January 8, 1999

Argentine supermarkets want protection from mobs

                  BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -- Argentina's biggest supermarket chains have
                  asked the government for protection after a spate of incidents in which mobs
                  of poor people have forced them to give out food, the industry said Friday.

                  Crowds of several hundred people have appeared at supermarkets
                  throughout Argentina run by big international chains like U.S.-owned
                  Wal-Mart and France's Carrefour, Dutch-owned Disco and Argentina's
                  Norte to demand food several times since just before Christmas.

                  Police mostly stood by and watched, forcing store managers to give in and
                  send truckloads of food such as rice and cake out to the marginal
                  neighbourhoods where the crowds live, an official at one of the big chains
                  told Reuters.

                  Although not nearly so serious or widespread, the incidents recall the looting
                  of supermarkets by hungry crowds in the late 1980s when Argentina was
                  wracked by hyperinflation and economic chaos. The new raids have
                  occurred around the capital Buenos Aires, in Cordoba in central Argentina
                  and in Neuquen, in the far southern region of Patagonia.

                  The supermarkets have requested a meeting with Interior Minister Carlos
                  Corach to demand better security.

                  "In one incident, 300 people went into our supermarket and began to shout
                  and demonstrate and say that if we gave them no food they would not
                  leave," the supermarket official said.

                  "The government says you must not give them food. It's easy to say that, but
                  we aren't the government and we haven't got police enforcement powers,"
                  he added.

                  The official blamed some of the demonstrations on leftist activists.
                  Government Security Secretary Miguel Angel Toma accused small extremist
                  groups of trying to stir up trouble ahead of Argentina's presidential election in

                  "We don't take away anything in our pockets or in our hands. What we take
                  we carry in our stomachs," one of the leaders of the supermarket raids, Raul
                  Castells, a well known far-left activist, told newspaper Pagina 12.

                  Argentina, one of the world's largest food exporters and producers and 50
                  years ago one of the world's richest countries, has seen steep rises in
                  poverty in recent decades.

                  President Carlos Menem's Peronist government has restored economic
                  growth and eliminated inflation which long strangled the poor, but
                  unemployment is stuck at more than 12 percent.

                  The minimum monthly wage is only $200 in a country where a large minority
                  enjoys Western standards of living.

                   Copyright 1999 Reuters.