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Argentina goes to the polls mired in 2001 crisis damage

Despite strong growth in recent years, the Argentina that votes in mid-term elections on Sunday has far from recovered from the 2001 crisis that hobbled the country

world Updated: Jun 27, 2009 11:42 IST

BUENOS AIRES, June 26, 2009 (AFP) - Despite strong growth in recent years, the Argentina that votes in mid-term elections on Sunday has far from recovered from the 2001 crisis that hobbled the country.

Drug use in slums, millions living in poverty, and growing insecurity are some of the problems plaguing the nation of 40 million that once prided itself on having more in common with Europe than many of its troubled Latin American neighbors.
High world prices for Argentine exports helped the ruling Kirchner couple -- former president Nestor and current President Cristina -- to boost economic recovery after the 2001-2002 collapse.

But the Kirchner team has been unable to keep to their promises on reducing poverty.

Between 12 and 14 million people live below the poverty line in Argentina, according to independent studies and the opposition -- double the figures released by the government.

According to the independent Ecolatina institute, created by former economy minister Roberto Lavagna, poverty affected 30.5 percent of the population in the second half of 2008.

A study by an Argentine worker’s association, the CTA, said that “the rates of poverty and destitution are 33.5 percent and 14.5 percent respectively.”

The study was carried out by former members of the national statistics institute, which is today accused of massaging its figures.

“The rise in the level of destitution was mainly due to high inflation, particularly impacting on food products, in the last two years,” said Claudio Lozano, a CTA economist.

Real inflation is four times higher than official figures suggest, Lozano said. In the northeastern Chaco province, the dire situation of the indigenous Toba people recently led the Supreme Court to order authorities to supply them with drinking water and food.

The devastation of the 2001 crisis, the worst in the country’s history, is apparent in other areas too. The “cartoneros,” informal workers who recycle part of the waste of Buenos Aires, appeared with the crisis and are far from disappearing. They are now suffering from a drop in the price of cardboard.

The use of “paco,” a mix of cocaine paste, crushed glass, kerosene and chemicals that can kill a person in less than six months and also emerged during the crisis -- is also on the rise.

More than 50,000 youths use the drug, according to official statistics, including some as young as six years old.
One dose costs five pesos (one euro), but only lasts several minutes and dozens can be taken at a time. Young people sell anything, even their clothes, to obtain the drug.

Groups of “mothers against paco,” who often live in slums, have united to try to pull their children off the drug.
While “paco” mostly affects the working classes, insecurity affects everyone, including the celebrities who call on politicians to fight it.

“Does someone need to kill the daughter of a president, a governor or a judge for this country to wake up?” asked sports idol and national soccer coach Diego Maradona recently.

Television channels have almost systematically headlined their news bulletins with insecurity issues during the electoral campaign, multiplying live broadcasts from the funerals of police or civilians.

me 28 million ASorgentines are eligble to vote in Sunday’s elections on the renewal of half of the 247 parliamentary seats an a thidrd of 72 senate seats.