BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Thousands of people are using social networks to mobilize a huge march Thursday night against President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, organizing what they hope will be the country's biggest anti-government protest in more than a decade.
Angered by rising inflation, violent crime and high-profile corruption, and afraid Fernandez will try to hold onto power indefinitely by ending constitutional term limits, the protesters plan to bang pots and march on the iconic obelisk in Argentina's capital. Protests also are planned in plazas nationwide and outside Argentine embassies and consulates around the world.
The protests known as cacerolazos hold deep symbolism for Argentines, who recall all too well the country's economic debacle of a decade ago. The "throw them all out" chants of that era's pot-banging marches forced presidents from office and left Argentina practically ungovernable until Fernandez's late husband, Nestor Kirchner, assumed the presidency in 2003.
The current president's supporters sought to ignore two of the protests this year, but with the latest effort promising to turn out huge numbers, her loyalists have come out in force. They dismiss the protesters as part of a wealthy elite, or beholden to discredited opposition parties, and misled by news coverage from media companies representing the country's most powerful economic interests.
"The people don't feel represented by anyone. It's a complaint everyone has. The people are begging for the opposition to rise up, and for the government to listen," said Mariana Torres, an accountant and mother of three who is among the leading organizers of the protests.
Fernandez has suggested that too much of Argentina's political rhetoric masks darker motivations that few want to openly express.
"No more lying," she said during a speech Wednesday. "It's all that I ask of all the Argentines, that we speak with the truth. And if you don't like the government because of its human rights policies, say it's because of human rights; if you don't like the government because of those who used to be poor and you could hire them for nothing, and now you can't, that you say so as well."
In fact, polls suggest neither side has a firm grip on people's sympathies.
Fernandez was re-elected by a landslide 54 percent over a divided opposition just a year ago but saw her approval rating fall to 31 percent in a nationwide survey in September by the firm Management & Fit. The survey of 2,259 people, which had an error margin of about two percentage points, also said 65 percent of respondents disapproved of her opponents' performance.
Crime is the biggest concern for many marchers.
Many media provide a daily diet of stories about increasingly bold home invasion robberies, in which armed bands tie up families until victims hand over the cash that many Argentines keep in their homes. Many people stopped putting money in banks after the government froze savings accounts and devalued the currency in 2002. Adding to frustrations, the vast majority of the crimes are never solved, while the death toll is rising.
Inflation also upsets many, as the government's much-criticized index puts inflation at about 10 percent annually, or as little as a third of the estimates of private economists. As a result, real estate transactions have slowed to a standstill, given the difficulty of estimating the future value of contracts. And unions that won 25 percent pay hikes only a few months ago are threatening to strike again unless the government comes up with more.
Many Argentines are worried mostly about their pocketbooks, angry that government decrees designed to maintain the central bank's dollar reserves and combat tax evasion have made it all but impossible to legally trade their inflationary pesos for safer currencies.
"If you go to the march you won't find only middle-class people," Torres said. "You'll see everything from a professional to a low-wage worker to retirees on minimal pensions."
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