Tens of thousands of demonstrators blocked major roads in the capital of Buenos Aires in Argentina on Wednesday as they marched against high unemployment and the policies of leader Mauricio Macri, including cuts to public utility subsidies.
Many Argentines, already struggling with high inflation and a recession, have been hit with higher water and electricity bills due to cuts in government spending.
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The cuts fall under an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to erase Argentina’s primary fiscal deficit by the end of this year.
“We have to tell the government that the situation is really hard. We have always been open to a dialogue, but there is no effective social policy when the government has turned into a factory [for creating] poor people,” Gildo Onorato, leader of the Evita union group told local media.
The minister of social development, Carolina Stanley, warned against holding the protests, saying they generate “a lot of nuisance for many Argentines who want to go to work”, according to La Nacion, a local newspaper.
One protester, who identified himself as Alberto to local media, attended the march in downtown Buenos Aires with his one-year-old daughter. He said he was there because he could not find work and said his family got little state support.
“If there’s no work, I won’t have anything to leave behind for my children,” he was quoted as saying.
Macri is expected to run for a second term in October’s general election. He may be challenged by his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a favourite of Argentina’s left-leaning opposition.
Translation: In # Argentina several union [groups] join the massive mobilisation against the economic policies of the president.
— teleSUR TV (@teleSURtv) February 13, 2019
Macri, on some fronts, is enjoying a rare period of calm: the peso has stabilised after losing half its value against the dollar last year and rampant inflation has stabilised.
But other problems are surfacing. Consumer confidence is at its lowest since a devastating financial crisis in 2001-2002, industrial output slid 15 percent in December and Macri’s popularity has tumbled.
“You can’t do everything at the same time,” Nicolas Alonzo, Buenos Aires-based economic analyst at financial consultancy Orlando Ferreres and Asociados, told Reuters news agency.
“In the world of economic policies, it’s very hard to simultaneously meet multiple targets, which in Argentina’s case would be to bring down the inflation rate and expand economically at the same time.”
A team for the IMF went to Buenos Aires on Monday as part of the third review of Macri’s progress under a $56.3bn loan agreement with the international lender.
The president’s approval rate sits at around 41 percent and there is little he can do to shore up his popularity given his economic toolkit is limited by the fiscal and economic targets agreed with IMF, analysts say.
However, analysts note that with a fragmented opposition and his predecessor, Fernandez de Kirchner, under a shadow of corruption charges, Macri may still have a shot at reelection.
“It is possible for Macri to win the next elections,” Nicolas Cachanosky, author of Reflections on the Argentine economy, told Al Jazeera.
“It’s true that many support [the opposition], but there are many that are also upset with them. After this crisis, the economy might have a bit of a recovery, and that is expected to happen near elections time, this could change the mood of the voters.”