- Development & Aid
- Economy & Trade
- Human Rights
- Global Governance
- Civil Society
Thursday, November 30, 2023
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 6 2023 (IPS) - It’s a Monday morning in April on Florida, a pedestrian street in the heart of the Argentine capital, and a small crowd gathers outside the window of an electronic appliance store to watch a violent scene on a TV screen. But it is not part of any movie or series.
The scene, broadcast live, is happening a few kilometers away, in a poor suburb of Buenos Aires: colleagues of a city bus driver who was murdered during a robbery throw stones and fists at the Minister of Security of the province of Buenos Aires, Sergio Berni, who had come to talk and offer the government’s condolences in front of the cameras.
No one seems surprised among the office employees watching the scene on TV, and several make no effort to hide a certain sense of satisfaction that other ordinary people have decided to take action against a representative of the political leadership, the target of widespread discontent, as reflected by the opinion polls.
“This was bound to happen sometime, if the politicians earn a fortune for doing nothing and we work all day to earn a pittance… And on top of that you go out on the street and they kill you just to rob you,” comments one of the viewers, as the rest listen approvingly.
The scene reflects the climate of tension and the sense of being fed-up that is felt in large swathes of Argentine society, in the midst of a long, deep economic crisis, which in the last five years has constantly chipped away at the purchasing power of wages, due to inflation that occasionally stops growing for a couple of months, only to surge again with greater force.
If there was room for modest optimism in 2022, as the result of a recovery in economic activity after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems distant today, since the beginning of this year brought news that reflects the magnitude of the breakdown of the social fabric in this Southern Cone country.
On Mar. 31, the official poverty rate for the second half of 2022 was announced: 39.2 percent of the population, or 18.1 million people in this South American country of 46 million, according to the most up-to-date figures.
Since 2021 ended with a poverty rate of 37.3 percent, this means that in one year a million people were thrown into poverty, despite the fact that the economy, thanks to the rebound in post-pandemic activity, grew 4.9 percent, above the average for the region, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
But these data are already old and the figures for 2023 will be worse due to the acceleration of inflation, which is surprising even by the standards of Argentina, a country all too accustomed to this problem.
The price rise in February reached 6.6 percent, exceeding the 100 percent year-on-year rate (from March 2022 to February 2023) for the first time since 1991.
When you look a little closer, perhaps the worst aspect is that prices grew much more than the average, 9.8 percent, for food, the biggest expense for the lowest-income segments of society.
To this picture must be added an extreme drought that has affected the harvest of soybeans and other grains, which are the largest generator of foreign exchange in Argentina. The estimates of different public and private organizations on how much money the country will lose this year in exports range between 10 and 20 billion dollars.
This is one of the reasons why the World Bank, which had forecast two percent growth for the Argentine economy this year, revised its estimates at the beginning of April and concluded that there will be no economic growth in 2023.
About 15 kilometers from the center of Buenos Aires, in the Loyola neighborhood, the cold statistics on the economy translate into ramshackle homes separated by narrow alleyways, with piles of garbage at the corners and skinny dogs wandering among the children playing in the street.
In a truck trailer that carries advertising for a campaigning politician, a dentist extracts teeth free of charge for local residents, who have increasing problems accessing health services.
The neighborhood is in San Martín, one of the municipalities on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Eleven million people live in these working-class suburbs (almost a quarter of the country’s total population), where the poverty rate is 45 percent, higher than the national average.
“I have never before seen what is happening today. Before, only men went out to pick through the garbage (for recyclable materials to sell), because the idea was that the streets weren’t for women. But today the women also go out,” Luis Ángel Gómez, 58, born and raised in the neighborhood, who does building work and other odd jobs, told IPS.
Indeed, the carts of the “cartoneros” or garbage pickers, which used to be seen only in the most densely populated working-class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires after sunset, when the building managers take out the garbage, are now seen throughout the city and at all hours.
Gómez has been running a soup kitchen in Loyola for 10 years, where he provides lunch three times a week and afternoon snacks twice a week to more than 70 children and adolescents. It is in a room with a tin roof, a couple of gas stoves and photos of smiling boys and girls as decoration.
“The municipality gives me some merchandise: 20 kilos of ground meat and two boxes of chicken per month. Besides that, I cook with donations,” said Gómez. “This box was given to me by the company that collects garbage in the municipality,” he added, pointing to cartons of long-life milk.
But the soup kitchen cannot meet all the needs of the local residents, said Gómez. “My concern was to give the kids a better future and I fed them until they were 14 or 15 years old. Today I also have to help their parents and grandparents.”
The middle class on the slide
The crisis has picked up speed since 2018 and deepened with the pandemic, but Argentina is going through a period of stagnation, with low economic growth and very little formal private sector job creation for more than a decade.
A study recently presented by the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina (UCA) shows that since 2010 access to food, healthcare, employment and social security have steadily worsened, despite social assistance, affecting five million households out of a total of 12 million.
“There is growing social polarization in Argentina, with an increasingly weak middle class. Each crisis leaves another part of society outside the system,” sociologist Agustín Salvia, director of the UCA’s Social Observatory on Argentine Social Debt, which is considered a chief reference point in the country, told IPS.
Salvia explained that the improvement in economic activity after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic drove the creation of new jobs until the third quarter of last year, although poverty grew just the same because they were almost all precarious low-wage jobs.
“The post-pandemic recovery cycle is over. Since the last quarter of 2022 there has been no more job creation, which added to inflation will cause poverty to grow in 2023,” added Salvia.
The expert said structural or chronic poverty used to be 25 or 30 percent in Argentina, but has now held steady at 40 or 45 percent, with a deterioration marked by the stagnation of quality employment, which has pushed many formerly middle-class families into poverty.
IPS is an international communication institution with a global news agency at its core,
raising the voices of the South
and civil society on issues of development, globalisation, human rights and the environment
Copyright © 2023 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved. - Terms & Conditions
You have the Power to Make a Difference
Would you consider a $20.00 contribution today that will help to keep the IPS news wire active? Your contribution will make a huge difference.