Armstrong, a small town in Argentina’s Santa Fe province, has become a sound box for the country’s angry farmers. Along with the flags and national anthem is a stark message for the presidential couple. Fernando Fischer, the Mayor of Armstrong, Santa Fe province, explains his demands: “They should let us sell what we produce. The world is hungry for food and here in Argentina, we’re capable of responding to that demand. We know how to produce it. But once again, they have to let us SELL it”.
Selling soya, corn, wheat and meat - Argentina is one of the world’s most important food exporters. The government wants to tax some exports to finance political and social projects, but that’s a very unpopular idea among producers. Jorge Rodi, a milk farmer in Buenos Aires Province says “To sell my milk abroad, I have to pay 50 to 60% tax. It’s almost impossible to export”. After a month of negotiations, it seemed that a breakthrough was near – but no such luck.
When the government refused to back down on soya tax, considered a vital source of income for the state, the unions announced that marketing of all cereals and non-perishable goods would stop. In a scene reminiscent of last year, farmers once again blockaded roads to bring the media’s attention to their plight. Their charismatic leader, Alfredo de Angeli, is in charge of stirring up a fuss. De Angeli, who is the President of the Entre-Ríos Agriculture Federation, says: “If we continue like this, we’ll soon be importing wheat INTO Argentina. It’s shameful; our ancestors would turn in their graves. If they want to turn us into a new Cuba or Venezuela, well they picked the wrong people. We’re from a different culture”. Juan Tronco, a farmer from Larroque, Entre-Ríos province, agrees: “It’s only by cutting taxes and putting money in the hands of producers that public spending can improve. But they’re taking away all hope of that”.
In a pre-emptive move, President Cristina Kirchner has suggested creating a solidarity fund financed with the soya tax; cash which would then be spent by local governments. It’s an idea that was put forward by the farmers a long time ago. Jose Luis Ottavis, Secretary General of Peron Youth in the Buenos Aires Province, says: “It’s a measure that would give more power to the Argentine people – a measure that would allow all the province governors and all the city mayors to do more for the entire country. They need to use every tool at their disposal to reduce the effects of the economic crisis”. As a goodwill gesture, the farmers have started lifting the majority of their roadblocks. But the conflict continues – and could turn nasty before next month’s general election.