Argentina’s social movements block over 500 roads countrywide

Multiple security forces were deployed to clamp down on protesters who were cutting roads to decry hunger and austerity

This article was last updated at 7:46 p.m. on March 18, 2024

Social movements protested and marched all over Argentina, starting at 10 a.m. Monday morning. Demonstrators blocked key access points to Buenos Aires and other major cities demanding food and better conditions for informal workers. Members of the Military Police, Naval Prefecture, Federal Police, and City Police were deployed in response, implementing Security Minister Patricia Bullrich’s “anti-protest” security protocol.

Images on the C5N news channel showed officers using tear gas and a water cannon and hitting protesters, forming lines to keep them from occupying the highway bridge near Puente Pueyrredón and Puente Saavedra. The two bridges and Liniers were the focal points of standoffs between police and demonstrators. 

“The security operation by Federal Police and the joint forces of Gendarmerie and Prefecture clearly failed to prevent us from cutting off the accesses we hoped to,” said Belliboni, leader of the Polo Obrero social organization. He told the Herald that several people suffered light injuries and burns due to gases sprayed by security forces, with a few committed to the Fiorito Hospital. 

City Police told the Herald that there were no arrests or injuries but that no official information would be provided regarding the operation.

Buenos Aires City Mayor Jorge Macri touted the security operation as a success on X (formerly Twitter). “We don’t negotiate order,” Macri said. “Thanks to the professional actions of the Ministry of Security and the City Police, this morning, we prevented several columns of picketers from entering the City of Buenos Aires.”

However, Belliboni pointed out that Monday’s protest was about blocking access points to the city, not entering Buenos Aires itself. 

Dozens of social movements participated in the protests, including the Popular Economy Workers’ Union (UTEP by its Spanish initials), La Poderosa, Libres del Sur, Frente Popular Darío Santillán, state workers’ unions, and the Argentine Workers’ Central (CTA in Spanish). 

“Faced with roadblocks and marches all over the country […] Javier Milei and Patricia Bullrich alongside the Buenos Aires City government and some provincial governments respond with batons, gases and rubber bullets,” said a press release by police watchdog group CORREPI. The group also used their social media to denounce an arrest in Santiago del Estero province and a violent police crackdown in Mendoza.

“The same speed with which [the government] advances on the few subsistence resources we have left, is the same with which it is repressing, preventing anger from taking to the streets and frightening us. It is with unity, organization, and action, on all fronts, that we must stop this madness.”

“Millions of families can’t even eat one meal a day,” UTEP leader Alejandro Gramajo said. “We are going through a humanitarian crisis in terms of food, the government should reconsider its decision to defund soup kitchens.”

The unions and social movements are also protesting the Javier Milei administration’s decision to close Potenciar Trabajo, a welfare program that paid a monthly sum and encouraged recipients to finish school or receive vocational training in exchange for working in community projects.

Potenciar Trabajo was recently replaced by two programs that share similar objectives and conditions: Volver al Trabajo and Acompañamiento Social. Potenciar Trabajo recipients are being transferred to them. The human capital ministry said the main reason for closing Potenciar Trabajo was to remove social movements as an intermediary between the government and the recipients in order to “reduce their ability to control and manage resources at their discretion.”

UTEP considered this “a constant attack and stigmatization of popular economy workers” and criticized the government’s decision to stop public works in poor neighborhoods. Some of these works were to improve the quality of homes and install sewer systems.

Food and services prices have skyrocketed since Milei took office in December after he applied a series of economic deregulation measures. According to the INDEC statistics bureau, the basic food basket for a family of four was AR$322,851 in February. The minimum wage currently sits at AR$202,800.

In Buenos Aires, Monday’s roadblocks affected four access points: Puente Pueyrredón, which connects Avellaneda and BA city; the intersection of Route 3 and General Paz, where Buenos Aires borders La Matanza; General Paz and Rivadavia avenues, close to Liniers; and Puente Saavedra, in north Buenos Aires. Access to Aeroparque Jorge Newbery airport in Buenos Aires was also blocked by outsourced Aerolíneas Argentinas workers, protesting against 40 lay-offs and the potential privatization of the state-owned airline. 

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