By Miguel Lo Bianco and Lucila Sigal
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentine protesters burned tires, hurled stones and smashed windows outside the Congress building on Thursday, railing against a $45 billion agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
As lawmakers inside debated the IMF bill, expected to be approved by the lower house in the early hours of Friday, thousands of people marched through the streets of the capital. There were pockets of violence and some clashes with police.
Protesters with drums chanted as others held signs saying “IMF out” and “No to the IMF deal.” The staff-level agreement was struck by the government last week after over a year of talks and now needs congressional approval.
A few people set fires in the streets, including burning U.S. flags, while others set up giant letters spelling out “IMF” draped in stars and stripes, a reflection of how many people locally see the global lender and Washington, the IMF’s largest shareholder, as intertwined.
“It is a colonization agreement, which can only bring more crisis, more adjustment, more poverty,” said Romina Del Pla, a lower house lawmaker for the far-left Workers’ Party. “It will herald the conditions for a popular rebellion.”
Argentina faces some $18 billion in repayments to the IMF this year which it cannot pay after years of economic crisis, as well as inflation running at 50%, dwindling foreign currency reserves, and a weak peso propped up by currency controls.
Officials say the new deal, which replaces a failed $57 billion program struck in 2018, is key to averting default to the IMF. But it comes with economic targets, including reducing the country’s fiscal deficit and cutting energy subsidies.
The IMF has a mottled history in the South American grains producing country, where many still blame it for pushing austerity measures that exacerbated a deep economic crisis in 2001-2002 that dragged millions into poverty.
Presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti said the deal was the “best possible solution” to the country’s crisis and urged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to get behind it.
“It is important to have this solution to avoid a catastrophe,” ruling party deputy Sergio Massa, president of the lower house, told reporters on Thursday.
(Reporting by Miguel Lo Bianco; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Rosalba O’Brien)