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Argentine strikers yield

Times Staff Writer

Argentine farmers Wednesday suspended a 3-week-old strike that has led to food shortages and sparked the first political crisis for President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

The four principal rural groups declared a 30-day “truce” in the strike, though representatives said that “a state of alert and mobilization” would be maintained.

“We are going to continue pressing for the solutions that we want,” a farm leader, Mario Llambias, told supporters in the northern city of Gualeguaychu, a center of the strike.

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News media reports here indicated that hundreds of farmer-organized roadblocks on major rural routes were being lifted and produce was once again moving to the capital and other cities. Farm leaders expressed concern that serious food shortages would turn public opinion against them and trigger stronger police action to open the roads.

“We’re going to allow the cities to be supplied because we’re not insensitive,” Juan Echeverria, a strike leader, told the daily Clarin. But, he said, “the battle continues.”

In fact, the harsh dispute centering on new export taxes was far from resolved. Bitterness remains on both sides, and the prospects for compromise remain unclear.

Producers expressed hope that negotiations could prompt what they characterized as a more flexible response from Fernandez, who has refused to roll back the expanded export levies unveiled last month. The new levies increase to as much as 45% the duties paid on soybeans, Argentina’s principal export crop, from the current high of about 35%.

Taxing commodity exports has been a revenue-raising tactic of Fernandez and her husband, Nestor Kirchner, who served as president before stepping aside last year to let his wife seek office.

The center-left pair have had a tumultuous relationship with farmers and other business interests, but have overseen five years of growth in Argentina, a major exporter of beef, soybeans and other grains.

Fernandez has signaled her unwillingness to budge on the explosive export levy issue, and has labeled the strikers “protesters of abundance.”

The president likened the rural unrest to a 1976 farm strike that preceded Argentina’s last military coup, which ousted the country’s first female president, Isabel Peron, and ushered in seven years of brutal military rule. Raising the specter of the 1976 coup was widely seen as a warning that the government was losing its patience.

Still, farm leaders warned, in the words of Llambias, “We will not remain silent.”

Growers “are going to return to the roads,” he said, if the government does not compromise.

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patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com


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