BUENOS AIRES, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Argentina's government has courted more controversy after a meeting between President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and farmers' representatives deteriorated into an angry war of words over who is to blame for higher beef prices.
The government is already embroiled in an unprecedented row after its attempted use of Central Bank reserves to pay off Argentina's debt, which led to the removal of Central Bank Gov. Martin Redrado and a public reproach from the High Court.
At the farmers' meeting, Fernandez conceded that meat prices in Argentina had risen beyond reasonable levels but blamed the hikes on profiteering by the livestock producers.
The president's comments provoked an immediate volley of angry retorts from the farmers' representatives, who said her comments were offensive and did not take account of the government's own policies as the cause of the hikes.
Recent increases in food prices, coupled with shortages of electricity and other outages, have heightened discontent in Argentina. The rising prices of beef, Argentina's staple diet, have caused widespread outrage that the government so far has been unable to deal with, choosing instead to blame one or other sector of the economy.
Lack of progress on poverty-reduction programs for Argentina's outlying areas has also eroded the government's popularity.
Added to that has been public anger over charges the president's spouse and former president, Nestor Kirchner, dabbled in insider trading while buying $2 million in U.S. currency soon after the 2008 financial crisis. Kirchner has denied any wrongdoing, but opposition critics of Fernandez have fanned anti-government sentiment and latent resentment of the presidential couple's financial dealings has given rise to published comments and criticism in the country's pArint and broadcast media.
The farmers' anger against both Kirchners boiled over in recent encounters between their representatives and Fernandez.
"Most of the Argentine population is paying for the Kirchners' mistakes." said Eduardo Buzzi, head of the Argentine Agricultural Federation and one of the most outspoken critics of the government.
"Many producers have lost their livestock and have had to give away their cows due to drought and because someone from the government decided what the highest prices would be and forced them to sell their cattle," Buzzi said in a farmers' meeting with Fernandez.
He also denounced as "outrageous" claims by Fernandez that farmers had been holding back on livestock sales to fatten up their cattle, thus creating a shortage of beef.
"The president is offending producers," Buzzi said. "They are getting a better value because meat is now a scarce commodity, because the Kirchnerite sector decimated livestock, repressed and did not encourage production, and now we are witnessing its consequences," MercoPress reported.
He said the problem dated back to when the president's husband ruled the country from May 2003 to December 2007. "Nestor Kirchner is responsible of endless mistakes in economic and productive matters," he said, adding that Kirchner's "anti-production" policies were largely to blame for the current crisis.
Another farm leader, Carlos Garetto, president of the Coninagro Farming Cooperatives, said, "The government was trying to blame someone, and attack the weakest link, in this case the farming producers." He, too, blamed the government's erroneous policies for the crisis in meat prices.
Criticism of the government's policies has also come from within the government, though it has been muted, mainly because of the Kirchners' sensitivity to any criticism.