Social unrest grows as consequences of crisis add up

26th September 2019

By Luciana Bertoia

Social unrest grows as consequences of crisis add up

Although the economic crisis has captured the headlines after the elections, its social consequences are becoming increasingly more evident as well, with unrest growing in the streets as figures continue to deteriorate.

Social movements, which have been long demanding stronger policies to fight hunger and unemployment, are now in the limelight. And while presidential favorite Alberto Fernández has called on people to stay home, conflict is growing in the provinces and among left-leaning and other dissident organizations. 

</p> <p>Last week, the Senate passed the bill that extends the food emergency decreed by Eduardo Duhalde in 2002 until December 31, 2022. The bill was part of a broad social consensus, based on demands from social organizations, opposition parties and the Catholic Church, and it gained momentum after August’s devaluation. Among other items, the law allows the government to reallocate funds into social plans and soup kitchens, and lifts obstacles for food purchases.</p> <h2><strong>Families under stress</strong></h2> <p>&#8220;Macri&#8217;s government, before the enactment of the law, had allocated funds to these ends, but since the bill passed there have been no new reallocations to the Ministry of Social Development,&#8221; Congressman Daniel Arroyo told <em>The Essential</em>. Arroyo, a 52-year-old political scientist, was one of the promoters of the bill and is said to be the person chosen by Alberto Fernández to lead the ministry if the <em>Frente de Todos</em> wins the elections – as most opinion polls predict.</p> <p>&#8220;It is important that the government applies the emergency law and keeps the exchange rate under control so that the crisis does not continue to deepen. This is not how social policy should work, but it&#8217;s the least that can be done at the moment,&#8221; Arroyo added.</p> <p>For Arroyo, the social crisis worsened in the last month due to several factors, but especially because even informal job openings are dropping. &#8220;Odd jobs fell and the food prices went up, that&#8217;s why the number of people in the soup kitchens increased,&#8221; he said.</p> <p>The hallmark of Macri&#8217;s government’s crisis, according to Arroyo, has been the high cost of the food and the rising indebtedness within families, which will be a problem that the next government will have to address.</p> <h2><strong>Back to the streets</strong></h2> <p>Despite the approval of the bill, social organizations again blocked routes and streets across the country on Tuesday. There were protests in 16 provinces, but all eyes were on the City of Buenos Aires, where protesters marched to Plaza de Mayo.</p> <p>It is unlikely that social conflict will be reduced in the coming months, as all the indicators show the economy’s deterioration is continuing.</p> <p>According to <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/economia/desempleo-indec-empleo-nid2289361">information released</a> by the INDEC statistics bureau last week, <a href="https://gettheessential.com/economy/2019/04/04/unemployment-on-the-way-to-two-digits-as-production-slumps">unemployment</a> rose to 10.6 percent in the second quarter. This translates into more than two million jobless people in the country.</p> <p>Women under the age of 29 are the segment of the population that suffers most from unemployment, which explains why many of them have become the visible faces of the protests for more social plans. In 2018, 21.5 percent of these women were unemployed. The percentage rose to 23.4 percent this year.</p> <p>Statistics also show that half of the families live with less than 31,000 pesos per month. The basic food basket increased in August and a typical family needs an income of more than 33,013 pesos in order not to be poor.</p> <p>The forecasts are not good for Monday either, when the latest poverty indicators should be released just one month before the general elections. Analysts expect a rate around 35 percent, which still doesn’t account for a further increase likely seen after the big August devaluation.</p> <h2><strong>Social (and political) unrest</strong></h2> <p>Over the past two weeks, Fernández has repeatedly called on social organizations not to take to the streets.</p> <p>“If someone dies (in the protests), we are all going to suffer. We shouldn&#8217;t tempt the beasts, that&#8217;s why I insist that we shouldn&#8217;t go out into the streets,&#8221; Fernández said in an <a href="https://www.ambito.com/alberto-fernandez-atender-la-pobreza-es-generar-condiciones-desarrollo-no-dar-plata-que-sobrevivan-n5056569">interview</a> yesterday.</p> <p>The government also tried to discourage protests. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich took aim at protesters. &#8220;There is an undergoing strategy since we took office to generate chaos. We aim for peaceful coexistence,” <a href="https://marcelobonelli.cienradios.com/patricia-bullrich-hay-cierta-provocacion-en-las-calles-y-no-queremos-ser-parte-de-eso/">she said.</a></p> <p>Justice Minister Germán Garavano said pickets are expressions of partisan politics. &#8220;They are methods that go against democracy, it is a crime, the crime of sedition,&#8221; <a href="https://www.telam.com.ar/notas/201909/394701-garavano-piquetes-protestas.html">Garavano</a> said.</p> <p>&#8220;We have always been aware of the chance of suffering repression because we have been on the streets for the last four years against Macri&#8217;s government,” Leftist and Workers Front (FIT) legislator Myriam Bregman told <em>The Essential</em>, contrasting with Fernández&#8217;s opinion. &#8220;But we must confront repression with massive protests,&#8221; she added.</p> <p>&#8220;The statements made by Fernández have one consequence: the workers’ voices are being unheard. Politicians listen to the markets, to business leaders but not to those who pay the consequences of the crisis,&#8221; Bregman said.</p> <h2><strong>Conflict in the provinces</strong></h2> <p>The Buenos Aires province is seen as a dormant danger. According to the INDEC statistics, 12.7 percent of the population in BA is looking for a job and can&#8217;t find one. A <a href="https://www.perfil.com/noticias/politica/encuesta-problema-provincia-buenos-aires-desempleo-2019.phtml">recent survey</a> shows that lack of employment is the main concern of residents in the province administered by María Eugenia Vidal.</p> <p>The complex social situation in the province, which concentrates 37 percent of the national electorate, may explain why Vidal, one of the country&#8217;s politicians with the highest approval rating, was comfortably defeated by former Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, who garnered 49.34 percent of the votes against the current governor&#8217;s 32.56 percent.</p> <p>Elsewhere, however, the crisis has actually exploded. After winning the provincial elections, Chubut Governor Mariano Arcioni (Chubut Somos Todos) &#8211; a <em>Frente de Todos</em> ally &#8211; began deferring payments to state workers. For the last ten weeks, teachers have been on strike and children without classes.</p> <p>Last week&#8217;s repression of education workers led to the nationalization of the protest. The main teachers&#8217; unions went on strike across the country to repudiate the repression against their colleagues and the death of two of them in a car accident.</p> <h2><strong>Fight over taxes</strong></h2> <p>After the primaries, the government decided to freeze oil prices and eliminate VAT on food, dealing a heavy blow to the coffers of the provinces, which get part of the proceeds. Chubut was especially affected as its finances were already on the brink and oil explains a large part of its economic activity. The governors &#8211; the main supporters of Fernández&#8217;s candidacy – made several filings before the Supreme Court to review that decision.</p> <p>&#8220;We&#8217;re not going to put the Court on hold because of the elections,&#8221; a Court spokesman told The Essential, explaining that the five justices have already begun to analyze the governors&#8217; petitions. A ruling favoring the provinces could be a hard blow for Macri, but it could also limit Fernández if he wins the election. The Court already did something similar to the current president in 2015, when it ordered him to pay off debts with three provinces shortly after his victory.</p> <p>

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Luciana Bertoia

Luciana Bertoia is a journalist specialized in judicial, political and human rights issues. She has published in Ámbito Financiero, Página/12, the Buenos Aires Herald and the International Justice Tribune.