|Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, to protest against the government.
Angered by rising inflation, violent crime and high-profile corruption, and worried that President Cristina Fernandez will try to hold onto power indefinitely by ending constitutional term limits, the protesters marched on an iconic obelisk in the city, chanting: «We’re not afraid».
Demonstrators reached the presidential residence banging on pots, whistling and holding banners that read: «Stop the wave of Argentines killed by crime, enough with corruption and say no to the constitutional reform».
It was thought to be the country’s largest anti-government protest in more than a decade.
«The people don’t feel represented by anyone,» said protest organiser Mariana Torres, an accountant and mother-of-three.
«It’s a complaint everyone has. The people are begging for the opposition to rise up, and for the government to listen.»
Economics and crime
Al Jazeera’s Adam Raney, in Buenos Aires, said protesters had blocked the 14-lane Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the widest roads in the world.
«People are angry over many, many things,» he reported from a rooftop overlooking the crowd.
«They’re angry about a number of economic issues: rising inflation – the government says the inflation rate is at an annual rate of 10 per cent, which would be pretty bad, but private analysts peg it at around 25 per cent.
«They’re angry at rising crime. They feel very insecure here, that there’s a rise in violent crime and they don’t think the government is doing enough to protect them
«They’re also angry about restrictions now to buy dollars. The reason many people here want to buy dollars is that it’s a way to shelter their savings from inflation – inflation with the dollar is nothing like it is with the peso.»
‘No more lying’
Kirchner has suggested that too much of Argentina’s political rhetoric masks darker motivations that few want to openly express.
«No more lying,» she said during a speech on Wednesday. «It’s all that I ask of all the Argentines, that we speak the truth.
«The only thing I ask of each one of the Argentines, and mostly of political class, is that each one says what they really think and want for this country, with sincerity, and that no one will be offended,» she said.
But the president also issued a warning to those gathering Thursday night.
«Don’t anyone think that I’m going to go against my own politics, those that I’ve defended since I was 15 years old. These are the politics I believe in and this is the country I believe in.»
As a result of the rampant inflation, real estate transactions have slowed to a standstill, given the difficulty of estimating the future value of contracts. And unions that won 25 per cent pay hikes only a few months ago are threatening to strike again unless the government comes up with more.
«There’s a lot of vitriol here against Christina Kirchner,» said our correspondent. «They just don’t like her, a number of these people. She was elected about a year ago with 54 per cent of the vote. Lately, polls show she has lost a lot of that support. Despite that, she has maintained a very tough posture against this movement – not bending, not saying she understands any of their issues at all.»
«The government say this is a movement of the elite, of the upper-class, and that it’s not a movement that is concerned about the need to help the millions of poor Argentines.»
Protesters disagreed with that sentiment.
«If you go to the march you won’t find only middle-class people,» organiser Torres said. «You’ll see everything from a professional to a low-wage worker to retirees on minimal pensions.»
Buenos Aires Senator Anibal Fernandez, a former cabinet chief and minister of justice in Kirchner’s administration, accused organisers of being funded by wealthy landowners and supporters of the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
Pro-government voices say what is really at stake is the model of social inclusion pursued by Kirchner and her late husband Nestor Kirchner – whose presidency directly preceded the current leadership – such as providing cash payments to the poor and unemployed, and directing billions of dollars from the nationalised pension fund to social welfare projects.
The model puts Argentina’s development needs ahead of international commitments, and has made sure that the country’s state-controlled oil company and airline respond first to the needs of its citizens, government supporters say.
The protests, known as cacerolazos, hold deep symbolism for Argentines, who recall all too well the country’s economic debacle of a decade ago. The «throw them all out» chants of that era’s pot-banging marches forced presidents from office and left Argentina practically ungovernable until Nestor Kirchner assumed the presidency in 2003.