Looters have broken into supermarkets in several Argentine cities, leaving at least two people dead in the ensuing chaos and stirring memories of the country’s devastating economic crisis 11 years ago.
“When you see that they’re taking flat-screens, you know it’s not hunger“
– Daniel Scioli, Argentine governor
The government and labour unions blamed each other for the Thursday and Friday violence, which came amid a growing wave of anger with President Cristina Kirchner’s administration over rising crime and economic uncertainty.
“There are elements in Argentina that want to provoke havoc and violence and stain our holiday season with blood,” national security secretary Sergio Berni said.
“Argentina is not the same as it was in 2001,” he said, referring to the economic turmoil the South American nation went through.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to stop dozens of stone-throwing youths from looting a supermarket owned by French retailer Carrefour near the capital Buenos Aires, a day after the unrest erupted in the Patagonian ski resort of Bariloche.
Government officials condemned the violence and sent 400 military police to the southern city, where raiders stormed another supermarket owned by the local unit of Wal-Mart. Looters made off with flat-screen televisions and other goods.
“When you see that they’re taking flat-screens, you know it’s not hunger,” said Daniel Scioli, governor of a Buenos Aires province and an ally of the president.
The violence spread to the central city of Rosario, where the two deaths occurred, and to the northern province of Chaco.
About 250 people were arrested in total in four different provinces and police battled to ward off fresh incidents in the urban sprawl that encircles Buenos Aires.
Kirchner often contrasts the country’s current economic stability with the 2001-02 crisis that plunged millions of Argentines into poverty and unleashed a wave of looting for food in supermarkets.
She was re-elected by a landslide just over a year ago, but her approval ratings have since plunged due to sluggish economic growth.
Surging prices, currency controls and her combative style have also added to public discontent.