Argentine farmers in ongoing strikes

Argentine farmers continued striking on Monday after turning down a deal on Monday from President Cristina Kirchner to ease back soy taxes on small businesses.


Argentine farmers Monday turned down a deal from President Cristina Kirchner easing back soy taxes on small businesses, saying their strike would go on.

While vowing to continue their protest, the farmers said they would lift blockades allowing stores to stock up on staples.

Kirchner signed into law a 44.1 percent government tax on soy exports -- the country's economic mainstay -- that farmers have been protesting for 20 days, blocking roads with their tractors and causing shortages in Buenos Aires supermarkets.

Farm union leaders had expected Kirchner to call for a 90-day moratorium on the tax hike -- from 35 to 44.1 percent -- announced on March 11, which they said would have prompted them to lift their protest and resume negotiations that broke down on Friday.

But Kirchner, who on Sunday postponed a planned trip to France and Britain to deal with one of the longest labor stoppages in Argentina's history, insisted that the tax increase was needed to stem inflation and offer incentives for certain crops over others.

She said nearly 50 percent of the country's farmland was dedicated to soy crops, of which only five percent was for internal consumption, while the rest of the land was used to grow corn, wheat, meat, milk: "the staples that make up the population's diet."

"I ask you once again to please let the trucks through and think of yourselves as part of the country not the owners of the country," Kirchner told protesting farmers.

She said the government was still open to negotiations.

After hearing the president and Economy Minister Martin Lousteau explain the offer, which would reduce the new soy tax burden on small farms, top farm union leaders said it was not enough.

"The government doesn't understand the problems of the farming sector," said Argentina Rural Federation leader Mario Llambias, adding that he and other union leaders would consult their members on Tuesday on their next step.

Eduarto Buzzi, of the Argentine Agrarian Federation said the 20-day strike would continue at least until Wednesday, along with road blockades.

The union leaders, however, said they would allow trucks to make deliveries of staples to supermarkets and grocery stores and halt the shortage of food that has been plaguing the populations of Buenos Aires and other big cities.

Kirchner and other ministers have labeled the farmers "extortionists," and pointed out that sky-high commodities prices on the world market, coupled with Argentina's devalued peso, have made many rural landowners very wealthy.

Kirchner has justified the soy export tax increase as a means to have farmers share their newly found wealth with the rest of the population, in her attempt to resolve the biggest test so far of her mandate, which started in December.

But farmers complain the tax hike, combined with income taxes, transport costs and the high cost of land, would push many of them out of business.

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