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Argentina sees fresh inflation protests on Independence Day

By SERGIO HELD in Cajica, Colombia | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-07-11 17:17

Argentina's government, led by President Alberto Fernandez, has called for unity while facing mounting pressure after thousands of people took to the streets this past weekend over soaring inflation and other economic woes.

On July 9, which marked the nation's Independence Day, crowds marched to the presidential palace, known as the "Pink House", in Buenos Aires, to express anger about the rising prices and national debt which they say are getting out of control.

Inflation is getting out of hand even as the country struggles to recover from COVID-19.

Analysts say inflation was 5.4 percent in June and will likely top 35 percent for the first half of the year. Over the last 12 months, consumer prices are estimated to have climbed 63 percent. Official inflation figures are expected to be released on July 14.

In his Independence Day speech, President Fernandez called for "unity" and said that "it's a value we must preserve in the toughest moments".

"We must walk the path towards fiscal balance and stabilize the currency," Fernandez said.

Protesters also expressed their anger at a $44 billion debt deal that Argentina struck this year with the International Monetary Fund to replace a failed 2018 agreement.

Marching under sunny skies along Buenos Aires' Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the widest thoroughfares in the world that features the city's iconic obelisk, thousands of demonstrators in the national capital carried banners calling for Argentina to "break away from the IMF".

They banged pots and pans, a common form of protest, blocked streets and called on the government to stop all debt payments, with left-wing parties threatening a general strike to force the issue. A few sporadic clashes were reported as police worked to keep opposing groups separated.

"To march and mobilize on Independence Day in all the squares of the country is the slogan to defend the Republic, freedom and demand justice," tweeted Alvaro de Lamadrid, a member of congress who joined the protests.

Unrest was visible in downtown Buenos Aires, but also in other large cities like Mar del Plata, Rosario, and Santa Fe.

Speaking to a local television station TN, one protester summarized the problem: "We are tired. Why? Because there is hunger and there is no way to feed the family."

Argentina is not the only country in the region facing such a wave of protests amid the inflation woes. During the past few months, Peru, Chile and Ecuador have seen people taking to the streets to protest the surge in prices, scarcity of staples and goods, and economic policies being implemented to cope with inflation.

"Argentina has been quite a paradox in the last decades. You hear some protesting against the IMF in anti-imperialism narratives and, at the same time, desperate citizens tired of inflation and uncertainty," Erick Behar-Villegas, a professor of economics at Berlin International University of Applied Sciences, said.

On July 2, Martin Guzman, the minister of economy of Argentina resigned and was replaced by Silvina Batakis, an economist. Batakis reportedly spoke with the IMF on July 8 and pledged economic stability, despite the rising inflation and the plummeting value of the national currency.

"Although there are tensions, we have to work together, making some adjustments, but seeking to comply with what has been agreed," she said.

Other regions of the world, like Europe and Asia, are witnessing similar unrest. Sri Lanka, France, Germany and Albania were among the countries where large protests have been recorded during the past week, amid price surges and shortage of goods.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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