For most people who tune into the nightly news or news online you're sure to be updated on the War in Iraq, China/Tibet situation, Serbia/Kosovo unrest, or even Britney Spears' debut as an actress. However, for anyone interested in checking out South American news lately, you may have noticed the latest political unrest in Argentina. Since the beginning of March, the government, under recently-elected President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has raised export taxes on soy, beaf and wheat products. This increase in export taxes on the farmers has been described by many locals and supporters of the farmers as crippling. The export taxes on beef and soybeans are now at 40% and 45%, respectively. Today is the 14th consecutive day of the farmers´strike and the effects are now being shown in supermarkets not only here in the capital but the rest of the country as well. The prices of meat, eggs, chicken, bread, etc. have jumped noticably in the last week alone in my mercado visits. Once again, the Republica de Argentina is politically unrest with its government practices.
President Fernandez addressed the country on this current lockout last night on live television. ¨No me voy a someter a ninguna extorsion,¨ declared the president (literal translation: I´m not going to submit to any extorsion). She defended her position as claiming that the agricultural sector is one of the country´s most profitable with world demand growing for Argentine wheat, beef, corn and soybeans. Her position is that the government will use this extra money for wealth redistribution such as education, infrastructure, etc. However, Argentina is one of the world´s top exporters of soya, wheat and beef and any prolonged conflict will definitely effect potential export earnings.
Following the President´s speech, the majority of the country erupted into protests. Here in Buenos Aires, I was very content staying inside as the housemates and I could hear the pots and pans banging through the streets. The largest gathering in the city was at Plaza de Mayo (plaza in front of the President´s home Casa Rosada) where protestors made their voice heard through the night setting off fireworks and banging pots and pans. Protests have taken over all over the country especially in the farmlands, campos, where highways have been closed or shutdown slowing traffic due to angry workers. See pics below
The local people I have discussed the issue with tell me this is the largest protest in years. I had a great conversation about this with my students tonight to get a better understanding of what the middle class is so upset about. Leandro, Emilio, and Rodolfo all agreed in sync that it's not so much about the tax increase for the rest of the middle class, they just don't trust the governments' redistribution policy. The money to be redistributed by the government from this tax increase is disgressional, therefore nobody knows what it's used for. For example, the rucous crowds at Plaza de Mayo started out at only protestors only later to be confronted by people supporting the government. Funny thing is the people supporting the government are the poor people with no employment. Supposedly the government pays them in subsidies such as paying them sums for representing the government in times of political unrest, sounds like the tax increase and redistribution of funds is going to a great cause right? My students also told me there is a saying here in Argentina with a rough translation goes something like "Don't feed the fish, feed the bait that catches the fish." The bait in this case would be the middle class people who go to work everyday and pay their due taxes.
It could get even scarier if neither side budges not only for us Argentines but for the rest of the world demanding beef, wheat, corn, etc. I´m hoping that our newly elected President can at least put down the strong front and just have a sit down with Eduardo Buzzi, President of the Argentine Agrarian Federation.
If this doesn´t happen, we may not be seeing any meat, eggs, chicken, wheat, etc in our markets anytime soon, then I´ll either be booking my ticket back home, become a vegetarian, or take part in our own version of fight against hunger.