protest as Milei’s austerity measures hit Argentina’s public universities

More than a hundred thousand protesters took to the streets of Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina Tuesday to demand President Javier Milei increase funding for public universities.

The protests, organized by students, alumni, unions, and political parties, were among the biggest in a series of demonstrations that have rocked the capital since libertarian Milei came to power on a promise to introduce “chainsaw” cuts to public spending and deregulate the economy.

The University of Buenos Aires (UBA) said in a statement that around 800,000 people took part in the protests in Buenos Aires, while Milei’s government claimed there were 150,000 protesters, according to local media.

Milei’s government has defended its decision to freeze the 2023 budget for public universities, announcing increases only in operating expenses, which according to the UBA account for just 15% of spending needs.

However, protesters argue that freezing the budget in effect means cutting spending, given Argentina in March registered the highest rate of inflation in the world, in double digits, for the third consecutive month.

“I feel it’s a right, it’s like primary and secondary school, I feel education is a right we all should have,” said one of the protesters.

“Argentine public education starting from the university is the only method that I believe this country has today for upward social mobility,” said another.

Milei has argued that his cuts to public services are aimed at solving the country’s long-running economic crisis by cutting down on government over-spending and claims they are already starting to work.

The protests came a day after Milei said in a televised speech that the country had seen a budget surplus for the first time since 2008.

“This fiscal result is not just a number on a chart from the Ministry of Economy; it’s the guarantee of a sustainable and consistent path to end inflation forever in Argentina,” Milei said during his Monday speech.

However, critics say the austerity is squeezing poorer members of society in a country where the poverty rate is over 50%, according to a report from the Argentina Catholic University.

Other cuts to public services so far have included shutting down the Argentina national press agency Télam and several ministries, and reducing aid to soup kitchens in the poorest suburbs of Buenos Aires.

Last month, Milei’s government announced plans to lay off 70,000 government workers in the next few months.

Protests against Milei’s austerity agenda started soon after he took office. In January, labor unions organized a nationwide general strike against austerity measures and reforms, and thousands took to the streets to protest.

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