the electricity or the gas,” said 55-year-old Blanca Carmona. “Before, people in my neighbourhood 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 government is getting a loan from the IMF but we’re flirting with hunger,” said Julian Pérez, a 19-year-old from La Plata.
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.