Argentina's Milei faces biggest protest yet as students march over budget cuts

April 24, 2024 1:33 pm

[Source: Reuters]

Hundreds of thousands of Argentines took to the streets of Buenos Aires on Tuesday in an anti-government march against budget cuts to public universities, the biggest protest yet against President Javier Milei’s painful austerity measures.

The demonstrations are the latest example of rising tension over spending cuts that are helping undo a deep fiscal deficit but causing hardship in the real economy.

In the union-backed marches in the capital and beyond, banners were held aloft in the southern autumn sunshine reading “Defend the public universities,” “Studying is a right,” and “Up with the budget, down with Milei’s plan.”

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“I’m here to defend the public universities,” said Pedro Palm, an 82-year-old architect who graduated from the prestigious University of Buenos Aires (UBA), which recently warned it might have to shut its doors after its budget was slashed.

Milei, dealing with an inherited economic crisis after years of government over-spending, is employing “chainsaw” budget cuts that helped the state post three months of fiscal surpluses at the start of the year.

But the cuts have squeezed the public sector badly. Argentina’s public universities like UBA, which offer free undergraduate education, rely heavily on government funding.

“Education is one of the fundamental pillars of our ideology. We have no desire to close the universities,” said presidential spokesperson Manuel Adorni, defending the government’s stance and calling for a peaceful march.

Ivan Massari, a biology and genetics teacher, said free education must be defended because it was the best way to level society and create access to opportunities for all.

“Public education is a tool for social transformation,” he said. “It is the opportunity for a person to be able to develop themselves, to be able to contribute to society, and to be able to build their future.”

Reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Additional Reporting by Jorge Otaola and Candelaria Grimberg; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien