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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 May 2007, 01:14 GMT 02:14 UK
Hunger rally aims to shame Argentina
By Daniel Schweimler
BBC News, Buenos Aires

Tens of thousands of people have marched on the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, demanding an end to hunger and a better life for the country's children.

Marchers in Buenos Aires
Many marchers had not been to Buenos Aires before

Some began their protest earlier this month in the far north-eastern city of Puerto Iguazu, on the border with Brazil.

They were driven to other northern cities - Corrientes, Posadas, Resistencia and Formosa - where the marching continued and, they say, covered thousands of kilometres.

These are places that only rarely make the news in Buenos Aires where, to the casual observer, things appear to be going very well.

If you look at the official figures, Argentina's economy is thriving. It has grown month after month for several years.

Inflation, the authorities say, is under control and unemployment is down.

But those official figures hide a story that those on this march say is not being told. And that is that many people in Argentina are very poor.

'Hunger is a crime'

The organisers say 30,000 people gathered outside the government palace in the centre of Buenos Aires to demand an end to the poverty they believe is rife in many parts of the country.

Marchers in Buenos Aires
Marchers demanded better care for Argentina's youngest generation

They represented all areas of Argentina and many different social groups.

Many of them were children and people from the countryside who rarely, if ever, come to Buenos Aires.

Some were noticeably staring in wonder at the wealthy foreign tourists, the European architecture and designer shops.

One of the organisers was Diego "Chichi" Sola, who said: "Because there is more bread being cut, more crumbs are falling in our neighbourhoods.

"We don't want those crumbs - we want bread for our kids. In a country rich with bread, like ours, in a country with abundant food, like ours, that even one child should die of hunger is madness.

"Those of us responsible for our children say that hunger is a crime."

'A rich country'

Tens of thousands of Argentines were victims of the economic crisis of 2001-02, when the currency collapsed, the country defaulted on its foreign debt and thousands took to the streets bashing pots and pans to protest about their lost savings.

Man scavenging in rubbish in Buenos Aires
Argentina's economic successes have yet to reach the poor

Some have benefited from the recovery that followed. Many others are still struggling.

This march, under the slogan Hunger is a Crime, was all about the future of Argentina's children.

Maria, aged 16, said: "My dream is the dream of all of us here and that is that Argentina and all of us who live here should be happy... and there should be no children begging on the streets."

Her friend, Maria Belen, also 16, agreed: "I want a better country in which everyone has got food because Argentina is a rich country and there should not be children dying of hunger."

Recent discontent

But several analysts have questioned how long an impressive recovery is going to last in a country with a long tradition of boom and bust.

President Kirchner
President Kirchner has taken much of the credit for the economy

Argentine economist Alan Cibils says the country is currently benefiting from a set of favourable national and international conditions but sees no long-term government strategy.

He said: "I don't hear any talk of development. Where do we want to be five years from now? Where do we want to be ten years from now?

"What kind of strategies are we going to implement? What kind of policies are we going to implement?"

President Nestor Kirchner has taken much of the credit for Argentina's economic recovery.

And a few weeks ago, he looked certain to win a second term in October's elections.

But protests have lately been held around the country - against poverty, low wages and state-sponsored repression.

And now that discontent has been brought right to the door of the government palace in the centre of Buenos Aires.

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