BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Bayana Arevala with an empty bag is looking forward to his turn in the Little Lions soup kitchen outside the Argentine capital. A few moments later a 7-year-old child gets milk and a cake.
He takes it to his mother, Evelyn Benitez, who is waiting for him at the entrance to a modest brick house that serves as a soup house in the poor area of Carmen de Alvear.
“I come here because I have three children, and everything helps,” said Benitez, a street picker who earns 20,000 pesos ($ 159) a month, which is less than half the minimum wage and that’s not enough to live in. a country with one of the largest in the world. the highest inflation rate and 37% of the population is mired in poverty.
Benitez is one of millions of Argentines surviving largely through soup kitchens and state social security programs, many of which are channeled through politically powerful social movements associated with the ruling party. Almost a third of Argentine households are estimated to receive some kind of social assistance.
These social organizations not only provide food, they also have strong ties to political leaders, which facilitates the receipt of subsidies and access to work programs. Benitez got a job as a cleaner, though one such program.
These organizations and aid programs keep a cap on the smoldering social unrest in Argentina. Without them, “everything would have exploded,” said Jorge Cabral, a member of the Popular Front, Dario Santillano, who opened the Little Lions soup kitchen.
Critics of government welfare programs – from economists to right-wing politicians – say they are a tool used by political leaders to ensure that votes come to the polls. Social groups are intermediaries in ministries, and some of their leaders hold public office or have close ties to ruling party officials.
But for incumbent President Alberto Fernandez, they are a two-sided sword. On the one hand, they help the most needy to survive daily and prevent explosive social conflicts. But they also pose a threat to the government because of their ability to organize mass protests for extra aid and other demands.
This power has become apparent in the last few weeks as NGOs have staged large-scale street protests demanding more work and higher wages.
The life of 29-year-old Benitez revolves around such militant social movements. She is now part of Barrios de Pie, but last year she was more involved in Movimiento Evita, another organization. Friendship helped her get a job ..
“Now I’m going to pick up my two other children at the preschool, and the three of them will be able to drink warm milk,” Benitez smiles.
Had Benitez not gone to this and other soup kitchens, some of which opened during the pandemic, her three children, mother and partner would not have enough food to survive at 58% annual inflation, which economists say could rise to 70%. or higher by the end of the year.
“All we got was because we fought, because we blocked the streets,” said Cabral of the Popular Front’s Dario Santillano, one of the movements that recently encamped on one of Buenos Aires’ main avenues, demanding more well-being.
Such organizations have long been present in Argentina, but they grew and became more powerful in late 2001, when the country experienced the worst economic collapse in its history, plunging half the population into poverty. They continue to influence, and people rely on them to have a variety of social programs.
“Three out of every 10 homes in the country are beneficiaries of a social security program,” said Eduardo Dontz, a researcher at the Socially Debt Observatory of the Argentine Catholic University. “If it were not so, the poor would have moved from the current 8% of the population to 18%.”
These programs help cover what is needed to prevent social unrest, Donza said.
Some work programs have been criticized because the social organizations that implement them do not guarantee that the work is actually being done, and use them as a way to increase the number of street protests.
However, the beneficiaries insist that such cases in minorities and programs help entire communities.
“We are doing something and we want to do more,” said Andrea Montero of the Popular Front, Dario Santillano, who bakes bread and pastries in a small kitchen in Carmen de Alvear. The goods are sold in the neighborhood cheaper than in other bakeries, and the wages buy food for the Little Lions soup kitchen.
South of Buenos Aires, outside the provincial capital of La Plata, in the neighborhood known as “El Pelligra” (“Danger”), the Front of the Struggle Organization runs a public kitchen along with a kindergarten, vegetable garden, library and training center for high school students.
Front leaders say they see no other option but protests because galloping inflation is making it harder and harder for the poorest members of society to survive.