Argentina: Violent Protests As Senators back Austerity Measures of President Milei

Argentina: Violent Protests As Senators back Austerity Measures of President Milei

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Police in Buenos Aires used water cannon and teargas to tackle violent protests as Argentina’s Senate narrowly voted to approve the first set of harsh austerity measures proposed by President Javier Miliei.

The result came after protesters urging senators to reject Milei’s program of cuts and economic deregulation hurled sticks, stones and molotov cocktails at police, and overturned cars, The Guardian reported.

Dozens of protesters were treated by medics in the streets and police said 20 officers had been injured in the clashes. At least five opposition lawmakers said they were hospitalized after police pepper sprayed them.

Thousands of bankers, teachers, truckers and workers from a range of other unions had converged around Congress throughout the day, banging drums, blasting trumpets and chanting, “Our country is not for sale!” and “We will defend the state!”

After 11 hours of heated debate, senators voted 37 to 36 in favor of the bill late on Wednesday, delivering an initial legislative victory to the libertarian leader in his campaign to deliver on his ambitious agenda. But the lawmakers must still approve individual measures in an article-by-article vote set to last through the night.

If the Senate approves the bills with modifications, the lower house still has to approve them before Milei can officially pass his first law since taking office in December.

The president is due to attend the G7 leader summit, which begins in Italy on Thursday, at the invitation of far-right prime minister Giorgia Meloni.

The fiery rightwing economist rose to power on promises he would resolve Argentina’s worst economic crisis in two decades, with annual inflation climbing toward 300% and a deepening recession.

But his political party of relative novices holds just a tiny minority of seats in Congress and he has struggled to strike deals with the opposition.

Senators are voting on two bills, a tax package that lowers the income tax threshold and a 238-article state reform bill that passed the lower house of Congress in late April after weeks of negotiations.

Initially dubbed the “omnibus bill” because of its more than 600 articles, the watered-down version at hand still delegates broad legislative powers to the president in energy, pensions, security and other areas.

The proposal’s immense scope – and staunch opposition to it – has limited progress.

“We have the weakest president we’ve ever seen who is trying to pass the biggest bill we’ve ever seen,” said Ana Iparraguirre, an Argentina-based analyst at Washington strategy firm GBAO. “That’s the contradiction.”

Unlike previous Argentinian leaders since the return of democracy in 1983, Milei has failed to pass a single piece of legislation during his first six months in office. Instead, the populist outsider has relied on executive powers to slash state spending and sweep away economic restrictions.

“Today, it’s almost more important for Milei to demonstrate that he can pass laws in Congress than what he passes,” said Lucas Romero, director of Synopsis consultancy.

The package faces resistance from the left-leaning Peronist movement loyal to former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, which has dominated Argentinian politics for the past two decades and holds sway over the country’s powerful trade unions.

“If this law passes, we are going to lose so many of our labor and pension rights,” said 54-year-old teacher Miriam Rajovitcher protesting alongside her colleagues, middle-class Argentines who say they’ve had to reconfigure their lives since Milei slashed their school budgets and devalued the currency, sending inflation soaring. “I am so much worse off.”

The rally took a tense turn when hundreds of riot officers pushed back with their shields against angry protesters trying to surge through a barrier.

Police used pepper spray, water cannon and teargas against the huge crowds while demonstrators set two overturned cars ablaze and threw molotov cocktails.

“Today the government is declaring war on the Argentine people,” Peronist lawmaker Cecilia Moreau told reporters outside Congress.

The presidency called protesters “terrorists” and accused them of “attempting to carry out a coup d’état” by disrupting Congress.

The Peronist bloc controls 33 out of 72 seats in the Senate while Milei’s party, Freedom Advances, holds just seven.

Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, analysts said that foreign investors and the International Monetary Fund, to which Argentina owes a staggering $44bn, were closely watching to see whether Milei could build consensus with his opponents to deliver on his ambitions.

“This is a make-or-break moment for the Milei administration,” said Marcelo J García, Americas director at geopolitical risk firm Horizon Engage. “If he doesn’t pass this, we are heading into a political crisis.”

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