BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Recession, rising poverty and austerity measures are putting pressure on Argentina’s middle class and poor. Almost 11% of Argentines are jobless. The peso continues to nosedive and the International Monetary Fund estimates inflation will be around 57% this year. As the nation prepares for Sunday’s presidential election, some Argentines caught in the middle of the nation’s economic crisis tell their stories.
Macarena Contreras, a homeless woman who lost her job as a nanny two years ago, plucked two stuffed animals out of the trash. She plans to give them to her three children, ages 3 to 8, who live with her mother. The 31-year-old single mother says she hasn’t been able to find work as a nanny because people are cutting back on expenses. She found herself sleeping under a bridge after she and her partner broke up, leaving her without an income. “We’re in a war where Argentines are fighting against Argentines,” she says, feeling there is a lack of solidarity with people like her and paranoia that the poor are thieves. “The street is not a life for anyone.”
Luciano Carpigniano lost his job at a Buenos Aires appliance store a year ago. The 37-year-old says inflation has made him seriously consider starting his own business, so as not to depend on an employer, or move to Spain. “Here the economy changes your reality in a few days,” he says. He doesn’t think any of the presidential candidates can change that.
CAMILA DI CESARE & SOFIA GONZALEZ
The shop where they work on one of the capital’s busiest avenues is in its last few days. Their employer gave them a 10-day notice that the business is shutting down. Camila, a 27-year-old single mother, says she uses 80% of her wages to pay for her 1-year-old’s daycare so she can work. “And then out of nowhere being left without a job.” She wants to leave Argentina and escape its troubles within two years because “I don’t think this is ever going to change.”
Zulma Perez recycles trash and survives on about $160 a month. No longer able to afford rent, the 61-year-old moved from the town of Salta into a shack in a squatter settlement known as Virgen de Urkupiña, where rain turns the streets to mud. Unable to afford gas, Perez’s family of four cooks with firewood. She and her husband hope that the government gives them and their neighbors title to the land they live on and that sewage and paved roads are built. Thanks to donations by cardiologists, Perez is able to take the heart medicine she needs.
In 2018, Sebastian Figueroa was fired by a sugar company in Salta. When married, the 43-year-old was the breadwinner for his wife and daughter in a neighborhood that went from having no soup kitchens to four. Now separated, he gets help from his aunts to pay for his 21-year-old daughter’s university education. Figueroa blames the government for what he calls the exploitation of those who still work and the lack of job opportunities for those like him looking for work.
Vanesa Rivarola sits with one of her two daughters in a park waiting to exchange a pair of shoes for two bags of flour as part of an agreement they worked out with an online stranger. Three years ago, the 40-year-old left her job at a shoe manufacturer to take care of her children and sick mother, unable to afford to pay someone to look after them. Today, her contacts have turned into a large online group who barter clothing for food among themselves. “The poor help the poor, because those on top, forget it,” Rivarola says. “Those on top don’t see it.”
Carlos Araya lives in a cinderblock shack in the poor neighborhood of San Justo in Salta province. His family of eight shares one bed and cooks with a wood fire. Four years ago, the 62-year-old supported the family as a painter and gardener, even making payments on land where he started building a house. But in 2017 the economy tumbled, and he lost his partial investment and the dream of climbing out of poverty. He built the shack where they live now. His children get one meal at school. At home the family is limited to rice and potatoes, barely getting by on the income of Araya’s wife from cosmetic sales and her disability pension.
Victoria Canetes has worked 20 years at the Suschen candy factory that earlier this year was taken over by some of its workers when its owner abandoned it after being in operation 47 years. Canetes and other workers say the owner still owes them back wages, but the mother of a teenager feels positive about the factory’s future. Known for producing one of Argentina’s most famous candies, called “Mielcitas,” the business is being turned into a co-op, owned by its workers. She doesn’t earn a salary yet, so the family of three lives on her husband’s restaurant wages.
The 29-year-old from Salta province gets his new clothes from the landfill where he plucks items to recycle for money, earning about $60 a month. The unemployed construction worker moved out of his mother’s home and made a tiny shack of wooden pallets, plastic tarps and bricks he found in the street. It has a single light bulb. Since he can’t find a job in construction, Sosa says he will continue scavenging the landfill for items like cardboard and plastic to sell by weight.
Mari Roldan closed her apparel shop six months ago after running it for eight years. Today she can be found in a park trying to sell or even barter her store’s unsold garments. The little money she gets cannot pay for her husband’s cancer treatment, as well as their food and living expenses. “It’s humiliating to be here,” Roldan says of her endeavors in the park.
Carlos Sequeira has spent three decades working as a waiter at the Plaza Dorrego bar, an icon of Buenos Aires for more than 140 years. When his employer stopped paying salaries Oct. 1 and abandoned the property, Sequeira and six other workers kept the restaurant open and are trying to create a co-op. Sequeira says the former employer owes them two months’ pay, and two years of benefits like pension and social security contributions. He says they take home a salary only if there is money left over after paying the restaurant’s taxes, costs of supplies and other bills, splitting the money evenly into seven parts.