Thousands of Argentines have marched in cities around the country to express their anger at the government of President Cristina Kirchner Fernandez.
Thursday’s pot-banging protest was aimed against Kirchner’s recent implementation of populist policies that have dug deep into the pocketbooks and lifestyles of the middle and upper classes.
Organising the rallies through social networks, they had no speakers and no clear allegiance to any political party, but many carried signs criticising corruption and crime along with inflation that has soared above 25 per cent a year.
Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Buenos Aires, said it was the largest demonstration since Kirchner was re-elected last year.
“This was the way people used to protest during the 2001 crisis in Argentina but this time people are saying this protest is about freedom.
“Those who have come here today are protesting against what see as the dictatorship of Christina Kirchner. They say that in the last few months the government has coerced their freedom with measures that have negatively affected their lives.”
“Cristina, the vote doesn’t provide impunity for moral frauds or wiping out the economy,” read a huge red sign that a group of young protesters carried into the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires.
On Thursday, Argentina made a big expansion in its welfare program in peso terms, increasing cash handouts to families with children by 26 per cent to keep up with inflation.
President Kirchner also expanded the $6.9bn program to include families. Now families who earn up to 14,000 pesos a month qualify. That is about $3,000 at the official exchange rate.
Government statistics claim inflation is just 9.2 per cent annually, but Thursday’s changes are as close as the government has come yet to acknowledging that real inflation is three times higher.
Widely discounted official statistics also claim that the average daily food intake required for a healthy person costs just six pesos. That is hardly enough to buy a can of soda on the streets of Buenos Aires.
Defending the constitution was another rallying cry during Thursday’s pot-banging protests.
Many Argentines fear the populist president will use her control of Congress to do away with term limits and try to win more elections that could extend her rule to 2019 and beyond.
The idea has been floated by her supporters, and not explicitly rejected by the president, for whom the threat
of staying in power has been a useful political tool for keeping supporters and opponents in check.
Kirchner dismissed the protests during a public speech in provincial San Juan, nearly 1,300km from the capital.
“I’m not going to make myself nervous, and nobody else will either,” she said.
And in response to cries from her supporters to run for a third term, she added suggestively that “I’m going to do what I’ve always done: fight and work. I don’t know any other way of life”.
Kirchner was re-elected with 54 per cent of the vote last year, but her popularity has declined since she began digging ever-deeper into the pocketbooks of the middle and upper classes to fund populist policies.
With inflation soaring at about 25 per cent a year, Argentines have sought to change their pesos for dollars, but the government has cracked down on such trades and made it nearly impossible to obtain dollars legally.
Crime, inflation and currency controls were the main worries of people who surveyed last month by Management & Fit consulting firm, which found 72 per cent disapprove of her management of the economy, and 58 per cent disapprove of her performance overall.
The survey of 2,259 people nationwide, which had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points, found that nearly 70
per cent also disapprove of her political opponents’ performance.
“I hope the president understands this message that many Argentines are begging to be heard,” Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri tweeted on Thursday night.
Kirchner, in her speech, suggested that her critics are mostly relatively well-off Argentines. “We need everyone to understand that we have to put more resources into the most vulnerable sectors,” she said.