THE LONDON TIMES: Argentina declares war on oil giants: “…called on Argentines not to buy anything from Shell, “not even a can of oil”: “Militant groups of the unemployed, piqueteros or pickets, responded to Señor Kirchner’s call by setting up protest lines outside Shell service stations in an attempt to enforce the ban. Shell has more than 900 stations in Argentina” (ShellNews.net) 14 March 05
By Tom Hennigan
March 14, 2005
ARGENTINA’S leader has launched his latest campaign against outside interests in the country by calling a boycott of foreign oil companies.
President Kirchner accused the oil companies of threatening the country’s economic recovery with price rises last week. He called on Argentines not to buy anything from Shell, “not even a can of oil”, until it reverses the increase. A decision by Esso to raise its prices provoked a similar call.
The Opposition is split between supporting the boycott and opposing it for fear that it will scare away much-needed foreign investment.
Militant groups of the unemployed, piqueteros or pickets, responded to Señor Kirchner’s call by setting up protest lines outside Shell service stations in an attempt to enforce the ban. Shell has more than 900 stations in Argentina, where it controls 16 per cent of the local market. The company raised prices by 4 per cent.
The piqueteros say that they are not preventing anyone from crossing their lines but are appealing to the conscience of consumers. In the past, however, the piqueteros have enforced road closures and blockades with long wooden batons.
Shell’s main headquarters in Buenos Aires was surrounded by protesters and daubed with graffiti. Supporters of the President have papered the capital with posters backing the boycott and urging Argentines to “defend their wallet and defend their country”.
Julio de Vido, the Planning Minister, said that the rise was completely unjustifiable and that the Government was examining sanctions to punish the oil companies.
Señor Kirchner’s administration has spent much of its two years in power lambasting international financial institutions and foreign-owned companies for what it sees as their role in the country’s economic meltdown, from which it is only now emerging.
Foreign governments and the International Monetary Fund had expressed hopes that the Government’s recent success in forcing foreign creditors into the biggest-ever debt write-off would see the Government finally move away from its populist rhetoric.
Analysts say that the campaign does not bode well for upcoming talks with foreign-owned utility companies. which say that they cannot resume investment in the country’s infrastructure unless the Government lifts a ban on price increases for gas, electricty and water.
But the Government is determined to avoid higher inflation, which has been creeping steadily up in recent months and is now running at more than 8 per cent a year.