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ARGENTINA | 20-05-2024 16:02

Milei government moves against Argentina's social organisations and picket groups

President Milei’s government is moving against Argentina’s influential social organisations and picket groups as social conflict rises in the nation.

President Javier Milei’s government is moving against Argentina’s influential social organisations and picket groups as social conflict rises in the nation.

Searches of houses of neighbourhood leaders and alleged “non-existent” soup kitchens are part of the latest battle between the liberal economist’s government and social leaders, who the Milei administration say extort members.

An investigation ordered by the Security Ministry is progressing in the courts that alleges beneficiaries of social aid were forced to attend protests, pay an fixed amount of money to the entity or work under threat that their welfare would be taken away.

In Argentina, social aid from the State has existed for over 150 years, but social programmes or plans, as they are currently known, were born with former president Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989). They have grown in size and have been transformed over decades, even though they were initially conceived as bonus payments and not a regular source of income, although sometimes they work that way.

Appearing before the Senate this week, Cabinet Chief Nicolás Posse claimed last Wednesday that the social organisations under inspection are the equivalent to a scheme of “modern slavery.”

The investigation started because of calls to the Milei goverrnment’s 134 denunciation hotline, which was enabled in December to report “irregularities.”

As a result, federal courts ordered 27 raids last Monday, searching members’ homes and establishments rented or owned by organisations including Movimiento Barrios de Pie, Frente Organizaciones en Lucha (FOL) and Polo Obrero.

The authorities of the groups deny the allegations against them and say they are a victim of “political persecution.”

“We deny all these atrocities,” said Eduardo Belliboni, the leader of Polo Obrero, last week.

He said that all “searches were conducted when it was still dark, which is prohibited in Argentina” and that the operations included “threats” and “intimidation.”

The Milei government claims it is seeking to end the middleman of social programmes, whom the President dubs the “managers of poverty.”

However, sociologist Santiago Poy, of the influential  Social Debt Observatory of Universidad Católica Argentina, explained that nearly all “allowances are given directly to beneficiaries.”

“In the case of the Potenciar Trabajo programme, there was a middleman to certify compensation,” said the researcher, who stressed it was the exception rather than the general rule. 

The Potenciar Trabajo plan, which had 1.6 million beneficiaries when it was eliminated back in April, provided monetary aid in exchange for the beneficiary providing a service to the community or training in some activity.

The government’s claims are based on that programme. Social organisations cannot cancel or grant social aid solely by themselves, but their authorities may not have checked that the work compensation required to collect the Potenciar Trabajo plan took place.

“I personally never heard anything about these extortion practices,” Poy stated.

 

Audit of soup kitchens

Argentina’s government also conducted an audit on community soup kitchens. It alleges that 47 percent of them had non-existent addresses or were inactive. 

“Nearly 50 percent of soup kitchens did not exist,” claimed Posse in Congress.

Argentina has an extensive network of soup kitchens that cook and provide free food in the country’s poorer areas. Most of the sustenance is provided by the State and a small percentage is funded by private donations.

The number of “ghost soup kitchens” is around 1,200, according to local media reports, though details of the Human Capital Ministry report containing the denunciations have not been made public yet.

Other than one example provided by the government, no evidence has been circulated.

Even though the number of soup kitchens in Argentina is uncertain, Belliboni estimated them to be 45,000 nationwide. “Polo Obrero alone has around 3,000,” he said.

The dispute between Milei administration, soup kitchens and social organisations started in December when the national government stopped food shipments. 

Belliboni estimated that the State supplied 5.5 million kilos of food a month to the warehouses of social organisations, which were in charge of distributing the food to soup kitchens.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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