By Maria Belen Liotti
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Thousands of frustrated Argentines clogged downtown Buenos Aires on Wednesday in raucous street protests, demanding government action to boost salaries and unemployment benefits battered by surging consumer prices and a weakening peso currency.
The South American nation’s economic crisis has seen the ranks of the poor swell to 40% of the population as President Alberto Fernandez struggles to find solutions to an annual inflation rate hovering around 70%.
Beating drums and waving the flags of unions and a range of left-wing groups, most aligned with Fernandez’s ruling Peronists, protesters reached the Casa Rosada presidential palace and the Congress, after snaking through the capital’s main avenues and bringing traffic to a standstill.
Bundled-up protesters braving a chilly, windy day, called for wage hikes in line with inflation, plus more social spending to alleviate widespread economic pain.
“We can’t continue with this level of inflation where everyday we keep losing parts of our salary,” said Pablo Moyano, head of the CGT workers’ union that mostly represents government employees.
Prices at grocery stores and shops are regularly updated to reflect galloping inflation, which last month alone rose 7.4%, the highest monthly rise in two decades.
Speaking to a crowd of marchers, Moyano, himself a Peronist, asked Fernandez to take control of prices.
Other union leaders echoed Moyano’s sentiments.
“There’s no work, salaries just don’t stretch far enough, and there are constant price mark-ups,” said Ramon Luque, head of a union representing cardboard and paper workers.
(Reporting by Maria Belen Liotti; Additional reporting by Horacio Soria; Editing by Carolina Pulice and Sandra Maler)