Last updated: November 9, 2012 7:20 am

Power cut and protests hit Fernández

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Argentines staged major protests across the country and in cities from Sydney to San Francisco against the government of Cristina Fernández, venting their rage in time-honoured tradition by thumping pots and pans.

By some estimates, as many as 300,000 people turned out in Buenos Aires alone, transforming the city’s emblematic broad avenues into a flag-carrying, banner-waving human tide. It was the second major anti-government protest in recent months, and far larger than the September 13 turnout.

Earlier, protesters gathered in several European capitals including London, Madrid and Rome as well as Sydney, and there were rallies across the US.

“I think this is the beginning of the end for Cristina Fernández,” said Arturo Porzecanski, director of the international economic relations programme at the American University in Washington.

“I’ve watched this movie many times in Argentina. They fall in love with a candidate . . . but when the economic model starts to run out of gas, Argentines are very quick to ditch their hero or heroine,” he told the Financial Times.

The protest was organised via social networking sites rather than Argentina’s divided opposition as a way for government opponents to vent their fury at a laundry list of complaints. They range from rising crime to inflation estimated at 25 per cent, to the government’s perceived arrogance, a belief the president wants to change the constitution to seek a third term in office, its war with the media and restrictions on buying dollars.

But Fernando Navarro, a deputy from Ms Fernández’s Front for Victory alliance, said the government had proved its ability to correct errors and that was why Ms Fernández won a landslide 54 per cent re-election victory a year ago. “It’s good that people [raise these issues],” he said.

Even before the protests, tempers were fraying after a power cut hit the capital at rush-hour on Wednesday night. Some 3m people were affected as 1,800 traffic lights went off, causing gridlock, and the metro was paralysed. Record electricity demand has been caused by Argentines – used to ultra-cheap subsidised electricity bills – who have been flicking on the air conditioning en masse amid a heatwave.

The protests could not have come at a worse time for the government of Cristina Fernández.

Her popularity has fallen to 36 per cent, according to leading pollsters Poliarquía. The country’s international image has been battered by the seizure of the navy’s famous training ship in Ghana and a US court ruling last month that has raised the prospect of a bond default just over a decade after Argentina halted payments on nearly $100bn.

But Ms Fernández’s supporters praise her policies for creating jobs and wealth and cutting poverty and stress that the opposition is rudderless. Officials say the protests were organised by far-right groups.

But as one banner held up outside the presidential residence just north of the capital read “Cristina: leave the microphone alone. Put on the headphones.”

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