BUENOS AIRES – Thousands of people took part on Thursday in a mass rally organized by labor unions and leftist political parties to protest conservative Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s austerity measures and call on people to rally around a unifying figure ahead of the October general election.
Jose Luis Lingeri, the social action secretary of the CGT, Argentina’s main labor federation, told EFE that “a divided Peronism” cannot defeat Macri.
He therefore called on the various factions of the opposition to put aside their differences and proposed former President Cristina Fernandez, who governed the nation from 2007-2015, as a possible unity candidate.
Referring to Argentina’s deep recession, high unemployment rate and the loss of purchasing power due to sky-high inflation and the steep depreciation of the peso that started in May 2018, he said an economic plan is needed that “emphasizes the social aspect ... so people can really have an adequate salary.”
The CTA labor confederation, for its part, urged Macri’s administration to declare a series of emergencies covering the areas of food and nutrition, public utilities, housing and employment.
The protesters set off from different points of Buenos Aires and converged on 9 de Julio Avenue, the capital’s main thoroughfare.
Thousands of people also made a stop along the route outside the Congress building, where an opposition bill aimed at stopping further utility rate hikes was being debated in the lower house.
The protesters took to the streets despite a heavy downpour that drenched the Argentine capital in the early-afternoon hours.
The head of the UOCRA construction workers’ union, Felix Morelli, said he hoped the rally would make the government realize that its austerity measures were sparking hunger, adding that a pre-election social pact was the best possible solution.
Despite the country’s severe economic woes, the opposition has not yet rallied around a single candidate ahead of this year’s presidential election.
Besides Fernandez, who faces several corruption trials this year, former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna is another of Macri’s potential rivals in the October balloting.
One of the three secretary-generals of the CGT, Hector Daer, told reporters during Thursday’s rally that Macri’s policies had ensured that “no one is doing well except for speculators.”
“This is the people demonstrating in the rain for a different economic and social model. This could be a launching pad for other measures,” said Daer, who did not rule out the possibility of a general strike.
He also said the “main objective is to create an alternative to the current government,” to generate an economic model that is different to the current one marked by “decline and exclusion.”
The Argentine peso suffered a new drop in value with respect to the United States dollar last week, falling to 44.90 pesos per greenback. It was roughly at that same level on Thursday.
Consumer prices rose 3.8 percent in February relative to January, while the rolling, 12-month inflation rate came in at 51.3 percent in February.
While the march was being held in Buenos Aires, Macri gave a press conference in the northeastern city of Gualeguaychu in which he said of the higher utility prices that “electricity costs money all around the world.”
“It’s something that all citizens around the globe try to consume very carefully,” the head of state said in reference to one of the chief motives of Thursday’s demonstration.
Utility rates have soared in Argentina due to subsidy cuts carried out as part of a deficit-reduction drive, which the International Monetary Fund demanded in exchange for a massive $56.3 billion bailout package approved last year.
Argentina sought the financing deal after months of steady depreciation of the peso, which continued to decline relative to the US dollar even after the Central Bank raised interest rates to sky-high levels.
Virginia Machado, an 82-year-old retiree, took part in Thursday’s march in Buenos Aires and carried a large sign expressing disapproval of Macri’s policies.
“He should change the entire economy. There needs to be work because we’re a hard-working people, no matter how much they’ve insulted us,” Machado said, lamenting that pensioners do not even have enough money for food.
“I’d like Cristina (Fernandez back in power) because she’s strong,” Machado said while flexing one of her biceps.
After mandatory primary balloting is held on Aug. 11 to choose the presidential candidates of each party, the presidency, half of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies (for four-year terms) and a third of the Senate seats (six-year terms) will be up for election on Oct. 27.
Governors’ races in most of the country’s provinces also will be decided that same day.