Argentine Poverty Widens

Church Appeals to Leaders Not to Shirk Duty

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BUENOS AIRES, FEB. 18, 2002 ( Argentina has 1.4 million new poor in this country of 37 million since the onslaught of its social and economic crisis, a government official says.

The Vice Minister of Economy, Jorge Todesca, announced the figures today on radio. He said that President Eduardo Duhalde will publish the official statistics on poverty later this week.

On Saturday, Bishop Juan Carlos Maccarone of Santiago del Estero appealed to the country´s leaders not to shirk their duties and to adopt effective measures to combat unemployment.

Without such measures, «I think the country will not have confidence in the leadership,» the bishop said. Unemployment is now close to 30%.

Bishop Maccarone made these statements during the first working-day meeting of a group that is examining the nation´s ills. The group includes representatives of the government, business and trade unions.

The first rounds of talks focused most critically, not on the country´s finances, but on «the loss of the sense of the common good,» the prelate said.

«They told us: ´It hurts us to see that in the midst of an unheard-of crisis, there are groups that tend to want better positions,´» the bishop lamented. «This means a moral failure … moral failure of the leadership.»

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