2 dead as supermarket looting spreads in Argentina
Looters ransacked supermarkets in several Argentine cities Friday, causing two deaths and evoking memories of widespread theft and riots that killed dozens during the country's worst economic crisis a decade ago.
Santa Fe Province Security Minister Raul Lamberto described the attacks on stores as simple acts of vandalism and not social protests.
Lamberto said two people were killed by a sharp object and gunfire after attacks early Friday on about 20 supermarkets in the cities of Rosario and Villa Gobernador Galvez. He declined to identify the victims or the attackers, but said 25 people were injured and 130 arrested during the looting about 190 miles northeast of Buenos Aires.
Closer to the capital, riot police fired rubber bullets to drive off a mob that was trying to break into a supermarket in San Fernando, a town in Buenos Aires province.
A police lieutenant was hit on the head with a crowbar and suffered severe injuries during the clashes in San Fernando, authorities said. Officials said 378 people had been arrested in those confrontations.
Some shops closed in several cities despite the busy Christmas shopping season, worrying that the looting might spread.
The troubles followed a wave of sporadic looting that began Thursday when dozens of people broke into a supermarket and carried away televisions and other electronics in the Patagonian ski resort of Bariloche. The government responded by deploying 400 military police to that southern city.
The unrest brought back memories of violence during Argentina's economic crisis in 2001, when jobless people stormed supermarkets, shops and kiosks.
Former President Fernando de la Rua resigned on Dec. 20, 2001, after days of protests against his handling of the crisis amid rioting that caused dozens of deaths and injuries across the country.
National Security Secretariat Sergio Berni and Cabinet Chief Juan Abal Medina said this week's looting in at least six Argentine towns was the act of "vandals" instigated by union leaders who oppose President Cristina Fernandez.
"All that people cared about was breaking into shopping malls and taking the LCDs and stereos," Berni said.
He said that while Argentina still has poverty, it is nowhere "like the Argentina of 2001."
Thousands of people marched in front of the presidential palace earlier this week demanding the elimination of income tax, which many lower-paid workers never had to pay before but must now after receiving a salary hike earlier this year.
The demonstration was called by Hugo Moyano, the head of the powerful General Labor Confederation who was once a close ally of Fernandez but is now one of her fiercest critics.
"There's a reality that shows that people are not going through a good time," Moyano told local Radio Mitre. "We see it in the capital when the government handles this situation as if we were living the best year in Swiss history but when you see people living underneath highways."
Moyano accused the government of orchestrating the looting.
"This was staged by the government to victimize itself," Moyano said at a televised news conference.
"The president is out of sync," said Moyano, who in recent months has increasingly appeared alongside her political opponents and often speaks out against the government that he long championed.
Fernandez was re-elected with 54 percent of the vote last year, but her popularity has declined since she began digging ever deeper into the pockets of the middle and upper classes to finance her populist policies.
With inflation running at about 25 percent a year, Argentines have sought to change their pesos for dollars, but the government has cracked down on such trades and made it nearly impossible to obtain dollars legally.
Most Argentines surveyed in polls say they're most worried by a rise in crime and consumer prices and the strict currency controls.