Argentina Chamber of Deputies passes sweeping economic and political reform bill proposed by incoming libertarian president News
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Argentina Chamber of Deputies passes sweeping economic and political reform bill proposed by incoming libertarian president

The Chamber of Deputies of Argentina, which is the lower chamber of the country’s legislature, passed on Friday an omnibus bill titled “Bases and Starting Points for the Liberty of Argentines” that included a number of reforms and was proposed by libertarian President Javier Milei. The bill passed with a majority vote of 144 in favor and 109 against, following a debate that began Wednesday.

The omnibus bill, recognized for its extensive content and sweeping reforms, was characterized by the Argentine president as crucial for “economic reform, unleashing productive forces, facilitating private sector job creation, and maintaining public order”. Originally comprising 664 articles, negotiations with the opposition led to a reduction to 382. During this process, the fiscal chapter was eliminated, and significant cuts were implemented in the privatization plan. Consequently, out of an initial list of 40 state-owned companies slated for privatization, the government opted to exclude key entities such as the YPF oil company. This limited privatization to 27 companies, with specific provisions, such as Arsat and Banco Nación, allowing only partial privatization.

Within the remaining articles, however, one of the most significant aspects is the proposal to declare a “public emergency” across diverse areas. This provision would grant “extraordinary powers” to the president, allowing him to make decisions on various matters without the need for congressional approval. While Article 1 of the bill initially urged the Argentine legislature to declare a state of national public emergency, delegating its legislative powers over economic, financial, fiscal, social, pension, security, defense, customs, energy, health, and social matters, it was later decided to streamline the areas of emergency to six: economic, financial, security, customs, energy, and administrative. In addition, the duration of these powers has been reduced. Originally set at two years, ongoing discussions in Congress reduced this period to one year, with the possibility of an extension for another year, subject to parliamentary approval.

While the bill is presented as crucial for implementing a set of emergency measures to strengthen economic stability, its scope extends beyond economic considerations. For instance, Chapter I of Title IV of the bill addresses various facets related to the organization of demonstrations, attacks, resistance to authority and legitimate defense. Despite the withdrawal of certain contentious articles—such as the original Article 331, which defined a meeting or demonstration as “the deliberate and temporary gathering of three or more people in a public space”—some controversial provisions endure. In that regard, the bill imposes penalties of up to five years for individuals leading, organizing, or coordinating a meeting or demonstration that disrupts public or private transportation (originally Article 300). Additionally, the government’s proposal (originally Article 318) amplifies the powers of the security forces by asserting:

They shall not be punished […] 4. Those acting in the fulfillment of a duty or in the legitimate exercise of their right, authority, or office, in which case the proportionality of the means used shall always be interpreted in favor of those acting in the fulfillment of their duty or in the legitimate exercise of their right, authority, or office (translated from Spanish).

While Argentine deputies debated the omnibus bill, law enforcement clashed with protestors outside the parliamentary building. This led to a significant deployment of security forces in the streets, resulting in 20 people detained and over 150 injured. Several journalists covering the protest also suffered injuries from rubber bullets, as reported by the Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA).

The Coordinator Against Police and Institutional Repression (CORREPI) responded by saying:

Since the beginning of their administration, the government of Javier Milei, Patricia Bullrich, and their provincial allies have been deploying security forces in an unprecedented manner in the face of protests and demands from an increasingly impoverished people.

They also went on warn that on January 31, security forces introduced a new highly aggressive irritant gas, which not only hinders breathing and affects mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth but also causes chemical burns on the skin.”

The omnibus bill will face a new test next Tuesday when the discussion resumes in the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina for the approval of the 382 articles individually. If it passes this stage, it will be sent to the Senate for review and final approval.