Argentina: Milei’s anti-people reforms approved amid protests, violent repression

June 17, 2024
protest in the streets of Buenos Aires
Protesting Argentinian far-right president Javier Milei's Omnibus Bill in Buenos Aires, on June 13. Photo: @Kicillofok/X

Argentina’s Senate narrowly approved far-right President Javier Milei’s Omnibus Bill — a suite of neoliberal reforms geared towards big business interests — on June 12, marking his first successfully implemented laws since he took office in December.

Despite being modified and reduced from 660 articles to 238, the laws still represent a wide-reaching attack on the rights and economic situation of most Argentines and a massive public wealth transfer to private interests.

The laws include the privatisation of several state companies, weakening of labour rights, tax breaks for investors and further economic deregulation. The laws also give Milei broad legislative powers to make decisions without going through Congress, such as to disband federal agencies, which he will undoubtedly do given his opposition to environmental and cultural institutions.

While the Senate was debating the bill, thousands of people rallied against the reforms outside the Congress building in the capital Buenos Aires.

Police and armed forces fired teargas, water cannons and rubber bullets into the crowds, injuring hundreds, including five opposition MPs. Police arrested and imprisoned dozens of protesters, and even bystanders, on charges such as “instilling public fear” and “attacking the constitutional order”. The presidential office labelled the protesters “terrorist groups” attempting to “perpetrate a coup” against Congress.

Human rights organisations condemned the state violence and called the arrests a criminalisation of protest. The Centre for Social and Legal Studies said the arrests have a political goal to “instil fear in anyone who mobilises against the government”.

Since coming to power, Milei’s government has consistently used the repressive arms of the state against protesters and to intimidate social movement organisations that have mobilised in opposition to his attacks on workers, students and pensioners.  

Using executive powers, Milei has already slashed public spending and state subsidies for essential goods, fired tens of thousands of public sector workers and attacked pensions. While Milei boasted of his budget surplus in April, Argentina’s poverty rate has risen from 44% to at least 57% since he became president. The United Nations Children’s Fund warned in March that the child poverty rate in the country could reach 70% this year and called for more spending on protecting children’s livelihoods, which is the opposite of what Milei’s government has done.

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