Coronavirus in Argentina: illegal closure of access in several municipalities threatens food distribution
Just as the worst face of the coronavirus in Argentina is expected in the coming weeks, in the agro-industrial chain they see an equally bleak horizon for food supplies if the restrictions on truck traffic that were established in several municipalities continue.
According to a complaint filed with the Ministry of Transport by the Chamber of the Oil Industry of the Argentine Republic (CIARA), the Center of Grain Exporters and the Chamber of Private Commercial Ports, it is estimated that at least 70 municipalities in different provinces are acting illegally, without respecting the national regulations that consider food distribution as an essential activity exempt from compulsory isolation.
The situation involves “grain loading trucks that enter the warehouses” of the different towns “to take that merchandise to ports, poultry plants, dairy farms, feedlots, pigs and the food industry in general,” according to the note sent to Minister Mario Meoni. The entrepreneurs are demanding that the minister provide “the necessary means, together with the governors, to discourage these municipal measures and to regulate the flow of essential foodstuffs.
Both Meoni and officials from the Casa Rosada assured Clarín that “there are no traffic restrictions for food transport” and confirmed that they are working on a single permit that will be downloaded via the Internet, so that trucks can present it at the checkpoints in the different provinces and move freely”.
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We will have to see how they work in the face of local controls that claim the right to interpret, and contradict, the national law in various ways. In some cases they prevent people from stopping on their routes and streets, in others they directly prohibit passage.
Transport spokespersons made it clear that the restrictions of the municipalities are illegal; they are carried out individually by the communes of each place. “It is essential to maintain the flow of trucks established by the DNU in order to keep all populations with food and essential supplies,” they said from that portfolio. They believe that with this type of measure they isolate themselves with the risk that their neighbors will not be able to receive the proper health and food attention.
The concern is great among national leaders. Today Meoni is going to hold meetings with his team along with officials from the Interior, Security and Health, as well as Hugo Moyano for truck drivers, the business chambers and YPF.
And there are also meetings at the continental level to unlock the situation. On Monday, seven South American ministers held a videoconference to discuss the harmonization of standards and ensure the smooth flow of goods and food supplies in the region during the pandemic. The meeting was held at the initiative of Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, Tereza Cristina, and organized within the framework of the Southern Agricultural Council (CAS), whose technical secretariat is provided by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). Participating were Argentina’s Minister of Agriculture, Luis Basterra, and his counterparts from Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru and Bolivia.
Although various companies supplying mass consumption do not yet perceive major problems and there are no serious shortages in supermarkets or in the Central Market, those in contact with truck drivers reflect that the situation is getting more complicated. “There are shortages in all the places where corn, wheat, soybean, barley, sorghum, sunflower, among other grains are received,” because “the number of municipalities in a state of rebellion is increasing,” said the Argentine Chamber of the Oil Industry (CIARA).
The problem is also suffered by truckers because of the obstacles they face at service stations. They are refueled but they are not allowed to eat, park or go to the bathroom,” warned Ernesto Arriaga, the road expert who, from Transport, is coordinating the movement of trucks in the emergency.
In this state of affairs, many truckers complain that they feel “very badly treated on Argentine roads. The controls that are carried out during changes of jurisdiction are endless, wasting a lot of time,” said Diego Colonna, a truck driver in northwest Argentina.
“We truckers are having a hard time. Far from family, from our homes, and they complicate our lives,” said a trucker who took a long time than usual to take rice from the Litoral to Uspallata, Mendoza.