Argentine unions, small firms march against Macri’s austerity program

April 4, 2019

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentine unions, small firms and activists took to the streets in central Buenos Aires on Thursday to protest austerity measures under President Mauricio Macri, which they blame for amplifying hardships for workers and sapping economic growth.

Thousands of marchers, shepherded by police, walked along roads near the center of the capital carrying colorful banners with slogans asking for “decent work,” “better salaries” and “increased national production.”

Argentina’s leaders have been tightening economic policy to meet obligations under a $56.3 billion deal the recession-hit country reached with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last year. Steep inflation has also hit individual spending power hard.

On Thursday several streets in downtown Buenos Aires were fenced in and there was a strong police presence on some corners. Demonstrations have increased in recent months.

The regular marches have ramped up the pressure on the ruling party, whose approval rating has tumbled this year, a concern for Macri ahead of national elections in October.

Despite some signs of an upturn and an expected bumper grains harvest, the Argentine economy has been weighed down by sky-high interest rates, a weak peso and inflation running at an annual rate of more than 50 percent.

Macri’s critics blame his IMF-backed austerity program, designed to reduce government debt. Macri’s government and the IMF contends the measures are necessary to rebalance the economy.

Ordinary Argentines are feeling the pinch, with higher utility bills and weak domestic demand hitting local firms. Around one-third of the country is now living below the poverty line, while homelessness is rising.

Along with the street demonstrations, factions of the Peronist opposition in Congress plan to discuss a series of bills to raise pensions and rein in price hikes.

(Reporting by Gabriel Burin and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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