May 26, 1997

Argentine government told to help poor or risk riots

By Stephen Brown

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina's Catholic church said Monday there could be more violence like last week's riots in Jujuy province if the Peronist government did not help the poor and unemployed.

``When one side is deaf and there is no dialogue, one side will always react violently to try to get the other to react,'' Buenos Aires' Deputy Bishop Raul Rossi told local radio.

Over 100 people were injured last week when paramilitary police fought for three days with shanty dwellers picketing a national highway in the poor northwestern province of Jujuy. Jobless sugar and steel workers were still manning roadblocks in impoverished towns in the province Monday.

Police also clashed last week with street hawkers and students in the city of La Plata near Buenos Aires and there were riots in the city of Mendoza over privatization plans.

The sight of helmeted, heavily-armed policemen charging the protesters in Jujuy and La Plata has sparked widespread criticism of the government.

Ex-President Raul Alfonsin, who left power in 1989 ahead of schedule amid strikes, chaos and looting, wrote in Clarin Monday: ``The inequality of extreme poverty must be fought with justice and reparation. Never with repression.''

Interior Minister Carlos Corach dispatched his deputy to Jujuy and called it ``terribly regrettable'' that teargas fired by police seeped into shanty dwellings during the rioting. But he denied charges of repression.

He said the sugar workers, 4,000 of whom have been made redundant in recent years, were victims of low world commodity prices. Some towns in the province have unemployment rates as high as 37 per cent.

An Interior Ministry report published by Clarin showed Jujuy is one of four provinces to have missed out completely on the ''economic miracle'' engineered by President Carlos Menem since he came to power in 1989.

While the national economy grew 18.3 percent from 1991 to 1995, Jujuy's shrank 7.7 percent. Neighboring Salta, also the site of roadblocks, shrank as well while at the other tip of Argentina, Tierra del Fuego contracted by 32 percent.

The unrest, which began among out-of-work oil workers in Neuquen province, is a barometer of anger at unemployment of 17.3 percent compared to six percent when Menem took power.