Thousands protest in Buenos Aires against austerity policies
Thousands of people have poured out on to the streets of the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires, to protest President Mauricio Macri’s economic policies, a day before a nationwide 24-hour strike called for by unions takes place.
Macri is widely expected to introduce austerity measures in order to receive billions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to prop up its economy.
The walk out on Monday was organised by the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), whose membership accounts for almost 20 percent of Argentina’s workforce.
The protests come as Macri announced on Monday that Argentinawill receive additional funding from the IMF following ongoing negotiations over a $50bn bailout package.
The bailout – already the biggest in IMF history – is extremely controversial in the country, where many blame the financial body for the country’s worst ever financial crisis between 2001 and 2002, which left one out of every five people unemployed and thrust millions into poverty.
Without going into specifics, Macri said the IMF had agreed to “more support”, while speaking at an event hosted by Bloomberg television in New York.
“We’re working with the IMF team and we’ll present something that will bring confidence, more confidence than what we’ve had in the last 10 days when markets have turned around and things are moving better,” he said, adding that there was “no chance” Argentina would default.
Prospects for an immediate turnaround, however, are dim.
“We will experience a big recession,” Sergio Berensztein, president and CEO at Berensztein Consultancy Group in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, told Al Jazeera.
“We will also see a spike in unemployment but … in the next year, after the first three months, the economy should show some signs of recovery,” he added.
Macri has said that austerity policies will improve the fiscal situation in the country, but workers have experienced 34 percent inflation since last year, without any wage increase.
“This shows the discontent workers have with Macri’s government, this is the beginning of a plan to fight austerity measures…for the government the priority is to defend bankers and multinational companies, not people like us,” said Romina del Pla, a teacher in Buenos Aires.
Argentina’s peso has devalued 30 percent against the dollar since the IMF bailout’s original announcement in June.
Public reaction has hampered Macri’s efforts to push through previous budget cuts, particularly to social spending.
Last year, attempts to cut pension benefits were met with large protests with security forces using tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators.
The CGT warned that if the strikes do not influence the government’s course of action, it can expect growing protests in the next months, and if they still see no response, they will call for indefinite strikes to force Macri to negotiate with workers.
“Unemployment, an increase in food prices, currency devaluation…this will affect the life of the millions of people that live under the poverty line,” Jorge Castro, an Argentina-based political analyst told Al Jazeera.
Medio millón de trabajadores y trabajadoras en la calle, columnas desde una Plaza de Mayo desbordada hasta la Av. 9 de Julio. Un pueblo organizado, digno, de pie y en lucha para decirle basta al ajuste neoliberal, para decirle basta a Macri y al FMI. #ParoGeneral pic.twitter.com/ZZyANBmVHh
— Daniel Catalano (@DanielCatalano_) September 24, 2018
Translation: Half a million workers on the street … an organized, dignified country, standing and struggling to say enough to the neoliberal adjustment, to say enough to Macri and the IMF – Daniel Catalano, Secretary General of the State Workers Association.
Argentina is Latin America’s third-largest economy and currently has an unemployment rate of about 9 percent, and poverty stands at a 32.6 percent.
According to the World Bank, more than 28 percent of its 43 million people live in poverty.