Argentina's farmers and government leaders locked in feud

Aug. 3, 2010 at 8:05 PM
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BUENOS AIRES, Aug. 3 (UPI) -- Argentina's farmers and government leaders are locked in a bitter feud over what, to the consumer in the street, must appear as pure semantics.

Beneath the intemperate rhetoric, however, lies the issue of whether the government's program of mending fences with farmers who almost brought it down a year ago is working or achieving contrary results. The indications are that relations between farmers' representatives and the government are at the lowest ebb.

In the latest war of words this week, both sides excelled at hurling erudite insults at each other but came nowhere near finding a way of working together or identifying any common ground.

The farmers are angry over excessive export taxation, officials' insensitivity to their needs and what they see as rapacious policies of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her aides.

Argentine Rural Society chief Hugo Biolcati called on the Fernandez government to set aside its "pride" and "open a window in a wall of intolerance" that he said officials had built to separate them from the masses. The society is rated as an influential lobby group for the farmers, who have expressed their opposition through a series of strikes over the past several months.

Argentina, he said, was "a country thrashed with corruption, exclusion and poverty." This was a reference to farmers' long-held grievances of government malpractices when dealing with farmers, exclusion of those who were outside the spheres of influence and chronic poverty among farmers.

Biolcati spoke at the Farming Expo in Palermo, a large and lively barrio in the capital, accusing the government of "fiscal voracity."

Contrary to tradition, however, senior government officials didn't attend the event.

Instead, officials reacted to Biolcati's comments with ferocity and in public.

Cabinet Chief Anibal Fernandez condemned Biolcati, saying that the farmer's comments made him feel "embarrassed for the members of the Rural Society."

Fernandez also attacked the Rural Society, which he said had lived through the last 200 years of existence looking down on the needs of ordinary Argentinians.

He said, "They talk about poverty but they don't want their pockets to be touched, they talk about dialogue but they feel disturbed by diversity and plurality," MercoPress reported.

He said Biolcati's criticism showed that the farmers' representatives didn't feel comfortable with Argentina's democratic system of government.

Agriculture Minister Julian Dominguez likened Biolcati's harangue about poverty to Satan delivering midnight mass.

The government says the opposition farmers' prophesies of doom have been proven wrong, with grain and livestock production far exceeding pessimistic forecasts. Critics have challenged government figures on production and harvest.

Argentina and India signed wide-ranging agreements this week to advance exchange of experts and expertise to boost agricultural production in both countries.

Argentina is banking on increased farm exports as part of its overall economic recovery effort. Currently it is drawing on Central Bank profits to meet financing needs. Earlier it dipped into reserves to pay off debt repayments due this year.

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