We are a country of meat but we only eat

“We are a country of meat, but we only eat chicken : the crisis in Argentina awaits promises from Milei G1

1 of 1 Oriana and Samir say they both voted for Argentina's new president, Javier Milei Photo: BBC Oriana and Samir say they both voted for Argentina's new president, Javier Milei Photo: BBC

Argentina was once one of the richest countries in the world more than France or Germany.

Much of this wealth came from beef exports, particularly to Britain. But that was well over 100 years ago.

According to the latest World Bank data, it is now in 70th place thanks to a deep economic crisis.

And a growing number of people in the country simply cannot afford to eat beef from cattle that live on the fertile pastures of the Pampas.

They are people like Oriana and Samir, a young couple in their early 20s who live in a rundown area of ​​the capital Buenos Aires.

“It’s very difficult,” says Oriana. “You constantly ask yourself: 'How am I going to survive?' We’re a beef country, but we only eat chicken because it’s cheaper.”

Even chicken has become a luxury. Last year, inflation rose to 211%, the highest in three decades. In December alone, prices rose by more than 25%.

The family shares a small apartment with their daughter Chiara as well as with Samir's parents and his brother.

Paying the bills is a constant concern. The costs of food, housing, electricity and transportation are constantly rising.

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Samir is an independent delivery driver, but the economic crisis has caused demand for his work to drop dramatically. Your returns are not keeping up with rising prices.

He is also concerned about growing insecurity on the streets as people become more desperate.

“They can kill you just because of your cell phone,” he says.

According to the latest government data, at least 40% of the population lives in poverty. However, the actual percentage is believed to be even higher.

Both Oriana and Samir voted for Argentina's new president, Javier Milei, the rightwing libertarian who was elected with more than 55% of the vote.

“He understands people’s problems,” says Samir.

“I think he is exactly what Argentina needs to deal with inflation.”

Others aren't so sure. Claudio Paez was a successful businessman with a confectionery and supermarket chain with a total of 12 stores.

Now he only has two, as the store's running costs and plummeting customer revenue have drastically reduced his income.

And he expects that things will not get better, but worse: “If the economic problems last another three months, I will get into difficulties and no longer be able to cover my expenses.”

More and more people in Argentina have to improvise to survive.

Not far from one of Cláudio's shops there is a small van with a trunk full of eggshells.

The cheap price, equivalent to R$5 for a dozen eggs, attracted many people.

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While the streets of Buenos Aires are still filled with the ornate architecture of the country's 19thcentury gold mine, they are also full of street vendors, delivery app couriers and pirate taxis.

An analysis of official figures from the National University of Salta suggests that the informal sector currently accounts for almost half of Argentina's workforce.

In addition, thanks to a law passed by the previous government shortly before the elections, few people pay income tax.

This is bad news for a country that is virtually bankrupt and desperately needs to generate revenue.

Argentina spends much more than it earns and already owes exorbitant sums: currently around US$44 billion (R218 billion) to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), making it the organization's single largest debtor.

Milei says she has answers to the crisis. As a trained economist, he is a firm believer in unfettered free markets and smaller government.

During the campaign, he attracted widespread attention by waving a chainsaw in the air to signal his commitment to costcutting.

He also promised to abolish the central bank and completely eliminate the local currency the peso and replace it with the US dollar.

Both ideas are currently falling behind, especially because the government itself is very tight on cash.

Instead, Milei devalued the peso by half to increase its competitiveness and reduced the number of ministries by a similar proportion.

With a series of proposals called “omnibus” legislation currently moving through Congress, it is now the turn of public spending.

“We've been printing money like crazy for 30 years, and that's why we have such high inflation,” says political scientist Sergio Berensztein. “Now for the first time we have a president who understands the problem”

The only solution, says Berensztein, is to try to balance the budget, which the government has promised to do by the end of this year. But it will be “difficult,” he adds.

In addition to being an economic question, this is also a political question.

Although Milei has a clear personal mandate from voters, he does not have a majority in Congress. Actually, not even close.

His Liberdade Avança party won only 15% of seats in the 2021 general election.

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Added to this is the strong resistance of the country's trade unions, which declared a general strike last week and organized large demonstrations across the country.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets loudly.

Juan Cruz Díaz of the consulting firm Grupo Cefeidas fears that the proposed changes could have very damaging effects.

“The majority of people who voted for Javier Milei wanted change,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean they support this libertarian approach to business and government.”

Next week, Congress will vote on Milei's plan. There is no certainty that it will happen.

In any case, there is no guarantee that the measures will have an impact on the inflation rate.

And ultimately, for most people in the country, that's the only thing that matters.

Díaz believes that the president only has “a few months” to change the situation and allow the people to get better. Milei's political honeymoon is expected to be very short.