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ECONOMY | 27-05-2024 15:14

Court orders Milei government to distribute held-up food aid to soup kitchens

Court orders Argentina's government to release five tons of food meant for the poor that is being held in storage.

A court on Monday ordered President Javier Milei's government to release five tons of food meant for the poor that is being held in storage, pending an audit.

Federal Judge Sebastián Casanello ordered the Human Capital Ministry to provide a detailed list of the withheld food within 72 hours and to proceed "immediately" with its distribution.

The magistrate based his ruling on statistics estimating that more than half of the population lives in poverty.

"In the face of this group of people who suffer from pressing food insecurity and on whom the cost of the paralysis denounced weighs heavily, there is an urgent need to take positive action," said the judge.

The decision comes from a lawsuit filed in February by social organisations following the interruption of emergency food aid. 

The judge has ordered the government to establish "a distribution plan for the said food according to its type, quantity, expiry date and target group, providing for its immediate implementation.”

Aid to tens of thousands soup kitchens was frozen after President Milei took office in December vowing to slash public spending and weed out corruption in the social welfare system.

Earlier this month, dozens of raids were carried out against soup kitchens and the groups that manage them, amid accusations that the poor were forced to attend anti-government protests in exchange for food.

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

Milei is seeking to eliminate the practice of using “middlemen” – NGOs and political parties – or intermediaries to deliver state aid and end what he calls "the business of poverty."

On Monday, a judge granted a request brought by aid organisations, ordering the government to provide a detailed breakdown of the food being withheld, and to proceed with distributing it "immediately."

The judge cited the vast number of Argentines "acutely suffering from food insecurity." 

According to official figures, about 50 percent of inhabitants of the country live in poverty. Private studies put the figure even higher.

On Sunday, the Catholic Church in Argentina urged the government to distribute the stockpiled food – which it said amounted to about five tons.

"We have learned that there are two food warehouses in the Social Development Ministry [today, the Human Capital Ministry] that have five million kilos of food in storage … at a time of food emergency this should call us to reflect – it must be delivered quickly," said prelate Óscar Ojea, the president of the Argentine Synod, in a video message.

“We’re worried that sensitivity is lost to such an essential and primary right as food. God willing, they will quickly open these warehouses so that the people with so much need can enjoy their daily food,” said the religious leader.

Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni said Monday the government would appeal the court order. The food, he said, was being stored "for emergencies or catastrophes."

Adorni lashed out at those who “resent the fact that we have put an end to the middlemen." 

"We have always been respectful of the courts, which does not mean that we will use legal instruments when we disagree. We are going to appeal those decisions," said the spokesman.

For Adorni, this is not a judicial question but "a definition of public policy."

The food, which was purchased under former president Alberto Fernández’s government, is reserved in a preventive way for emergencies or catastrophes," he claimed.

"Indeed these foodstuffs exist. They have different expiry dates. They are not about to expire. Or the ones that are about to expire are going to be distributed,” he said at his daily press briefing.

According to social organisations, there are about 45,000 soup kitchens in Argentina. 

Cabinet Chief Nicolás Posse, in a recent appearance before Congress, claimed preliminary audit results had revealed that almost 50 percent of soup kitchens that had been receiving aid "do not exist."

Cut off by the government, some continue operating today thanks to private donations.

Lawyer Juan Grabois criticised the government. The former presidential candidate accused the Milei administration of leaving “human beings, children, mothers and grandparents without food.”

"They have the audacity to accuse all of us … of being thieves with fraudulent audits while they steal an entire country and have the food hoarded away,” he wrote on social media.

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich responded to the complaints by stating that the "Human Capital [Ministry] does not keep anything back, it prevents food from being stolen.”

 

– TIMES/AFP
 

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