Argentina's Deepening Crisis Worries Bishops

Extraordinary Assembly Planned for September

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BUENOS AIRES, AUG. 23, 2002 ( The Argentine Catholic bishops’ conference has called for an extraordinary meeting in order to address the national crisis that has reached «a level never before seen.»

On Thursday, at the end of a three-day meeting, the conference’s Permanent Commission issued a statement saying «we have observed a worsening of the socioeconomic reality.»

A day earlier, the National Institute of Statistics and Census disclosed that a May study revealed that 18.5 million people — half the population — do not have their basic needs satisfied.

This means that 5.2 million Argentines have been added to the ranks of the poor since the last count in October.

The number of indigent — those who do not have enough income to buy basic provisions — doubled between October and May, rising to 8.7 million people.

«We are witnessing the suffering and disenchantment of our people, because the rate of poverty, insecurity, lack of work, and marginalization has reached a level never before seen,» the bishops explained in their statement.

The text notes, however, that «an electoral campaign is growing of such frivolity that many of the actors do not seem to perceive the gravity of the real situation of our people. A change of individuals is sought without having implemented reforms that would legitimize political action and make it credible.»

Given the seriousness of the situation «and the need to foster in Christian people the attitude proper to responsible citizens,» the episcopate decided to call an extraordinary plenary assembly for Sept. 25-28.

Such a meeting of all the country’s bishops shows the gravity with which the conference views the crisis, said Archbishop Estanislao Karlic of Parana, president of the conference.

With reference to the Table of Dialogue called by Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde last Jan. 14, the message states: «We lament that we have not seen the expected response in the decision-making powers to implement the consensus reached.»

It continues: «Only with impartial individuals and morally new institutions will we be able to reconstruct the social fabric and look to the future with hope.»

The government acknowledged Thursday that the sharp increase in poverty indicates the «decadence» of the country, which is going through its worst economic crisis ever. The unemployment rate stands at 21.5%; more than 3 million people are out of work.

Poverty and unemployment fueled the social crisis that erupted in December. A popular revolt left at least 27 dead and caused the resignation of two presidents in less than 15 days.

President Duhalde tried to reactivate the economy by devaluating the currency in January, but that has led to higher inflation and more poverty.

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