Argentina: President tells striking farmers to end blockades

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez told thousands of supporters today that a three-month strike against grain export-tax hikes was undemocratic and demanded that farmers lift road blockades that have caused food shortages across Argentina.

The rally in a Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo was meant as a show of force by Ms Fernandez in response to anti-government protests and a three-month stand-off with Argentina’s farmers.

“In the name of democracy, free up the highways, let Argentines get back to work,” Ms Fernandez told supporters.

The government press office said 100,000 people attended the rally.

The leaders of Argentina’s four main farmers’ groups said that they would continue the strike for at least two more days.

Eduardo Buzzi, head of the Argentinian Agrarian Federation, told a news conference that grain exports would remain suspended and trucks carrying grains would be blocked on highways until midnight tomorrow. Perishable food products and meat will be allowed to pass.

Members of four major farming groups have waged a three-month standoff with the government since Ms Fernandez decreed the tax increases on grain exports, suspending soy, wheat and corn exports and blocking highways.

The blockades have emptied supermarket shelves of food and caused rural economies to flounder in a country that is one of the world’s leading exporters of soy beans and corn.

Ms Fernandez says the export tax increases are needed to share soaring farm profits with Argentina’s 10 million poor.

Farmers contend the higher taxes make it hard for them to make a living and that they need to reinvest profits to increase production to meet rising demand.

Ms Fernandez said farm leaders wield too much political power even though “no one voted for them” in national elections. She said the protests were “interfering with democracy”.

Mr Buzzi countered that farm protesters are “not destabilisers” and are not trying to overthrow the government.

The president’s speech came a day after she announced she was sending a bill to Argentina’s two houses of Congress to debate the taxes, which she first implemented by presidential decree on March 11. Ms Fernandez’s Peronist party has a majority in both houses.

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