In Argentina, anti-Covid restrictions reignite political polarization

Buenos Aires | A Covid-19 epidemic that does not abate despite more than six months of drastic restrictions, a deep economic crisis that is worsening: the situation in Argentina is fueling an increasingly acute political polarization.

On the one hand, demonstrators protesting against the health measures put in place by the government of center-left President Alberto Fernandez, accused of “destroying” the country.

On the other, government supporters who are outraged at the “irresponsibility” of the opposition which encourages these demonstrations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the curve of which is not weakening despite national containment decreed on March 20.

Since that date, each province has relaxed or strengthened the restrictions depending on the speed of the contagion, but the level of contamination remains high: since the first patient detected in March, 700,000 cases have been declared, including 19,000 deaths, for 44 million inhabitants.

In Buenos Aires, which has a population of 13 million, restaurants have only been allowed to reopen on the terrace for a week. All schools and universities remain closed, as well as the borders.

For Daniel, a 57-year-old hairdresser from the capital, who did not want to give his name, Argentina’s economy, already in recession since 2018, is on the brink: “What are we going to live on? We have become the laughing stock of the world. The longest confinement in the world, with the worst results, ”he criticizes.

As in many countries, the economy is hit hard: in 2e Latin America’s third-largest economy plunged 19.1%, compared to the same period last year.

In August, the country once again experienced one of the worst inflation rates in the world (40.7% year-on-year) and analysts estimate it will reach 43.9% by the end of 2020.

But the head of state believes that we can “cure the economy, not the dead.”

“The situation is complex, we give priority to life, because if the health care system collapses, it will be horrible for everyone,” said Carol Diamondstein, a psychologist.

For Luciana Kirjner, 27, the protests not only risk worsening the epidemic, but also aim to “shake a democratically elected government”.

Short-term truce

When he took office in December, the Argentinian president set himself the objective of reducing the famous “grieta” (breach) which greatly widened between supporters of the left and the right, during the governments of Cristina Kirchner ( left, 2007-2015) and Mauricio Macri (right, 2015-2019).

The start of the pandemic and the containment had even led to a sort of truce, when the majority of the population supported the decisions of the Fernandez government. But the polarization seems to have doubled since.

Thus, the subjects of concern of Argentines such as inflation, the dizzying devaluation of the peso, insecurity, unemployment, have come back to the fore.

A poll by the Giacobbe & Asociados institute shows the president’s popularity rating rose from 67.8% in March to 42.8% in mid-July.

For political scientist Marcos Novaro, political polarization has also increased over the strategy deployed by ex-president Kirchner, now vice-president of Alberto Fernandez, to “advance his agenda”.

During anti-government protests, slogans against containment were mixed with demands against the judicial reform launched by the authorities and for measures against insecurity and corruption.

The government says reform of the justice system will ensure the devolution of power to a handful of federal judges.

But opponents say the aim is to control the justice system in order to favor Cristina Kirchner, the target of nine investigations, mostly in corruption cases.

According to Marcos Novaro, the Argentine president is maintaining lockdown “because it is the easier way. Since he has no strategy, neither political nor economic, he is pursuing what has worked for him “.

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