Drought-plagued farmers renew strikes in Argentina
Argentina's government and farmer leaders exchanged harsh words Wednesday, following the rural organizations' call to another strike from Friday amidst one of the country's worst droughts in 100 years, dpa reported. The four farmers' unions said late Tuesday that they would stop delivering cereal crops for export and cattle for domestic and foreign consumption for six days starting Friday. Farming is one of the engines of the Argentine economy, and its leaders managed to block earlier this year a government bill to increase tariffs on the export of soybean and sunflower seeds through a series of strikes. Farmers' federations called for a further strike based on the difficult situation following a severe drought, the fall in the price of their produce in international markets and what they see as the lack of a suitable policy for the sector on the part of the centre- left government. While in previous strikes, farmers explicitly demanded and got the government to reduce tariffs on their export products, this time, the farmers have not clearly stated their demands - only that they want to talk to the government. They have the support of a growing anti-government coalition that is not farm-based. "It looks like what we do is never enough," complained Agriculture Minister Carlos Cheppi. "Now it looks like we are to blame because it does not rain. Let them ask (Cardinal Jorge) Bergoglio to pray harder, to make it rain. We cannot handle the clouds," pro-government legislator Carlos Kunkel sarcastically told the radio station Continental in Buenos Aires. The current drought is according to experts the worst in 100 years in Argentina, and it has been affecting central and northern parts of the country for six months, despite the rain of recent days. Farmers' unions have said there will be no road blockades in their protest, although small producers' leader Eduardo Buzzi warned that this might change in the face of "provocation" from the government. Buzzi stressed that the strike "will have no impact on consumers." "This is linked to fielding demands as a call to order, it does not aim to affect the economy," he noted. The strikes started in March, when the government raised tariffs on agricultural exports. The farmers' protest led to severe shortages in urban centres and caused a serious political crisis for the government. The executive eventually agreed to have Congress decide on the proposed tariffs, and the proposal failed due to the surprising vote against of Vice President Julio Cobos in the Senate.