BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Thousands of people flooded the streets of Argentina’s capital Thursday night in one of the country’s biggest anti-government protests in more than a decade.
Angered by rising inflation, violent crime and high-profile corruption, and afraid President Cristina Fernandez will try to hold onto power indefinitely by ending constitutional term limits, the protesters marched on the iconic obelisk in Buenos Aires chanting: We’re not afraid.
Demonstrators reached the presidential residence in sizzling summer heat banging on pots, whistling and holding banners that read: Respect, transparency, freedom.
The demonstrations were also held in plazas nationwide and in Argentine embassies around the world.
The protests hold deep symbolism for Argentines, who recall all too well the country’s economic debacle of a decade ago. The throw them all out chants of that era’s pot-banging marches forced presidents from office and left Argentina practically ungovernable until Fernandez’s late husband, Nestor Kirchner, assumed the presidency in 2003.
The current president’s supporters sought to ignore two protests this year, but with the latest effort turning out huge numbers, her loyalists have come out in force.
They dismiss the protesters as part of a wealthy elite, or beholden to discredited opposition parties, and misled by news coverage from media companies representing the country’s most powerful economic interests.
The people don’t feel represented by anyone. It’s a complaint everyone has. The people are begging for the opposition to rise up, and for the government to listen, said Mariana Torres, an accountant and mother of three who is among the leading organizers of the protests.
Fernandez has suggested that too much of Argentina’s political rhetoric masks darker motivations that few want to openly express.
No more lying, she said during a speech Wednesday. It’s all that I ask of all the Argentines, that we speak the truth.
Crime is the biggest concern for many marchers.
Argentine newspapers and television programs provide a daily diet of stories about increasingly bold home-invasion robberies, in which armed bands tie up families until victims hand over the cash that many Argentines keep in their homes.
Many people stopped putting money in banks after the government froze savings accounts and devalued the currency in 2002. Adding to frustrations, the vast majority of the crimes are never solved, while the death toll is rising.