Looting, rioting in Argentina
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) --Police stormed a city hall in western
Wednesday where rioting workers had trashed their offices, smashing and overturning
furniture. The frenzy was the latest as anger over a deep economic crisis boiled over
around the country.
Earlier Wednesday, police firing tear gas quelled a looting rampage
by some 2,000
people in a commercial district near the capital, Buenos Aires.
Wednesday's unrest came after a weekend of scattered supermarket lootings
across the country. Argentines are desperate after four years of recession that has
pushed unemployment above 18 percent. The government has partially frozen
accounts to halt a run on the banks.
In the western city of Cordoba, hometown of embattled President Fernando
Rua and his increasingly unpopular Economy Minister, Domingo Cavallo, angry
clerks in City Hall rioted in their offices on Wednesday.
Television reports showed riot police entering and lining up behind
smoke-filled offices to secure the building. There were no immediate reports of
casualties in Cordoba, but police said five officers were injured in the looting in the
run-down shopping district of San Miguel, on the northwestern rim of greater
Buenos Aires. They had no reports on injuries among the crowd.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as the crowd, gathering since
began looting shops of food and clothing early Wednesday. Hundreds of people
smashed windows and pried open metal shop fronts, carting away slabs of meat and
plastic bags full of food and clothing.
The looters lit trash fires in the streets where women with shopping
bags picked up
"We don't have any money, we are hungry and we have to eat!" shouted
The looting took part along a broad avenue where unemployment has soared
above the national average.
A police official, Juan Alberto Saiz, told the newspaper La Nacion that
people had taken part in the disturbance and that some 40 shops were looted.
The violence in San Miguel and other poor communities across Argentina
last week with supermarket lootings in Rosario and Mendoza, two major provincial
cities hard-hit by unemployment.
De la Rua's beleaguered government has announced eight highly unpopular
plans during its two years in power, including a 13 percent cut in the wages of state
workers and moves to slash pensions and raise taxes.
Hoping to blunt the rising hunger and poverty, the government this week
disbursing more than 400,000 pounds of food aid -- mostly meat, rice, powdered
milk and vegetables.
The food packages destined for Argentina's poorest communities came
Minister Jose Dumon acknowledged Tuesday that "social tensions" exist in
Argentina's powerful unions called a 24-hour national strike last Thursday
crippled public transport and most economic activity.
At the root of the crisis is a recession triggered by years of public
heavy borrowing that has left Argentina on the brink of defaulting on its staggering
$132 billion public debt.
The 18.3 percent jobless rate has left nearly 15 million of the 36 million
or below the poverty line as consumer spending has been choked off and industrial
activity plummeted 11 percent last month.
Buenos Aires has seen several protests in recent days including a march
Argentine shoemakers who complained that a flood of cheap Brazilian imports was
pushing them out of business. They lit ablaze a Christmas tree decorated with
Brazilian footwear as ornaments.
Monday saw a daylong strike by freight and passenger trains that stranded
thousands of commuters.
Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo has said he wanted to slash the 2002
from $49 billion to $39.6 billion.
On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund turned up the heat on Argentina,
saying its economic policy was unsustainable.
Speaking in Washington, the Fund's chief economist, Kenneth Rogoff,
"it's clear that the mix of fiscal policy, debt, and the exchange rate regime is not
The IMF earlier this month held back $1.3 billion after Argentina failed
previously agreed upon budget deficit targets.
Finance Secretary Guillermo Mondino said Argentina desperately needed
support for an upcoming debt swap. Argentina is asking creditors to exchange
existing government debt for longer-term bonds with lower interest rates.
"It's clear that if we don't have an orderly debt restructuring, we're
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press