BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina's caretaker president spent Christmas Day working on a plan to create 100,000 jobs before New Year's.
"I will work, work, work," President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa said when asked how he would spend the holiday Tuesday.
Rodriguez Saa, who took office Sunday after escalating political and economic turmoil caused the government of former President Fernando de la Rua to collapse, has made job creation a top priority.
His plan would put people to work for at least 25 hours a week clearing public spaces, parks and roadways and doing other menial labor. The first 30,000 jobs are to be in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Santa Fe, with the remainder split among the other 23 provinces.
He has promised to eventually create a million jobs.
The president said he would order public workers to stop using most official vehicles and sell off much of the government car fleet. Additionally, the government plans to impose a ceiling of $3,000 a month on public worker salaries.
He scheduled a meeting for late Wednesday with Finance Secretary Rodolfo Frigeri, who has confirmed that Argentina is suspending repayment of its $132 billion public debt.
For many Argentines, it was a glum Christmas.
Marta Rietti, 65, attended the midday Mass at the whitewashed Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar as "Silent Night" floated over the gilded altar past dark wooden statues of saints.
She said the Christmas spirit was hard to come by, with festivities muted by street protests last week that resulted in 26 deaths, as well as by crimped family budgets and a prevailing mood of austerity.
"This is a very sad holiday, a very sad Christmas," said Rietti, whose own business importing medical equipment had shriveled up. Referring to last week's supermarket looting and rioting, she added, "This is a year with very little peace in Argentina."
Roman Catholic Archbishop Estanislao Karlic appealed to Argentines not to lose hope despite the four-year recession that has left nearly one of every five workers out of a job. He did not refer directly to the crisis, but said that "sometimes the road is difficult" in keeping the faith.