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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Poverty levels in Argentina skyrocketed to 57.4% in January, the highest rate in 20 years, according to a study by the Catholic University of Argentina released over the weekend.

The study quickly unleashed a series of accusations between Argentina’s former Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the government of President Javier Milei, who came to power announcing a series of shock measures aimed at tackling the country’s severe crisis.

According to the report, about 27 million people in Argentina are poor and 15% of those are mired in “destitution,” meaning they cannot adequately cover their food needs.

The UCA’s social debt observatory is considered an independent and prestigious research space whose reports on poverty cover a larger geographical area than those conducted by Argentina’s national statistics agency, INDEC. It also applies a methodology that addresses the problem with a more multidimensional approach and its findings are seldom questioned by politicians and economists.

According to the center’s latest report, the increase in poverty levels in January is partly due to the devaluation of the Argentine peso applied by the Milei government shortly after taking office on Dec. 10. This resulted in an increase in the price of the country’s basic basket – which includes food, services and non-food goods – and the basic food basket.

The greatest impact, the study concludes, was experienced by working or middle class households that do not receive benefits through social programs.

Milei, an ultra-liberal economist who is implementing a series of shock measures, including a sharp reduction in public spending, said that the fact that “six out of every 10 Argentines are poor” constitutes “the true inheritance of the caste model,” which is what he calls the political class who has governed Argentina for the last 20 years.

He later said that his government “would give its life” to bring about a change in the socioeconomic reality of Argentina.

Former Vice President Fernández de Kirchner (2019-2023), who also governed between 2007 and 2015, attributed the poverty problem largely to the policies of conservative President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), who succeeded her in office, and to the adjustments applied by the current administration.

She said that, starting in 2018, “with a debt in dollars and the return of the IMF (…), we went backwards.” The reality presented by the study, Fernández de Kirchner said, “shows that today we are worse off than in 2004.”

The government responded to Fernández de Kirchner asking her to “be silent.”

Presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said Monday during his daily press conference, that the former president is “one of the most relevant figures in the last 20 years of Argentina‘s decline.”


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