Inflationary fears in Argentina

Why tomatoes and potatoes have become central issues in the presidential poll.

    Argentinian vegetable prices have soared in recent months making them a central election issue


    Campaign theme
     
    So much so that Roberto Lavagna, a presidential candidate and President Nestor Kirchner's economy minister until November 2005, has based his entire campaign on it. "Stop Inflation - Vote Lavagna," his slogan reads.

    But Cristina Kirchner, Argentina's first lady and leading presidential candidate, said at the national statistics institute last week, that the country was "not facing a traumatic situation".

    "We have grown 49.3 per cent in the past four and a half years, created 3.1 million new jobs, 3.1 million people that now are spending," Kirchner said.

    "The growth of almost 50 per cent and the increase in consumption results in this price dynamic."

    Many analysts, however, have said that the government is out of sync with market prices.

    Lavanga has gone as far as saying that the inflation rate in September was more than double the official rate of 8.6 per cent - a claim supported by many economists in the country.

    Deep impact

    With Argentinian per capita income at $5,150, compared to $44,970 in the United States, slightest price increases have had a devastating impact on many Argentinians.

    A candidate is promising to stop inflation
    if voted to power
    Along the road from Esposito's stall is another fruit and vegetable seller, Santos.

    Last month, as tomato prices soared from around four to 18 pesos per kilo, Santos' income diminished as sales plumetted and unsold tomatoes rotted.

    Last week, Kirchner said: "We need to deepen the fight against poverty. Poverty levels have fallen from 58 per cent to 23 per cent, but we need to make them fall more."

    However, when food prices rise - particularly in beef, tomatoes and potatoes, which are staple food products for Argentinians of all classes - people can't afford to buy as much, and the poverty level tends to rise too.

    In October, various groups boycotted the expensive tomatoes and potatoes, forcing the prices to come down. Now, Santos says it is the pumpkin's turn, as he watches its price rise day by day.

    Anger

    Consumers too, are angry about the fluctuating prices that have left them out of pocket.

    Alejandro and Rosio, two young girls shopping at Santos' store for onions, vented their anger.

    Alejandro said she stopped buying tomatoes and potatoes in protest against the government's failure to curb inflation - bad news for Santos and other market sellers like him.

    For Rosio, the price rise in tomatoes and potatoes has had a strong impact. When she heads to the polling booth on Sunday to vote in the presidential election, she will be sending out a stern message.

    "This is a political issue for me, so I'm not going to vote for anyone in protest," she said.

    "I'm going to the polling booth, but I'll tear the ballot paper up as soon as I get there."

    While it looks certain that Cristina Kirchner will become president-elect on Sunday, Argentinians will no doubt judge her term on how seriously she values the price of their food.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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