President Alberto Fernández inaugurated the 140th period of regular sessions of Congress at noon on Tuesday saying as much what he would not do as what he would do – Argentina will have to face »no tariffs(significant increases in the utility bill), he said, without labor and pension reforms included in the dragged-out deal with the International Monetary Fund.
The most dramatic moments in the president’s 90-plus-minute speech came when Fernández let down the previous administration of Mauricio Macri, saying she was responsible for Argentina’s multibillion-dollar debt to the multilateral lender. Outraged by the accusation, admittedly barely made for the first time, many opposition deputies began to walk away (those from the center-right PRO party, while those from the Radical and Civic Coalition wing of the opposition Juntos por el Cambio remained on their benches).
Yet while the PRO caucus came out, Máximo Kirchner – the caucus leader of the ruling Frente de Todos coalition until last month – didn’t even show up, staying away in Patagonia. He blamed the start of the school year for his absence, although most saw it as the result of his decision to resign from his post because of his opposition to any IMF deal.
Small mention for Ukraine
Surrounded by Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Sergio Massa, President Fernández began with a brief mention of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, grouping it with the other crises facing the Argentina and the world (“We are facing a period of health, economic and war crisis”) before deploring the conflicts that are ravaging Europe and calling for a minute of silence.
“Argentina cannot escape the context in which we are immersed,” he told the chamber.
Many opposition MPs held a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag in front of them to press for a tougher stance against the Russian invasion from the government, which condemned Moscow’s ‘aggression’ before the United Nations in the next days.
The pandemic (“the consequences of Covid were multidimensional”) and “multicausal” inflation (“the main problem we have Argentines”) were next on the president’s list. On the first, he highlighted the speed of the nationwide vaccination campaign, with Argentina receiving 112 million doses of vaccine from seven different countries, further saying that only China and Spain had percentages of comparable vaccinations.
“The worst is now behind us,” he said, before taking aim at the opposition. “It might be tempting for some to politicize such a tragedy by blaming those of us who had a duty to govern at this moment in humanity, but that is definitely unacceptable.”
Fernández, however, left a little room for self-criticism: “Absolutely everything I did to fight the pandemic had no other purpose than to save as many lives as possible in a difficult and unpredictable context. I am not infallible, I am a human being. I have made mistakes on some occasions, but I have the inner calm that no one in our country has been left without health care.
Addressing economics, Fernández highlighted the impact of strong state intervention (“with a weak state, the powerful always win and the majority of people lose”) and praised the growth rate of 10.3% from last year, well above forecasts and reversing the 2020 drop caused by the pandemic. He pointed to public works as being at the heart of this recovery: “We did not stop public works during the pandemic and we will not do so in the future”.
Other examples of recovery he pointed to are PyMES (small and medium enterprises), “widespread and federal and the highest in the past 20 years” and employment with unemployment down to 8.2%, ” the lowest in more than three years” while real wages rose slightly last year “although less than we would like”.
“It is time to register the activities of the popular economy with the labor cooperatives participating in public works,” he continued, adding that it was essential to transform the social plans into formal jobs.
The Frente de Todos leader then ironically brushed off opposition and tensions around this year’s budget bill: “They say that we Peronists use Congress to approve laws, but in almost 40 years, Congress only left Cristina in 2010 without a budget and me this year.”
The president then moved on to the core issue of the IMF deal, eventually triggering the opposition walkout.
Fernández said, “It didn’t leave us with a single bridge or highway, just an unpayable foreign debt. We are taking a new step with this agreement with the IMF, it is an immense debt and without an agreement we cannot build certainties in Argentina. The agreement we have reached with the IMF is the best that can be obtained and governing is an exercise in responsibility.
“This new agreement reschedules the existing debt. Payments will start in 2026 and end in 2034,” he revealed.
“This agreement does not envisage restrictions that affect our development … or double our sovereignty,” insisted the president, specifying the absence of pension or labor reform.
Addressing the central aspect of utility pricing, he said: “There will be no more prices in Argentina. We will segment the subsidies, with the aim of preventing the top 10% from taking advantage of them. »
As for the other public service customers, the President declared: “Let us be inspired by Law 27,443 (which indexed the price increases of public services to the evolution of salaries) voted in 2018 and opposed by the President of the time, Mauricio Macri. What we are going to do is to use this same indicator but by establishing that the evolution of the pricing of public services is clearly lower than the evolution of wages.
He concluded with another breath to the Macri presidency: “Argentines have the right to know who was responsible for such madness. In last year’s state of the nation address, he instructed the treasury attorney to take legal action against those responsible for the 2018 debt.
Despite the walkout, Fernández called on lawmakers from all political backgrounds to support the IMF deal.
Agreement with China, new policies
Regarding the IMF, President Fernández was able to announce that the expansion of the currency swap with China had been confirmed last Monday.
President Fernández then presented proposed bills and government plans for this year, including the expansion of public investment with the creation of 200,000 jobs (“It’s not about stabilizing the economy and then grow, it is a question of growing to stabilize”), a young plan for employment, reaching a nine-digit figure for exports, “decisive advances in the production of vaccines”, “industrialization with a Gender”, strengthen the program of integral sexual health, a science and technology plan for 2030 and a series of investments to improve transport, education, legislation on rents and access to housing, national roads, gas pipelines and connectivity.
Though not as prominent as it was during last year’s state of the nation address, judicial reform was far from absent last Tuesday. If he did not forget to mention the fight against crime, President Fernández underlined: “The Supreme Court must also be the subject of analyzes and decisions during this legislative year”.
The President went on to blast the use of intelligence services for unlawful espionage, persecution and extortion while adding, “We continue to hold the policies of memory, truth and justice as the highest.” with its conception of human rights also including indigenous, disabled and non-binary people.
Towards the end of his speech, he announced a bill to extend paternity and maternity leave (Argentina being one of the lagest countries in Latin America when it comes to parental leave) while emphasizing its commitment to the fight against climate change.
Among the various criticisms from the opposition following the state of the nation address, PRO MP Gerardo Milman said the Frente de Todos government would leave the country with the biggest increase in debt in its 90-year history. billion dollars after having already printed more than 75 billion dollars. , also calling the IMF deal a “ticking time bomb”.
Other MPs criticized the lack of mention in the speech of the fires ravaging Corrientes.
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