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Thousands of demonstrators gathered at the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires, to demand the resignation of President Fernando de la Rúa, Dec. 20, 2001. Marcos Haupa

Argentina Explodes

by Juan Pérez Cabral

DECEMBER 20, 2001. The resignation of President Fernando de la Rúa this evening in the face of violent street protests will likely plunge Argentina into an institutional crisis that may exacerbate the country's economic woes.

De la Rúa will be temporarily succeeded by Senate President Ramón Puerta until the two houses of Congress jointly designate a new President. Argentinian law is fuzzy on the details and timetable of this process, potentially opening the door to political chaos.

De la Rúa's resignation follows four days of angry protests against his government's austerity measures. Last night, thousands of angry demonstrators thronged Buenos Aires' historic Plaza de Mayo to demand that he leave, and to protest the 30-day state of siege declared earlier yesterday by his government.

Trade unions have called a general strike until the state of siege is lifted.

Over 22 people have died, hundreds are hurt, and more than 1,000 have been arrested, as food riots and protests continue to sweep the country for the fourth consecutive day. Mounted police charged with batons and tear gas against thousands of protesters gathered again today in the Plaza de Mayo.

Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo, the darling of Wall Street during the Argentine boom of the 1990's, resigned yesterday after failing to rescue Latin America's third biggest economy from bankruptcy.

After four years of recession, and more than a decade of frantic privatization, widespread corruption, and out-of-control public spending and borrowing which made a few fabulously wealthy and many abjectly poor, Argentina is on the brink of the biggest debt default in history.

With an 18 percent unemployment rate and 40 percent of the population under the poverty line and counting (every day 2,000 more people join them in squalor), many Argentinians are hungry and angry, and they are increasingly taking to the streets.

"We have no money, we're hungry and we have to eat!" a woman screamed at the media while she ransacked on Tuesday a supermarket in San Miguel, a dilapidated, working-class Buenos Aires neighborhood.

Related links:

For Patience wears thin, an analysis of the de la Rúa government's dwindling options in The Economist.

For the Washington Post's A Destitute Argentina Suffers, describing the effects of the bankrupt state health insurance system.

For Bush Friend Arrested for Illegal Arms Trafficking

For Dirty Money, Big Banks and the Mafia State

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