Farmers give Argentina's President first major crisis

Cristina Fernandez, the former Argentinian First Lady turned president, is on a collision course with her country's all-important big farmers, provoking strikes, food shortages and clashes in the streets of Buenos Aires barely three months after she first took office from her husband, Nestor Kirchner.

Mrs Fernandez, like her husband, swept to office on promises of populist reform and institutional reform to make sure the country can never return to the military dictatorships of 30 years ago. In practice, however, she has disappointed many of her critics who hoped she would be more pragmatic than her sometimes doctrinaire husband, and outraged the farmers who grow the country's most valuable export – soy beans.

For the past three weeks, farmers have been on strike in opposition to a proposed tariff increase on soybean and sunflower seed exports from 35 per cent to at least 42 per cent. They have blockaded hundreds of roads, leaving Buenos Aires and other big population centres starved, not only of grains but also of the country's number one culinary obsession, beef.

The smaller farmers, in particular, have complained that they cannot make ends meet with the higher tariffs. However, feelings have become so frayed that when Mrs Fernandez's government proposed repealing the tariff increase for smaller producers, the farmers' representatives rejected her out of hand yesterday.

"The proposal is very unclear," farm workers' leader Ricardo Dagoto complained. "We still haven't seen any of the fine print."

A lot of the bad blood centres on a controversial pro-government protest leader called Luis D'Elia, who served in Mr Kirchner's cabinet and now acts as an unofficial proxy for the new president, motivated, he says, by "hatred of the whorish oligarchs".

When farmers and their supporters marched through Buenos Aires banging pots and pans last week, Mr D'Elia headed a group of counter-demonstrators who engaged the farmers in a fist-fight directly in front of a major government building. The very next evening, Mr D'Elia had a place of honour directly behind President Fernandez as she made a speech defending her soy tariff increase and urging the farmers to respect public order.

Officially, Mr D'Elia speaks for nobody but himself – he was thrown out of the Kirchner government for expressing support for Iran's radical regime – but he maintains an office in a government building, and many Argentines are enraged by his seemingly close association with the First Couple. "How can you tell the difference between the government and D'Elia if he is in charge of keeping public order with intolerably aggressive words and acts?," one columnist, Joaquin Morales Sola, wrote in La Nacion.

President Fernandez sees the new tariffs as part of her stated policy of redistributing wealth away from the big growers and the mercantile classes more generally, in favour of the poor.

She has dismissed the farmers' complaints as a "protest of plenty". However, the three-week standoff is beginning to bite hard for all Argentinians, pushing up food prices and leaving supermarket shelves half-bare.

Depriving Argentinians of beef is guaranteed to put people in a bad mood – the equivalent of taking pasta away from Italians or cheese from the French.

Some of the dispute is about the country's growing reliance on soy as a cash crop. This certainly meets growing demand for soy from Asia and provides the country with valuable export revenue, but it has also prompted concern about domestic food production; agricultural job losses; the wisdom of single-crop farming; and a panoply of environmental issues from deforestation to water pollution.

Mr Dagoto, the farm leader, said his union has always opposed the "soyanisation" of Argentina but that increasing export tariffs was not the way to go about it. "People don't understand many of us are just small-scale farmers," he said. "We need more government policies that distinguish between large and small producers and stimulate other agricultural activities."

Meanwhile, President Fernandez was preparing for yet another rally today to commemorate the end of Falklands war 26 years ago.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

EYFS Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education require an ex...

Year 3 Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home