Thousands take to the streets to protest austerity measures of Argentina’s new president

Protesters march against new economic measures in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023. Days after taking office, Argentine President Javier Milei's government announced drastic economic measures that angered some social and labor groups, and warned it would crack down on any protests blocking streets. (AP Photo/Mario De Fina)

Protesters on Wednesday march against new economic shock measures in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Protests against austerity and deregulation measures announced by newly elected President Javier Milei went off relatively peacefully in Argentina’s capital Wednesday, after a government warning against blocking streets.

Around the start of the protest, which drew thousands of marchers, police briefly scuffled with some demonstrators and two men were arrested. But the event concluded without widespread street blockages that have been frequent in past years.


Milei’s administration has said it will allow protests, but threatens to cut off public aid payments to anyone who blocks thoroughfares. Marchers were also forbidden to carry sticks, cover their faces or bring children to the protest.

Marchers set out toward Buenos Aires’ iconic Plaza de Mayo, the scene of protests dating back to the country’s 1980s dictatorship. Police struggled to keep demonstratos from taking over the entire boulevard, and in the end many kept to the sidewalks and filled about half the plaza.

Eduardo Belliboni, one of the march’s organizers, said demonstrators faced “an enormous repressive apparatus.” Belliboni’s left-wing Polo Obrero group has a long history of leading street blockages.

Belliboni claimed marches wouldn’t fit on the sidewalks. “This (the street) is where people move around all over the world … where are we going to fit 50,000 people?” he said.

Toward the end of the demonstration, organizers called on the country’s trade unions to declare a general strike.

Milei, a right-wing populist, is facing the first test of how his administration responds to demonstrations against economic shock measures, which he says are needed to address Argentina’s severe crisis.

The steps include a 50% devaluation of the Argentine peso, cuts to energy and transportation subsidies, and the closure of some government ministries. They come amid soaring inflation and rising poverty.

Protesters “can demonstrate as many times as they want. They can go to the squares .. but the streets are not going to be closed,” Milei’s security minister, Patricia Bullrich, told local media.

Bullrich announced a new “protocol” to maintain public order that allows federal forces to clear people blocking streets without a judicial order and authorizes the police to identify — through video or digital means — people protesting and obstructing public thoroughfares. It can bill them for the cost of mobilizing security forces.

Some groups say the protocol goes too far and criminalizes the right to protest.

Hours before the protest, police officers were deployed in downtown Buenos Aires and other parts of the city but mainly at the entrances to the capital and some public transportation stations.

Argentine labor, social and human rights groups on Tuesday signed a petition asking the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intercede against the new public order procedures.

On Monday, the government announced that people who block streets could be removed from the public assistance benefit lists if they are on one.

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