Argentina: Thousands protest to demand increased funding for public universities

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Raising their textbooks and diplomas and singing the national anthem, hundreds of thousands of Argentines filled the streets of Buenos Aires and other cities on Tuesday to demand increased funding for the country's public universities, in a wave of anger. In the harsh austerity measures taken by Liberal President Javier Miley.

The size of the demonstration in downtown Buenos Aires appears to exceed other mass demonstrations that have rocked the capital since Miley came to power.

Students and professors coordinated with the country's powerful trade unions and left-wing political parties to respond to budget cuts that forced Argentina's most respected university to declare a financial emergency and warn of impending closure.

Demonstrators gather outside the Casa Rosada presidential palace during a march demanding more funding for public universities and to protest austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abdel)

In a sign of growing unrest in response to Miley's policies, even conservative politicians, private university administrators and right-wing television personalities joined the march, defending the common cause of public education in Argentina that has underpinned the country's social progress for decades.

“It's historic,” Ariana Thiel Lara, a 25-year-old recent graduate, said as she protested. “It's like we're all united.”

Describing universities as bastions of socialism where professors indoctrinate their students, the following He tried to dismiss the university budget crisis as politics as usual.

“The cognitive dissonance that brainwashing creates in public education is enormous,” he said.

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At the University of Buenos Aires, halls went dark, elevators froze, and air conditioners stopped working in some buildings last week. Professors lectured to 200 people without microphones or projectors because the public university could not cover the electricity bill.

“It is an unimaginable crisis,” said Valeria Anyon, a 50-year-old professor of literature at the university known as UBA. “I feel sad for my students and for myself as a professor and researcher.”

In his quest to reach a zero deficit, so does Miley Cut spending across Argentina – Closing ministries, stopping funding for cultural centres, laying off state employees and reducing support. On Monday he had something to prove, announcing Argentina's first quarterly fiscal surplus since 2008 and promising the public that the pain would pay off.

“We are making the impossible possible even with the majority of politicians, unions, the media and most economic actors against us,” he said in a televised speech.

A student holds a sign written in Spanish "Without science there is no future" During a march to demand more funding for public universities and against austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A student holds a sign reading in Spanish “Without knowledge there is no future” during a march for more funding for public universities and against austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo) / Natasha Pisarenko)

Students march to Congress to demand more funding for public universities and against austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Students march to Congress to demand more funding for public universities and against austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

On Tuesday, the voices of the demonstrators echoed in the city center. “Why are you so afraid of public education?” Signs asked. “The university will defend itself!” The students shouted.

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“We are trying to show the government that they cannot deprive us of our right to education,” said Santiago Ceraulo, a 32-year-old social media student who was protesting on Tuesday. “Everything is at stake here.”

Since last July, when the fiscal year began, the state has provided the University of Buenos Aires with only 8.9% of its total budget. Annual inflation It is now hovering near 290%. The university says this is barely enough to keep the lights on and provide basic services in teaching hospitals that have already reduced capacity.

The university warned last week that without a rescue plan, the school would close in the coming months, stranding 380,000 middle school students. It is a shock to Argentines who consider free, quality university education a birthright. UBA has a proud intellectual tradition, having produced five Nobel Prize winners and 17 presidents.

“I have had access to a future and opportunities through this university that otherwise my family and many others at our same income level would not have been able to afford,” said Alex Vargas, a 24-year-old economics student. “When you step back, you see how important this is to our community.”

Students protest for more funding for public universities and against austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley, featured on the banner, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. The posters are written in Spanish "With fascism there are no rights" Center, and "Why all this fear of educating people?" Right, and "Defending the university is defending the homeland" Leave.  (AP Photo/Natasha Pisarenko)

Students protest for more funding for public universities and against austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley, featured on the banner, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

President Miley came to power last December, inheriting an economy in disarray after years of chronic overspending and crippling international debt. He brandishes a chainsaw on the campaign trail as a symbol of budget cuts, repeating a simple phrase to his compatriots suffering from budget cuts and a 50% devaluation of the peso: “There is no money.”

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Overall, Argentina allocates 4.6% of its GDP to education. Public universities are also free for international students, attracting hordes of students from all over Latin America, Spain and beyond. Critics of the system want foreign students to pay dues.

“Where I come from, high-quality education is unfortunately a privilege, not a basic right,” said Sofia Hernandez, a 21-year-old from Bogota, Colombia, who studies medicine at the University of Bogota. “In Argentina, there is a model that I wish more countries had.”

The government said late Monday that it would send about $24.5 million to cover maintenance costs at public universities and another $12 million to keep medical centers operating.

Presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said, “The discussion has been settled.”

University authorities disagreed, saying the promised transfer – which they had not yet received – covered a small fraction of what they needed. For UBA, this means cutting the annual budget by 61%.

Teachers also need attention, said Matias Ruiz, UBA Treasurer. They have seen the value of their income decline by more than 35% in the past four months. Employee salaries can be up to $150 per month. Professors juggle multiple jobs to get the job done.

“Funding and salaries have been frozen under previous right-wing governments, but these cuts are three times worse,” said Ines Aldau, a 44-year-old UBA literature professor.

Police guard the Casa Rosada presidential palace during a march by demonstrators demanding more funding for public universities and protesting austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abdul)

Police guard the Casa Rosada presidential palace during a march by demonstrators demanding more funding for public universities and protesting austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abdul)

A popular march to demand more funding for public universities and against austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

A popular march to demand more funding for public universities and against austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miley in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Angry students, teachers and workers poured into the streets of the capital just hours after Miley declared economic victory from his presidential palace.

“We are building a new era of prosperity in Argentina,” Miley told the audience, boasting that Argentina recorded a quarterly fiscal surplus of 0.2% of GDP.

A huge banner hanging over downtown Buenos Aires presented a choice: Miley or public education?

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