Argentina’s Impoverished Barrios: Peronists Losing Grip amid Economic Crisis
Struggling to Feed Families
Simona Alegre, a 65-year-old widow, used to rely on her government pension to feed her six grandkids. However, Argentina’s current economic crisis has left the entire family hungry, causing Alegre to reconsider her support for the leftist Peronists in the upcoming elections on October 22.
“Now look at how things are,” lamented Alegre, a lifelong Peronist voter. “Before, I could provide for my grandchildren with my pension. They could enjoy a yoghurt or a rice pudding. Now, we have nothing.”
The Plight of Villa Fiorito
Alegre and her neighbors reside in the Buenos Aires suburb of Villa Fiorito, where they mostly work as trash-pickers, operating outside the formal labor market. Community leader Mirta Jimenez reveals that this line of work only earns them approximately 40,000 pesos a month, a meager sum equivalent to less than $40 according to the current parallel exchange rate.
Villa Fiorito, known as the birthplace of soccer legend Diego Maradona, has traditionally been a stronghold for the ruling Peronist party. The party has established one of Latin America’s most extensive social welfare systems. However, the residents of this working-class neighborhood now question whether the Peronists are still the best option for a brighter future.
A Call for Change
With rampant government spending contributing to soaring inflation of 124%, many Villa Fiorito residents are turning to Javier Milei and his radical ideas. The presidential frontrunner’s proposal to dollarize the economy and shut down the central bank resonates with voters desperate for relief.
Pastor Leonardo Alvarez, who operates an NGO in Villa Fiorito, reveals that many residents intend to vote for Milei but fear local retaliation if they express their support publicly. “People are going to vote for Milei, but they don’t want to admit it because they fear losing their welfare benefits, access to soup kitchens, or other government resources,” Alvarez explains. During a visit to Villa Fiorito, no Milei supporters were willing to provide an on-record interview to Reuters.
The Dilemma of Poverty
With 40% of Argentines living in poverty, they face a difficult decision in the upcoming elections. They must choose between sticking with traditional parties responsible for the country’s economic decline over the past decade or embracing change and risking the implementation of painful yet necessary measures.
While some impoverished Argentines question whether Milei’s proposed cuts to social programs would worsen their situation, the August open primary revealed that Milei garnered the most votes in many of the most destitute neighborhoods surrounding the capital, Buenos Aires, where the Peronists once prevailed.
Prospects and Concerns
Community leader Jimenez urges caution, noting that Milei’s plan to reduce government aid would leave residents with even less to eat. The government has implemented programs to provide meals to schoolchildren and essential food items to the poorest families. Jimenez herself plans to vote for Peronist Economy Minister Sergio Massa, although she criticizes some of the current government’s policies.
Supporters of Milei argue that his policies will help lift people out of poverty and offer an alternative to welfare handouts. However, Ayrton Ortiz, a 28-year-old resident of a poor neighborhood, acknowledges the dependence on social plans but fears that their removal would result in more people living on the streets.
The Road Ahead
Whoever wins the October elections will face a daunting task, according to Fernando Morra, former vice minister of economy. The next administration must accumulate enough political capital to implement a stabilization process. Morra adds, “I wouldn’t dare to tell you that things can’t get worse.”
For Alegre, a lung condition and the need for an oxygen tank make government assistance and food handouts from local NGOs crucial. However, she remains undecided about her vote. Reflecting on her lifelong support for the Peronists, she expresses gratitude, but also acknowledges the country’s backward trajectory. Alegre concludes, “We are all on the ship, and when this sinks, we’re all going down.”