Day of fury in Argentina as congress approves pension reform
December 19, 2017
Development: On 18 December, there were violent clashes outside Argentina’s federal congress between anti-riot police and protestors opposed to the pension reform proposal presented by the government led by President Mauricio Macri as the bill made its way through the legislature.
Significance: Pension reform is an integral part of the wider economic reform package that the Macri administration considers key to ensuring Argentina’s medium and long-term economic development, and which the government would like approved before the end of the year. But the proposed pension reform is resisted by local workers’ unions and leftist opposition political groups. These have launched a protest campaign, which has included mass public demonstrations outside the congress building and efforts to boycott the debate by opposition legislators. Yesterday’s protests were the most violent and disruptive to date, with protesters clashing with anti-riot police as they tried to storm the heavily guarded congress building, while unions staged a 24-hour general strike that paralysed public transport. Yet none of this stopped legislators from approving the reform and the concern now is that this could lead to wider anti-government protests around the country.
After successfully forcing the suspension of a session of the chamber of deputies in which legislators were due to hold a final vote on the pension reform bill (it has already been approved by the federal senate) last week, opponents of the reform sought to do the same yesterday. But this time around the police set up an extensive cordon around the congress building to prevent it being stormed by protesters.
This led to a pitched battle between some 300 hooded protesters who hurled sticks, rocks, and Molotov cocktails at anti-riot units, which resorted to water cannon and tear gas to try to repel them. According to police reports, the disturbances left at least 81 people injured (48 police officers and 33 civilians) and there were some 60 arrests.
Meanwhile the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) umbrella workers’ union declared a 24-hour strike yesterday in support of the protests against the pension reform. The strike was not adhered by all unions, but it was observed by practically all transport sector unions leading to the suspension of all public bus, tram, metro, and rail services, as well as to the closure of national and international airports around the country and the cancellation of hundreds of flights.
Despite the turmoil, deputies carried on debating the bill throughout the night last night. And after 12 hours of tense debate the bill was given final approval by 129 votes to 117 in the early hours of today (19 December) in the 257-seat chamber. The centre-right ruling Cambiemos coalition bench succeed in securing the support of moderate deputies of the main opposition Partido Justicialista (PJ, Peronists) party.
Looking Ahead: Following the approval of the pension reform its opponents have called for more protests demanding the scrapping of the initiative, suggesting that social tensions will remain high, testing President Macri’s resolve.
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