Looting in Buenos Aires

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 19 07:30:00 MST 2001


Argentine economic tensions spill over into looting near Buenos Aires
By Bill Corimer, Associated Press
The Independent, 19 December 2001

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to quell a looting rampage near
the capital by about 2,000 people who pried open metal gates to shops and
carted away everything from food to clothing and shoes as social tensions
spilled over from an economic crisis.

The latest unrest came after a weekend of scattered supermarket lootings in
some of Argentina's hardest–hit cities that followed a partial freeze on
banking and other government restrictions.

Hundreds of people, some shouting angrily against the austerity government
of President Fernando De la Rua, gathered in a rundown shopping district
late Tuesday in San Miguel, on the northwestern fringes of greater Buenos
Aires.

Demonstrators lit trash fires in the streets and looted small shops of
everything from food and soft drinks to clothing and shoes. Television
broadcast scenes of fires lit by protesters who twisted open metal shop
gates and shattered plate glass windows.

Middle–age women with shopping bags also took part, picking up goods
scattered on the streets.

"We don't have any money, we are hungry and we HAVE to eat!" one
unidentified woman in the growing crowd shouted.

Police using tear gas and rubber bullets clashed with the crowd, which
later was estimated to have swelled to 2,000 people.

Police said five officers were injured, but they had no reports on any
injuries among the crowd, which eventually dispersed.

A police official, Juan Alberto Saiz, told the newspaper La Nacion that
some 2,000 people had taken part in the disturbance and that some 40 shops
were looted but that damage was being assessed on Wednesday.

The area where the looting occurred is located along a broad avenue in an
area where unemployment has soared well above the nationwide average.

Early Wednesday, riot police continued to patrol the area after the looting
was put down, some riding in pickup trucks or walking the streets in long
columns as trash fires in the streets continued to smolder.

The spasm of violence seen in San Miguel and other poor communities
nationwide began late last week with supermarket lootings in Rosario and
Mendoza, two major provincial cities hard–hit by unemployment.

Last week, De la Rua's beleaguered government announced that the jobless
rate had risen above 18 percent, still barely a whisker below the record
unemployment spike recorded in 1995 after the Mexican peso crisis.

His government has announced eight highly unpopular austerity plans during
its two years in power, including a 13 percent cutback in state worker
wages and moves to slash pensions and raise taxes.

Hoping to blunt the rising hunger and poverty of a country now four years
into a withering recession, the government this week began disbursing more
than 400,000 pounds (200,000 kilograms) of food aid – mostly meat, rice,
powdered milk and vegetables.

The anger and discontent have ratcheted up after powerful labor bosses
punished the government with a 24–hour national strike last Thursday that
crippled public transport and most economic activity.

At the root of the crisis is a recession triggered by years of public
overspending and heavy borrowing that has left Argentina on the brink of
defaulting on its staggering dlrs 132 billion public debt.

The 18.3 percent jobless rate has left nearly 15 million of the 36 million
population at or below the poverty line as consumer spending has been
chocked off and industrial activity plummeted 11 percent last month alone.

Buenos Aires streets saw several protests in recent days including an angry
march Tuesday by Argentine shoemakers who complained that a flood of cheap
Brazilian imports was pushing them out of business. They lit ablaze a
Christmas tree decorated with Brazilian footwear as ornaments.

Monday saw a daylong strike by freight and passenger trains nationwide that
stranded thousands of commuters in a dispute with the government and the
private railroad operators.

Meanwhile, Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo has said he wanted to slash
more than dlrs 9 billion from his 2002 budget, cutting public spending from
dlrs 49 billion to dlrs 39.6 billion. But the proposed cuts have angered
some opposition lawmakers, who worry further austerity could spark wider
unrest.


Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org


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