Argentines struggle to make ends meet amid 100% inflation

Buenos Aires, Argentina (AP) — Jessica Fernandez used to join seven family members every weekend for a big beef barbecue. Beef is no longer on the menu, and now they’re more likely to eat spaghetti or chicken wings.

Fernandez said that in beef-loving Argentina, barbecues only happen on birthdays or special occasions.

Fernandez, 31, is among millions of Argentines struggling to make ends meet as the country’s annual inflation rate hit an annual rate of 102.5 percent in February, the first time it has reached triple digits since 1991.

She was shopping at a market sponsored by the municipality of Lomas de Zamora, 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the capital, where businesses offer essential goods at cheaper prices in exchange for free retail space.

“We buy less beef and we buy less stuff. Fernandez said:

The country’s statistics agency Indec said this week that consumer prices rose 6.6% in February from the previous month, a higher-than-expected figure, on top of years of double-digit annual inflation over the past decade. Food was among the items that saw the biggest increase in February, up 9.8% from January, in part as a severe drought pushed up the prices of meat and other commodities.

“The situation is very difficult, and every day it gets worse,” said Daisy Shock Guevara, 42.

Mabel Espinosa, 37, has been trudging through the market with her 10-day-old baby Gael, hoping to find bargains to buy enough food for herself, her husband and six children.

“Money is not enough for anything,” said Espinosa. “barbeque? Forget about him.”

President Alberto Fernandez has been struggling to rein in the high rate of inflation in the country which will undoubtedly be a major issue in the presidential campaign ahead of the October elections.

Argentines have long suffered major bouts of price hikes, worse than anywhere else, because of the government’s tendency to print money to finance spending. This trend accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic while the sharp depreciation of the local currency also drove up prices.

The centre-left administration of President Alberto Fernández attempted to rein in rising prices through price controls, which largely failed. Many of the opposition say Argentina needs a broader stabilization plan that includes a sharp cut in spending.

“Obviously, we think the inflation data is bad, very bad, as well as unexpected,” presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti said on Thursday. “The government remains firmly committed to controlling prices, controlling inflation, lowering inflation, and not allowing prices to continue to rise.”

Spinoza, however, is not convinced that things will improve, at least in the short term.

“I call it resignation, nothing will change… Why are you angry?” She said. “Today you get something for one price and tomorrow it will be for another, but it doesn’t matter, you have to pay for it because you need it.”

People have to make cuts wherever they can.

Roxana Cabrera, 38, said, “For example, if I could buy two types of yogurt before, now I can only buy one. It’s very difficult to buy now, you have to look for prices.”

Anything not strictly necessary is left for a later date.

“I was able to buy clothes before, for example, but not anymore,” said Cabrera. “Now I can only buy food.”

For some, the choices are tougher.

“We don’t eat dinner,” said Yanette Nazario, who lives with three of her children and seven grandchildren in a poor neighborhood in Buenos Aires. She bought flour and soap from an impromptu stand set up by a cooperative in her neighborhood that sold some basic commodities at lower prices than in the shops.

“There’s a lot of sacrifice now because the money you make isn’t enough, you have to work a lot more, and we have to go to the soup kitchens,” Nazario said.

The children in the family get their dinner from soup kitchens which now limit their food to only the young because the aggregate demand has become too high.

“We adults only have a cup of tea” at dinner, Nazario said. “The next day we will skip breakfast and have lunch.”