Argentine supermarkets want protection from mobs
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
Although not nearly so serious or widespread, the incidents recall the
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,
we aren't the government and we haven't got police enforcement powers,"
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
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.