Argentinians are struggling to make ends meet amid 100% inflation

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Jesica Fernández used to join seven family members every weekend for a big beef barbecue. Beef is no longer on the menu and now they are more likely to eat spaghetti or chicken wings.

In beef-loving Argentina, barbecues today only happen on birthdays or special occasions, Fernández said.

Fernández, 31, is among millions of Argentines struggling to make ends meet as the country’s annual inflation rate hit an annual rate of 102.5 percent in February, the first time it has reached triple digits since 1991.

She shopped at a market sponsored by the municipality of Lomas de Zamora, about 25 kilometers from the capital, where businesses offer basic goods at cheaper prices in exchange for the free shop space.

“We’re buying less beef and we’re buying less stuff. In reality, you can’t give yourself the luxury you could before,” Fernández said.

The country’s Indec statistics agency said this week that consumer prices rose 6.6% in February from the previous month, a higher-than-expected figure, on top of years of double-digit annual inflation over the past decade. Food was among the items that gained the most in February, rising 9.8% from January, partly due to a punishing drought that has pushed up prices of meat and other goods.

“The situation is very difficult and every day it gets worse,” said Daisy Choque Guevara, 42.

Mabel Espinosa, 37, walked around the market with her 10-day-old baby, Gael, hoping to find deals to buy enough food for herself, her husband and six children.

“The money is not enough,” Espinosa said. “Barbecue? Forget it.”

President Alberto Fernández has struggled to put the brakes on the country’s soaring inflation rate, which will undoubtedly be a key issue in the presidential campaign ahead of elections in October.

Argentinians have long suffered from large bouts of rising prices, worse than elsewhere, because of the government’s penchant for printing money to fund spending. This trend accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, while a sharp depreciation of the local currency also pushed up prices.

The center-left administration of President Alberto Fernández has tried to rein in rising prices through price controls that have largely failed. Much of the opposition says Argentina needs a broader stabilization plan that includes a sharp drop in spending.

“We obviously think the inflation data is bad, very bad, plus it was unexpected,” presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti said Thursday. “The government remains firmly committed to controlling prices, controlling inflation, reducing inflation and not allowing prices to continue to rise.”

However, Espinosa is not convinced that things will improve, at least in the short term.

“I call it resignation, nothing will change … Why get angry?” she said. “Today you get something at one price and tomorrow it will be another price, but it doesn’t matter that you have to pay for it because you need it.”

People need to cut back where they can.

“For example, if I could buy two yogurts before, now I can only buy one,” said Roxana Cabrera, 38. “It’s very difficult to buy now, you have to search for prices.”

Everything that is not absolutely necessary is left for a later date.

“I was able to buy clothes before, for example, but not anymore,” Cabrera said. “Now I can only buy food.”

For some, the choices are even more drastic.

“We don’t eat dinner,” said Yanet Nazario, who lives with three of her children and seven grandchildren in a poor neighborhood in Buenos Aires. She bought flour and soap from a makeshift stand set up by a cooperative in her neighborhood that sells a few basic items at lower prices than the stores.

“There are a lot of sacrifices now because the money you make is not enough, you have to work a lot more, we have to go to soup kitchens,” Nazario said.

The children in the household get dinner from soup kitchens that now limit their food to only young people because the overall demand has become so high.

“We adults only drink a cup of tea” with dinner, Nazario said. “The next day we skip breakfast and have lunch.”

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