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Milei faces first street protest during general strike in Argentina

Photo: Luis Robayo Agence France-Presse Thousands of demonstrators showed their opposition to the austerity measures of the new government of President Javier Milei, in front of the Argentine Congress in Buenos Aires on Wednesday.

Eduardo de Miguel – Agence France-Presse and Tomás Viola – Agence France-Presse in Buenos Aires

January 24, 2024

  • Americas

Against “legalized looting”, against the “chainsaw”, tens of thousands of Argentines demonstrated on Wednesday against the austerity reforms of the ultraliberal Argentine President Javier Milei, faced with a general strike and his first major protest, after only one and a half months in power.

The immense Parliament Square, in Buenos Aires, filled over the hours with thousands of demonstrators, at the call of the union giant CGT (7 million affiliates claimed), pro central -Peronist (close to the previous government), which was joined by other unions, radical left movements and social organizations.

In the provinces, in Cordoba, Corrientes, La Rioja, Tucuman, among others, the Argentine media reported demonstrations drawing thousands of people.

After a month and a half of Milei's presidency, an avalanche of deregulatory bills, a 54% devaluation and actual or planned austerity measures, “we come to defend 40 years of democracy, to defend homeland,” CGT co-leader Hector Daer told the crowd.

“Walking around with a chainsaw is one thing, governing is another” which requires “showing moderation,” he said, targeting the head of state.

“The homeland is not for sale”, “Here, there is no caste! » “Eating is not a privilege” proclaimed banners and signs against the sound of firecrackers and bass drums, under the gaze of a giant puppet bearing the image of Milei.

“Show resistance”

In the capital, transport, shops and banks operated normally on Wednesday morning. The strike was scheduled to run from noon to midnight, but transportation was scheduled to run until 7 p.m., transporting protesters back and forth, before a total shutdown until midnight.

Air traffic was affected early on. The company Aerolineas Argentinas announced the cancellation of 295 flights, including international ones, “affecting more than 20,000 passengers”, at a cost “which will exceed $2.5 million”.

“The country is open, the country is not stopping! “, trumpeted Security Minister Patricia Bullrich.

“The mobilization is a minimum compared to the number of people who have decided to go to work” she assured, denouncing “mafia unions, managers of poverty […] who resist change democratically decided by society” .

While unions have predicted greater social conflict around March, under the cumulative effect of austerity and inflation, Wednesday “is a demonstration of force, of power from the street, the idea is to show what the social resistance will be to Milei”, political scientist Ivan Schuliaquer analyzed for AFP.

For the executive, “there is no alternative” to reforms and austerity, to clear the accounts of a structurally indebted country (budget deficit at 2.9% of GDP in 2023, 1 point above the target), and stabilize an economy strangled at 211% annual inflation.

He denounces unions “on the wrong side of history”, and the “fastest strike in history”, announced at the end of December: 18 days after Milei's inauguration. “Absolute nonsense” while reforms follow “the democratic game” in Parliament.

There, the government is pushing to pass its gigantic reform package called the “Omnibus Law”, but the balance of parliamentary forces – Milei's party, La Libertad Avanza is only the third force in the two chambers – forces the executive to compromise.

Deputies warned

In recent negotiations with the opposition, he proposed withdrawing 141 of the 664 initial provisions. Privatizations (41 state-owned enterprises initially targeted), the indexation of pensions, the delegation of powers to the executive in the name of “economic emergency”, the resources of the provinces, are the main points of friction.

The Chamber of Deputies was to examine a first version of the text on Thursday, and the CGT urged parliamentarians “to decide whether they are on the side of the workers or whether they are betraying them.”

On a legal level, the “Decree of Necessity and Emergency” (DNU) published in mid-December, which sets out the general framework for reforms, also encounters pitfalls: it was the subject of more than 60 legal actions invoking its unconstitutionality.

Wednesday's mobilization was preceded by challenges to public order: the unions announced an “uncontrollable”, “peaceful” multitude, but disinclined to “walk wisely on the sidewalk”.

Ms. Bullrich promising to apply her “anti-blockade protocol”, which requires federal forces to intervene in the event of a traffic route being cut off.

“If we resisted the dictatorship which was a daily exercise of terror, how could we not confront this clown Bullrich ?” ironically said Rafael Klejzer, popular economy activist, who came demonstrate against “legalized looting of the economy.”

No clashes were reported after three hours of gathering as the crowd slowly began to disperse from Parliament Square.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116