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Argentina G20 Summit Angst


President Trump is arriving in Argentina today ahead of the G-20 summit. And in Buenos Aires, where the summit is taking place, there is this massive security operation underway to protect visiting world leaders and also to stop violent protests. NPR's Philip Reeves takes us to the streets of Argentina's capital.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Buenos Aires is getting ready. This is the first time a G-20 summit's ever been held in South America. Argentina is desperate to make sure nothing goes wrong. Downtown, workmen are setting up security barriers around a hotel where some G-20 visitors will stay. Tomorrow, this part of town will be locked down. The Argentine government's told people around here to go away - take a long weekend, it says.

MARCUS HANDEL: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Marcus Handel is one of many money changers working the streets.

HANDEL: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: He says he's happy the G-20 summit's here because he thinks it'll raise Argentina's international profile and present a positive image to the outside world. Officials here worry that positive image could be destroyed by violent protests like those at last year's G-20 summit in the German city of Hamburg, where masked activists trashed shops and torched cars. The authorities say they're deploying some 22,000 police and security agents to try to make sure that doesn't happen.


REEVES: Demonstrations have already started. This crowd of several thousand yesterday blocked the main thoroughfare through the city center, watched by a throng of cops with riot shields and tear gas at the ready.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: This protest's organized by leftist groups and is about Argentina's economic crisis. This year, inflation is expected to be above 45 percent. These people want President Mauricio Macri to do something about unemployment. Yet this protest is also about the G-20 says Maria Dotti, one of the organizing officials.

MARIA DOTTI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Dotti accuses Macri of refusing to help Argentina's unemployed but being happy to waste money hosting President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Others here are actually glad the G-20's come because they think it gives them an opportunity to highlight Argentina's problems by protesting before the world's media.

EVA GUTIERREZ: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: "The only way for us to get people to understand that we have needs is to go out on the streets," says Eva Gutierrez, who's 47. She says she can't find a job and is struggling to take care of her 9-year-old son who's autistic.

Much bigger protests against the G-20 are planned for tomorrow. The authorities hope they can handle these without a repetition of last weekend's disastrous security lapse. On Saturday, this city was supposed to stage one of the world's biggest soccer games, the second leg of the finals of the Copa Libertadores between local rivals River Plate and Boca. The game was postponed because of violence by fans. That international embarrassment has led to soul searching in Argentina, says Juan Decima, a journalist with Clarin newspaper. He says Argentines care about what the world thinks of them.

JUAN DECIMA: There is this whole idea that Argentina is always very - Argentines are very susceptible to, what is the world saying about us? You know, the world is talking about us.

REEVES: That means they care a lot about what happens here in the next few days. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.