Union members hand out free food for demonstrators, the homeless and unemployed, during a May Day protest against the government of Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 1, 2019. The social ministry of the Argentine bishops' conference has urged the government to declare a food emergency as the country's economy careens into crisis. (CNS photo/Agustin Marcarian, Reuters) See ARGENTINA-BISHOPS-FOOD-EMERGENCY to come. Union members hand out free food for demonstrators, the homeless and unemployed, during a May Day protest against the government of Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 1, 2019. The social ministry of the Argentine bishops' conference has urged the government to declare a food emergency as the country's economy careens into crisis. (CNS photo/Agustin Marcarian, Reuters) See ARGENTINA-BISHOPS-FOOD-EMERGENCY to come.

Argentine bishops ask government to declare food emergency

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — The social ministry of the Argentine bishops’ conference has urged the government to declare a food emergency as the country’s economy careens into crisis.

"In the face of the severe rise in homelessness, poverty, unemployment and the indiscriminate rise in the price of food comprising the basic basket of goods, we find ourselves in a situation of food and nutritional emergency, which essentially affects the most vulnerable, especially children," the bishops’ social ministry said in an Aug. 30 statement.

The social ministry called on the government to distribute a basic basket of goods free of charge or at subsidized prices, which would be targeted toward families and include items such as meat, milk and eggs, along with items such as diapers. The statement also called for government support for school meals, community gardens and soup kitchens, with the latter being a project promoted by parishes throughout the country.

"Though the national state is assisting with greater food aid, it might not be sufficient to alleviate the deficiencies at the moment," the social ministry’s statement said. "So we request the necessary measures be prepared to declare a food and nutritional emergency in the entire country, in a way so it can be carried out without delays."

Since early July, Argentina’s currency, the peso, has plunged more than 20 percent, while inflation has soared to more than 50 percent, as investors sour on the South American country and the Peronist movement. Alberto Fernandez, the Peronist presidential candidate, won primary elections by an unexpectedly large margin in August and is expected to claim the Oct. 27 presidential election.

Former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is facing corruption charges and spooks investors. Though polarizing, she remains popular with many of Argentina’s poor and is running for vice president.

President Mauricio Macri has promoted pro-market policies since winning power in 2015. He scrapped capital controls, and his administration was able to sell a 100-year bond, even though the country has a history of defaulting on its debts.

But inflation has stayed stubbornly high and rates of poverty have increased. The Social Debt Observatory at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina estimates the poverty rate climbed from 29 percent in 2015 to 35 percent in 2019.

Macri has recently resorted to re-imposing capital controls to bolster the currency and has raised the minimum wage. He asked the bishops in an Aug. 27 meeting to help with "social cohesion" in the country.

"At this time it is necessary that we are able to look beyond these circumstances and that the electoral campaign does not impede us putting a focus on the urgent needs of many citizens," the Argentine bishops said in an Aug. 27 statement.

The Catholic Church in Argentina traditionally "has a strong presence in times of crisis," said Mariano de Vedia, an editor with the newspaper La Nacion, "but the president doesn’t expressly ask them for it."

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