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Argentine Scientists Draw a Line in the Sand—Science Is a Requirement for National Development

Dec. 24, 2016 (EIRNS)—After occupying the main hall of the Science and Technology Ministry in Buenos Aires for five days, and vowing to stay there through Christmas, young scientists of the National Science and Technology Research Council (Conicet) and their allies in the state sector, forced neo-conservative President Mauricio Macri to back down, and reinstate grants for 343 scientists who had been denied funding.

In addition, Conicet agreed to create another 107 "extraordinary grants" for candidates who had been recommended to receive grants but who were told there was no money because Macri had slashed the 2017 science budget by 32%. The deal is good only for a year.

The nationwide protest, which included seven cities in which Conicet has facilities, put squarely on the table the fundamental issue that the development of the national science and technology sector is integral to national economic development. It is widely recognized, too, that the solution is a temporary one. It has been rejected by the Cordoba branch of Conicet, whose personnel made the correct point: "We are defending the national science system, not just 500 scholarships; [we are defending] Argentine science." Over the past week, some of Argentina’s most prestigious scientists have made the same point.

Science Minister Luis Baranao, who had initially refused to meet with the protesters and insists Argentina "doesn’t need many scientists," met with Macri on Dec. 23—Baranao’s resignation had been rumored—and then met with the scientists to offer the the government’s compromise solution. Cadena 3 reports that protesters refused Baranao’s offer to secure them jobs in the private sector, and extracted a commitment from him that they will instead be guaranteed transfer to other state-run institutions, universities and research entities.

Protesters’ signs seen during the week of nationwide protest, included messages such as "I want to serve my country through science," and many similar ones.

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