/** labr.global: 421.0 **/
** Topic: Argentinians Protesting Austerity **
** Written 9:14 PM Jun 3, 1997 by labornews in cdp:labr.global **
From: Institute for Global Communications <email@example.com>
Argentina Faces Unemployment Woes BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP -- The sermon delivered last week at the Buenos Aires Cathedral was not the kind of religious message President Carlos Menem most likely had expected to hear.
Roman Catholic Bishop Raul Rossi broke from his homily and began criticizing the government's economic austerity program. Sitting in front of the bishop, Menem and several top officials stared grim-faced.
Free-market policies have benefited Argentina's economy, but "misfortune is growing more and more,'' Rossi said. "All this leads to desperation and dejection which can then turn into aggression and a tendency toward violence.''
He was referring to the violent protests that have spread across Argentina's interior in recent weeks -- demonstrations against policies that have brought fiscal stability but high unemployment and poverty, too.
Menem rolled to a landslide victory and a second term in 1995 on the strength of an economic reform package that slashed inflation to 1 percent and reduced Argentina's budget deficit.
But many workers are losing faith in his pledge to "pulverize'' unemployment. Joblessness stands at 17 percent nationwide, up from 6 percent in 1989.
One area where tensions are high is northern Jujuy province, on the border with Bolivia. More than 150 people have been hurt in Jujuy since mid-May in clashes with police during demonstrations to protest layoffs.
Cutbacks in the sugar industry have put about 4,000 people out of work in recent years in Jujuy, where joblessness is reaching 40 percent.
The protests in Jujuy were called off last weekend only after local authorities offered to create more than 12,000 jobs -- most of them temporary.
People also blocked roads in Cordoba, Argentina's second-largest city and automaking center, and in the southern province of Neuquen and northern province of Salta.
"Setting up roadblocks was their only way of being heard,'' said Monsignor Rafael Rey, head of the Catholic charity Caritas.
Teachers in several provinces have staged hunger strikes to demand more pay. In the capital, 15,000 University of Buenos Aires students blocked traffic and marched to Congress and Government House on Wednesday to seek increased funds for higher education.
Menem said Saturday that unemployment did not justify "acts of social agitation and discontent,'' adding that the government would be "unbending'' in its pursuit of "undesirables'' who instigate violence.
Menem took office in 1989 with the country wracked by 5,000 percent annual hyperinflation and food riots.
He and his former economy minister, Domingo Cavallo, embarked on a sweeping overhaul of the state-run economy, selling off debt-ridden utilities and deregulating the economy.
Budget deficits have been reduced, the economy grew robustly between 1991 and 1994, and foreign investment has returned. Last year, gross domestic product increased by 4.4 percent.
Critics point out, however, that much of the growth has been concentrated in the capital. In many interior provinces, privatization has done away with comfortable, lifelong jobs and offered few new options.
That has fueled tensions in places like Mendoza province, where police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters last month after it was announced that the local energy company would be sold.
Fearing a possible backlash from the voters in congressional elections scheduled for October, Menem may embark on a spending spree to boost the chances of his Peronist Party, some economists have said.
But few people were talking about elections on Monday in Jujuy, where more than 10,000 people stood on line for a chance to put their names on a list for temporary, low-paying jobs.
Not everyone got a chance to ask for work: At the end of the day, many were told to return in two days.