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Long Lines Form for Free Fruit in Buenos Aires

People line up in front of the Casa Rosada Government House to receive free pears and apples during a protest staged by Argentine producers and farmers from the Patagonian provinces of Neuquen and Rio Negro for their losses in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug. 23, 2016.

Thousands of Argentines stood in line for free fruit next to the Casa Rosada presidential palace Tuesday while growers handed out 10,000 kilos of produce as a way of protesting price distortions and double-digit inflation they say crushes profits.

The queues lasted for hours, twisting around the Plaza de Mayo, with low-income families eager to get apples and pears from growers who are losing money with each kilo they sell.

"There's a problem with the price structure of apples and pears in particular. Growers are losing money, and at the same time the average family is paying an exorbitant price at the supermarket," said Raul Robin, spokesman for the Confederation of Medium Sized Businesses of Argentina.

It costs growers 4.5 pesos (30 cents U.S.) to produce a kilo of apples, but they get paid only 3 pesos per kilo, according to federation data. Meanwhile, supermarket consumers in Buenos Aires pay more than 28 pesos per kilo of apples.

"There's a huge markup through the commercialization chain, but growers can't even recoup the cost of production," Robin said.

Plea for compensation

The Federation of Fruit Producers from Rio Negro and Neuquen provinces presented the Casa Rosada a letter asking for federal money to help compensate growers for their losses.

The government has faced a series of protests in recent weeks as frustration grows over the economy. Mauricio Macri was elected president late last year on a platform of attracting international investment and stimulating growth by ditching the heavy market controls established by the previous government.

Macri says he is ridding Latin America's No. 3 economy of distortions caused by the interventionist policies of his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez. The economy is still shrinking, and inflation, while slowing, remains in the double digits.

Inflation is expected to reach 40.2 percent in 2016, one of the world's highest rates, and 19.4 percent in 2017.

Argentine gross domestic product is expected to shrink 1.3 percent in full-year 2016 before snapping back to 3.2 percent growth in 2017, according to a central bank poll of analysts.