The beleaguered governor of the Patagonian province of Neuquén Jorge Sobisch reshuffled on Tuesday his cabinet and decapitated the provincial police force following last week's death of a teacher during street protests which on Monday forced Argentina to an almost standstill.
Sobsich fired his Security and Labor, Public Companies and Education ministers and decided to concentrate Education, Security and Labor in an only cabinet office which he put under the command of his trusted cabinet chief Jorge Lara. Security Under Secretary was also ousted as part of an overall plan to "diminish the cabinet structure and speed decision making", said reliable sources close to the governor. Apparently the idea is to concentrate in a strong ministry that can sit and negotiate with the teachers unions that have been protesting in demand of higher pay and improved working conditions. The Neuquen reshuffle was the first reaction to the killing with a tear gas canister fired at short range of chemistry teacher Carlos Fuentealba and which triggered an outburst of reaction in Argentina with the two main unions confederations calling for a strike against "police brutality" on Monday, the largest protest since 2003 when President Nestor Kirchner took office. The police officer involved in the incident has been taken to court and the Neuquén Police Forces command has been replaced. President Kirchner on Monday evening called for calm and recalled some tragic incidents of the country's recent past. Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez has offered federal gendarmes to help keep order, "if and when Governor Sobisch so requests". The Neuquen chapter of the Argentine teachers union is unsatisfied with the cabinet and police chiefs ousting and is demanding the resignation of Sobisch threatening with more protests while schools remain closed. The teachers' conflict begun when President Kirchner, in support of his Education Minister and candidate for mayor of the City of Buenos Aires, Daniel Filmus announced a general pay increase for teachers which not all provincial coffers can address. Teachers' unions organized protests in several provinces (Neuquen, La Rioja, Salta and even Kirchner's turf in Santa Cruz) with the conflict escalating nationwide in coincidence with pay negotiations in other industries that are demanding increases beyond official guidelines. Unions, even those loyal to the ruling Peronist party, are restless because inflation, particularly for the basic food basket, has ballooned far beyond target and the Kirchner administration has been stubbornly manipulating percentages. President Kirchner needs desperately to keep inflation numbers under control not only to ensure a second Kirchner four years in next October's general election, but also because Argentina's restructured (defaulted) sovereign bonds are linked to the economy's performance and prices' index.
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