President Alberto Fernández said Tuesday he will punish speculators who hike the prices of food and essential products in a bid to cash in on the coronavirus pandemic.
The Frente de Todos leader said he would not tolerate price gouging and said his government he would tackle those seeking to take advantage of a public health crisis.
"I will not tolerate rogues taking us for fools," Fernández told Radio Metro in an interview Tuesday. He vowed to be "inflexible" on the issue, saying he would put "AFIP to work against [the] speculators."
"Barbijos [Face masks] went from 100 to 800 pesos and I will not allow it," he added. "I am going to put the AFIP [tax agency], the Labour Ministry and the Defence of Competition [Office] to punish those who improperly increase prices."
Fernández said that he would set up a comprehensive package of measures to put a lid on price rises for food, healthcare and cleaning products. He touched on alcohol en gel, or hand sanitiser gel, in particular, which has more than doubled in price amid shortages. The government has ordered that the product be restored to its cost before the crisis began.
"Against speculators, against those who raise prices and hoard merchandise to generate shortages, I will be merciless," he declared.
Argentines have been hit by falling purchasing power in recent years. Inflation in Argentina over the last 12 months has topped 50 percent, though prices increases have slowed to around two percent in February. In 2019, prices rose by 53.8 percent overall, while GDP contracted by 2.1 percent.
During the interview, the president was quizzed about recent footage and reports of incidents involving individuals who may have contracted Covid-19 but who had broken the government's mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The former Cabinet chief responded that "people must be persuaded to stay at home" and "enjoy" themselves. He went on to acknowledge, however, that the crisis created a significant "economic problem" for Argentina and its talks about to restructure its debt-load.
Fernández said he had discussed the issue with Economy Minister Martín Guzmán at the Olivos presidential residence on Sunday and vowed to inject resources into certain sectors. That, he admitted, would have an impact of Argentina's fiscal deficit.
"We do not want to paralyze the Argentine economy," said the president. "We need to inject resources so that the economy continues to move. But you do this and the fiscal scenario is complicated."
"For now, it is to activate the economy. And when you are in intensive care, you need to be calm. We have managed to stop the madness that we lived in November and December. We have to take care, so that March does not become inflationary thanks to speculators."
Fernández said social aid and credit programmes would be set up to help avoid companies going bankrupt and to avoid redundancies.
"This time, the most important thing is to maintain the economy, and not the deficit. In an emergency like this, what Argentina is going to need is more time," he said.
To date, Argentina has a total of 65 confirmed cases of coronavirus, two of whom later died.
"I am trying to make Argentines understand: the more drastic we are in this initial stage, the faster we are going to get through this pandemic," said Fernández.