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Argentines March On Presidential Palace To Protest Inflation


Today in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, people marched to the presidential palace. They were asking for help to make it through the holiday season. Argentina has one of the highest inflation rates in the world. So the value of a paycheck keeps dropping. This demonstration came shortly after Argentina's president reappeared in public for the first time in three weeks. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was at those protests in Buenos Aires. Hi, Lourdes.


SHAPIRO: Describe the scene and explain more about why people are protesting now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, thousands marched through the city, and they ended up in front of the presidential palace - the Casa Rosada - where I am now and they were demanding end-of-year bonuses. This is a sensitive time of year in Argentina. The Christmas holiday's coming up. People want to give presents. They want to celebrate with their family, have meals. And if you recall last year around this time, the police striked for pay increases in several cities. And it caused looting and absolute mayhem. And the reason for this anger, especially around this time of year, but, generally speaking, is one word - inflation. It's running and we don't really know how much it's running because we don't really get reliable figures from the government here. But economists say they believe it's running at something at 40 percent a year. And that means, basically, that if you bought a tomato at $1 at the beginning of the year, at the end of the year it will be 40 percent more expensive. So people's purchasing power is suffering, you have a dual currency system, and all this amid the backdrop of Argentina's recent technical default.

SHAPIRO: Technical default - explain what that means and why it's so damaging to Argentina.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, exactly, I mean, Argentina defaulted once already in 2002. And this time, it's a slightly different situation. The so-called vulture funds - you might have heard that word before - they're international bondholders who purchased Argentine debt after the 2002 default and they're suing for full repayment. Argentina has arranged to come to terms with many of the groups. But there are holdouts and a judge in New York has ordered that they be paid in full. Argentina has refused and so it's now in a, quote, unquote, "technical default." They have the money to pay. They just don't want to pay these people. They say that these are funds that are simply taking advantage of a terrible situation and holding the entire country hostage.

SHAPIRO: And in the middle of all of this, Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez has been absent for the last three weeks. In a moment, I want to talk more about where she's been and why. But first, tell us about her remarks last night - the significant public appearance where, apparently, she came out swinging.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She absolutely came out swinging. And she has come out swinging every time she's talked about this particular issue. Yesterday, she made the first appearance in over three weeks. She's had a series of health concerns. And she came out and said, quote, "this president will not be extorted by any financial vultures nor any legal buzzards." And that is a direct swipe, of course, to these "vulture funds," quote, unquote, in New York and the judge who has ordered that they be paid in full.

SHAPIRO: And as you said, she's been away for three weeks. She has had health concerns. How much does this impact Argentina right now?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you know, she's had a brain hematoma. She had a bowel inflammation. She had a cancer scare. This time she had some other sort of infectious disease that we don't exactly know what it was, but it wasn't life-threatening. Her health is of great interest obviously to the country, but her term is coming to an end. She cannot be reelected. And so as the days and months go by, her health issues are becoming less and less important to the country because there will be an election coming up soon. But, certainly, her health is of incredible interest here. She's had to cancel international engagements, and so this is really having repercussions, of course, on her duties to the country.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaking with us from the scene of public demonstrations in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Thanks Loulou.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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