As inflation continues to rise in Argentina, many are struggling to pay for essentials like groceries and medicines.
Buenos Aires, Argentina – A cluster of large public housing complexes in the Argentine capital, Villa Lugano was founded in the 1900s by a Swiss man who dreamed of building a neighborhood comparable to his home in Lugano, Switzerland.
Today it has become a symbol of the country’s working class — and it’s here that I recently met Stella Maris Acosta and Walmiran Aramburu, two retirees living on the minimum monthly rate of around $170 each.
In a country where the monthly inflation rate has reached about 7 percent, their income is not enough to survive. Stella Maris and Walmiran live in a modest apartment and struggle to pay the bills.
“The only dream I had was to own a house and now look at us,” Stella Maris told me. “I’m still paying the mortgage, utilities and all the medicines we need – we can’t buy enough groceries.”
Then she got up and went to the fridge, where she proudly presented some of the vegetables she said she would pluck from the trash, drip in vinegar and clean before eating. “People throw away food, but it can be saved and used,” Stella Maris said. “I can turn this tomato into sauce, bake it and other things.”
Argentina is an agricultural powerhouse, producing food for 400 million people — yet amid soaring inflation and the daily struggles of the likes of Stella Maris and Walmiran, many here say the country’s ruling class has failed them time and time again.
People are used to living with high inflation; this has been a problem for decades. But with the rate expected to reach 100 percent by the end of 2022, Argentines are hoping for miracles.
Unions are strong and pushing for wages to keep pace with inflation. Agreements were reached this year for a 65 percent pay rise and that’s one of the reasons why the government is still in control. There is anger, yes, and the government has lost support. But they are still in power.
The problem is that retirees – some 7 million, 86 per cent of whom get the minimum each month – can rarely take to the streets demanding a better income.
“Inflation, what it does is that you pay the new prices with an old salary. It happens to all workers,” Eugenio Semino, a public defender of the elderly in Buenos Aires, told Al Jazeera.
He explained that although the unions have agreed to pay rises, that jump is already being outpaced by projected inflation, which “will be close to 100 [percent]“.
The Argentine government knows that a major battle over inflation is at hand. The problem is that until recently, President Alberto Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner couldn’t agree on the antidote to combat it.
Alberto Fernandez had tried to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to cut subsidies and government spending, while Fernandez de Kirchner opposed many of his measures and insisted that inflation had to be tackled differently. But when she was President of Argentina until 2014, she couldn’t find a solution either.
Now Sergio Massa is the new economy minister – the third to take office in August alone after a series of government reshuffles.
A veteran politician with presidential aspirations, he has promised to boost the ailing economy. Massa just returned from Washington, DC, where he was desperately trying to find investors and support for many of his policies. But whether his plan will work remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Argentina’s pensioners continue to struggle under the weight of the crisis.
Stella Maris has been working since she was 15 years old. She has worked as a maid and nurse but now has diabetes. Walmiran, who came to Argentina from Uruguay in the 1970s, worked as a bouncer all his life. He too now has health problems, including epilepsy.
Despite these challenges, Stella Maris and Walmiran still go out every day to try to earn a living. They scour trash cans for bronze, copper, aluminum, and food. If they’re lucky, they can earn an extra $80 each month by selling the recyclable materials.
They say Argentina’s political class has failed them. They are forced to take to the streets to survive as inflation continues to rise. But they are not humiliated by it. They say it’s a job and right now it’s the only thing they can do to help them make it by the end of the month.