See Photos From the Historic March for Public Education in Argentina

Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets in Buenos Aires and across major cities in Argentina for the Marcha Universitaria in support of public education yesterday, April 23, marking the largest demonstration against right-wing President Javier Milei’s austerity policies since his election last year. 

Milei has taken an axe to government spending on culture, transportation, infrastructure, and social services, and state-funded universities have been hard hit as budgets remain stagnant amid soaring inflation. A report by the Buenos Aires-based nonprofit Civil Association for Equality and Justice found that funding for higher education in the country has reached its lowest level since 1997.

In a notably artistic outpouring of pride and support for Argentina’s public universities on Tuesday, faculty, alumni, students, and supporters brandished hand-painted signs and prints of a drawing by artist Pilar Veiga that went viral in the last week. The illustration depicts the central figure of a woman wearing a helmet topped with a small owl — the South American ñacurutú — evoking Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.

Another placard featured a painted portrait of the Argentinian rock icon Charly García, who reportedly expressed his support of the march. One demonstrator held up a copy of the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons report on the forced disappearance of over 30,000 individuals during Argentina’s Dirty War in the 1970s and ’80s, overlaid with the words nunca más — “never again.” Milei has repeatedly downplayed the number of victims kidnapped and killed during the dictatorship.

Argentinian art historian and scholar Andrea Giunta, who attended the march, completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), which saw professors turning off the lights in classrooms earlier this month in a cost-saving measure and gesture of protest. UBA has not seen funding increases from 2023 budgets despite a nearly 300% inflation rate over the last year; in a statement, the school said this is equivalent to cuts of over 70%.

“Free, public, and high-quality universities have a long tradition in Argentina. It was in these schools that countless artists were formed, from Marta Minujín to Julio Le Parc, from Tomás Maldonado to Noemí Gerstein,” Giunta told Hyperallergic. “The attack on public education is tied to the strategy of impoverishment that seeks to eliminate the middle class and all types of resistance to this government’s plan of privatization and extractivism, along with its constant attacks on media, journalists, intellectuals, and all forms of dissidence.”

The Milei administration has attempted to justify the cuts and the mass layoffs of state workers as necessary “economic ‘shock’” measures to curb government spending, but the country’s financial prospects appear increasingly bleaker, and critics say the president’s actions are rooted in a much more sinister campaign.

“It’s part of what they call the ‘cultural wars’ that seek to eliminate critical thinking, one more form of authoritarianism of the Argentinian alt-right,” Giunta said.

See more photos from the historic march below.

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