The sounds of clinking pots and pans have filled the streets of the Argentinean capital, Buenos Aires, since June of this year. Argentineans are growing increasingly unhappy with the state of their nation—particularly its soaring inflation, crime rates, corruption, and current economic policies. The situation is escalating as mass protests were held across the nation and across the globe on November 8, followed by a general strike in Buenos Aires on November 21.
The main target of these protests is the government led by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Fernandez is currently serving her second democratically elected presidential term and is in the process of making constitutional changes to allow for a third term. While she won the second term in a landslide election, her popularity has declined drastically due in large part to the country’s economic situation. Argentina was in a period of strong economic growth in 2011, the time of Fernandez’s second election, but has since been experiencing sluggish growth. Many are blaming this on the government’s economic policy, while others place blame on the current global economic downturn.
President Fernandez is moving forward with two crucial changes to voting and election laws stated in the Argentinean constitution. First, as of November 1, the voting age was lowered from eighteen to sixteen, expanding the electorate by more than a million voters. With midterm elections next year, this appears to be a move by Fernandez to increase her chances for a third term, as she is generally favored by young people. Along with this amendment, Fernandez and her supporters have proposed constitutional reforms that would allow her to run for a third presidential term, something that is currently illegal.
A legislation that has also led people to question Fernandez’s motives is a media law that claims to promote diversity and pluralism. In reality, the government has used the law in order to seize control of Grupo Clarin, the nation’s largest media group. The corporation owns a great number of media outlets in Argentina, and is an independent source. If successful, the government would then own the majority of media sources in the nation. Some see the government’s move to revoke Clarin’s licenses and dismantle the company as a positive step for freedom of speech due to its stated goal of pluralism, however others see it as unfair political pressure toward media in the region.
The country’s soaring inflation is another factor causing unrest in the population. Argentina’s reported rate of inflation is around twelve percent, but many private economists claim these numbers to be false. The IMF has given Argentina three months to provide better estimates. High inflation affects many workers’ purchasing power, and some are calling for lowered income taxes to compensate.
Despite the fact that voicing government opposition is generally and historically considered risky in Argentina, at this point many citizens have spoken out. Argentineans organized en masse soon after the voting age legislation was passed. On November 8, hundreds of thousands of people of all ages protested publicly, calling for change and denouncing President Fernandez. Other cities around the world showed their solidarity with the cause—pots and pans could be heard in cities such as Miami, New York, London, Paris, and Rome.
Some claim that class is central to the conflict, and that protesters represent a right-wing effort against President Fernandez. According to a few sources, the majority of demonstrators come from middle to upper-class backgrounds. Under Fernandez’s leadership there has been increased public spending for programs that are intended to benefit the lower class, policies which right-wing Argentinians generally do not support. Conservatives that fear a further expansion of the public sphere and who favor a more capitalist economic model make up a large part of the total protesters.
While the protests began as nonpartisan demonstrations, opposition leaders have made themselves known. One of the main opposition voices is that of Pablo Moyano, a former ally of Fernandez and leader of Argentina’s General Workers’ Foundation, a large union of Argentinean workers. Moyano and some other former supporters of Fernandez severed ties with the President earlier this year due to concerns with how she was dealing with the labour movement.
Government disapproval and general unrest has grown, culminating on Tuesday, November 20 in a general strike that halted most of the public transport and grain exports in the capital city. Normally a bustling port city, as grain exports are central to the Argentinean economy, Buenos Aires was relatively still on Tuesday. Bus drivers, train conductors, port, airline, and bank workers as well as farmers called for a 24-hour general strike in protest of economic policies and taxation. Many main routes in and out of the city were blocked, and banks, courts, and schools were also closed. The people are protesting both high income taxes and high export taxes, all of which are tied into the issues of high inflation and political corruption.