Alicia Kirchner, former president Cristina’s sister-in-law and the current Governor of Santa Cruz Province, found herself stuck in the local Government Houses for 9 hours last night after a press conference, while a demonstration surrounded the building until late into the night. Members of the Adosac teachers’ union, parents of students who have still not started lessons for the year, state employees and retirees attended the protest, which took place in the midst of the current salary conflict between teachers and the local government.
The Governor of the Patagonian province waited until 4am to leave the government building through a side door and return to her home across the road, after the protest finished a little after 3am and the streets cleared of people.
The Province of Santa Cruz, where Alicia Kirchner has now been in charge for two years, has been in a state of crisis recently, with the local government having to ask for more and more money from the federal government, the teachers embarking on another week of a 120-hour strike and the local courts suspended due to lack of pay. In her press conference yesterday, Nestor Kirchner’s elder sister admitted that she does not have funds to fulfil the basic financial obligations of the administration: “the province is in a critical condition.”
Public workers in the province of Santa Cruz makes up 48 percent of the total population, all of whom require their salaries to be paid from the provincial budget – a total of AR $1,497 million each month. The annual deficit is running at AR $6,200 million and the numbers do not seem to be improving. During the press conference, Kirchner suggested that she had asked national minister Rogelio Frigerio to renegotiate the AR $70 million debt that was acquired by the previous administration.
Each month, the Governor’s administration is sent AR $300 million by the Casa Rosada to help pay salaries and last week she met with Minister Frigerio to work on a Sustainable Financing Program, because the crisis seems to just be getting worse and worse.
If she wants to keep receiving help from the State, the provincial official is now going to have to initiate a political reform in her province, which includes rolling back the “Ley de Lemas” – the same law that allowed her to stay in the position for a second term despite not receiving the most votes. The second challenge will be to reduce public spending. At this point, the main financial issue for the province is its pension fund, with an annual deficit of AR $2,500 million.
At the moment, however, judging from the events of last night, the Governor’s biggest concern is perhaps the on-going clash between her provincial government and local schoolteachers. In the middle of the conflict that has seen students not yet return to school this year, three weeks ago, the President of the Provincial Council of Education resigned.
The teachers are asking for salary increases to match the rate of inflation, as well as demanding their salaries from February and the last official pay rise. Talking to Clarín, the secretary of the Adosac union claimed: “the actual increase to the basic salary is 3 percent and they are demanding the national rise of 18%.”
But it is not only teachers who are feeling the effects of the financial crisis taking place in Santa Cruz. Other members of The State Workers’ Association (ATE), including doctors from various municipal hospitals, which, like schools, are not functioning properly.