Argentine Political Outlook (Feb-29-20)
Feb-29-20,by Rosendo Fraga

1.     The last week of February is the end of the extraordinary sessions of Congress, given that the regular sessions begin on March 1. The intention of the ruling party is to use them productively. The Lower House hopes to achieve the approval of the so-called "gondola law" that already has a half-approval of the Senate and that seeks to reduce inflation. It will also try to get the Lower House discuss the Judiciary's pension reform. A simple majority is required and Macrism and its allies will not vote for it and there are allies of the ruling party that would not do so either (Unidad Federal). The ruling party would manage to negotiate the majority, maintaining the support of the bloc that responds to Roberto Lavagna, who in the last few days was close to the government. It is a key bill for the government. The change in the retirement system of the Judiciary, according to estimates of the Council of Magistrates, would cause the resignation of hundreds of judges and prosecutors. This situation would allow the ruling party, given its large majority in the Senate, to fill vacancies with candidates aligned with it. It should be remembered that for the appointment of the judges - as for ambassadors and military promotions - the approval of two thirds of the Upper House is required. Out of 72 senators, the ruling party is short only 5 seats from two thirds. The opposition sectors claim that this is a move to subject the Judiciary, as there have been dozens of resignations, but the Supreme Court has so far assumed a neutral position. The Senate this week could agree on the designation of the Ombudsman for Children, which also requires two thirds of the Senate.


2.     On March 1, the President will read the opening address of the ordinary sessions of the Congress before the legislative assembly, just after completing 80 days in office. It will be a short balance of the short period of government and of the purposes and objectives. The speech would have four pillars: foreign debt, which without a doubt is the President's priority in the first months of his administration, assuming that without resolving it there is no possibility of fixing the economy; justice, explaining the bill to reform the retirement regime and reject criticism of his alleged second intentions; abortion, defending the bill that the Executive will send to Congress in the coming weeks, to legalize it according to the claim of the "green" sector and the retirees, arguing that the increase in fixed sum aims to make a redistribution in favor of those who are paid less. (The injunctions against this increase already exceed 10,000 and will continue to increase). In the Legislative Assembly, President and Vice will be shown together. A few days before, on February 27, they will preside together in Rosario the 208th anniversary commemorating the Argentine flag raised for the first time. This is part of the events that will be held this year to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Manuel Belgrano and the Bicentennial of his death. The differences between Alberto and Cristina exist, but in the coming days they will remain in the background.


3.     But there are tensions in various areas and sectors, which the government must address, although the good will that every government has in its first months, attenuates them. A further increase in withholding of soybean exports has led farmers to propose a strike. The Minister of Agriculture meets this week with the Liaison Commission of the farming sector entities to avoid the force measure, but grassroots producers have already called protests for March 2. The issue of abortion recreates the deep division in society. Last week, the demonstration of the "green hankies" began and on February 28 the "blue" sector will begin that day at the gates of the Law School of Buenos Aires and will continue on March 8 with a Mass in Luján, which will be attended by representatives of other religions, in addition to Catholics. Peronist unions and social movements of this orientation remain aligned with the government. But the problem of crime is a risk to the government. In the south and west of Greater Buenos Aires - where there are higher levels of poverty - protests demanding more justice and police action are escalating. The government is between the "guarantee-based" policy of the Minister of National Security (Frederic) and the "hard-handed" policy of the Minister of Buenos Aires Security (Berni).


4.     In foreign policy, the President seeks to strengthen US support for the debt rescheduling and his absence in the inauguration of the new President of Uruguay creates more than one suspicion. The Ambassador of Argentina in the US (Arguello) met with the Secretary of State (Pompeo) to reiterate the request for support and move forward in a possible Trump-Fernandez meeting. Without rejection or compromise, the Ambassador received the three requests from Washington for Argentina: support for the positions of the Lima Group with respect to Venezuela, no cooperation with Evo Morales' candidate in the next elections of Bolivia and the reelection of the OAS Secretary General (Almagro). The absence of the Argentine President in the inauguration of his Uruguayan colleague created more than one suspicion. The reason that he could not attend because that day he had to give the address before the Legislature, is not consistent because a short flight at noon could have got him it in Montevideo. His foreign minister had agreed on the first meeting between the presidents of Argentina and Brazil in the Uruguayan capital. But the day after he did, the Argentine President cancelled it. Mercosur is in a moment of tension. Brazil, Paraguay and the new government of Uruguay are inclined to relax by lowering tariffs in order to move forward in various free trade agreements and accelerate negotiations with the EU. In addition, the attitude of the United Kingdom after Brexit in agreements with countries of the regional group, either in group or bilaterally, introduces the Falkland issue between Argentina and its neighbors. While the inauguration of the Uruguayan President is attended by the presidents of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Paraguay and the King of Spain; the inauguration of the Argentine President was only attended by the presidents of Cuba, Uruguay and Paraguay. 

5. To conclude: 

a) The Executive branch tries to use the last week of the extraordinary sessions productively, achieving the final approval of the gondola law and the half approval of the pension reform of the Judiciary. 

b) The presidential address at the opening sessions of Congress is expected to have four pillars: the pension reform of judges, abortion, the increase of the fixed sum and foreign debt. 

c) Many tension points stem from the streets: farmers' pressure for a strike, the debate and clashes over abortion and the protest demonstrations over insecurity. 

d) The president seeks to confirm the US support for the debt rescheduling and his absence at the inauguration of the new president of Uruguay shows the region is not an area where he has made progress.