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Argentina: Senate approves Milei's reform bill amid protests

June 13, 2024

A controversial reform package has been passed by the Senate after hours of debate, but still needs final approval. The radical reforms put forward by the far-right president have sparked violent protests.

Anti-government protesters clash with police outside Congress
Police forces used water canons to disperse the protestersImage: Gustavo Garello/AP/picture alliance

Argentina's Senate on Wednesday green-lit a controversial bill that will allow far-right libertarian President Javier Milei to introduce radical changes to the country's economic policy.

The bill received the Senate's approval as protests — denounced by Milei's office as "terrorist groups" conducting a "coup" — raged outside the building. 

Police used water canons, pepper spray and tear gas to quell the protests. Meanwhile, protesters in downtown Buenos Aires hurled sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails at the police.

Several people including protesters, police and five lawmakers suffered injuries.

Reform package squeezed through Senate

Senators voted 37 to 36 in favor of the bill after 11 hours of heated debate, with Vice President and Senate leader Victoria Villaruel breaking a tie in the chamber.

"For those Argentines who suffer, who wait, who do not want to see their children leave the country... my vote is affirmative," Villaruel said after casting her deciding vote.

The approval brings Milei's reform plans — which have been panned by numerous economists — one step closer to implementation, but several important articles of the legislation still require individual approval from the Senate before returning to the lower house where any changes will need to be considered.

Argentina's 'economic shock' vote sparks protests

"Tonight is a triumph for the Argentine people and the first step toward the recovery of our greatness," Milei posted on X. However, the president will likely still face resistance as he pushes through reforms aimed at cutting spending and boosting his powers.

His three-year-old party holds just 15% of seats in the lower house and 10% in the Senate. He has been unable to pass any legislation in his first six months as president.

Milei's party said it had made concessions in the Senate as a means to secure support and to convince investors that any changes will be sustainable.

Why are Argentinians protesting against Milei's bill?

The 238 articles in Milei's reform package include a one-year state of emergency as well as sweeping presidential powers over energy, pensions and security, among other areas, which would last until the end of his term in 2027.

One of the more controversial reforms is a 30-year tax holiday for companies that invest in Argentina. He has already used executive powers to cut subsidies, fire thousands of public employees and deregulate parts of the economy.

Milei came to power pledging radical reforms to turn around Argentina's ailing economy, but his spending cuts and currency devaluation have deepened a recession, increased poverty to 55% and sent annual inflation skyrocketing towards 300%.

His term has also seen numerous protests and strikes amid fears that his planned reforms will eviscerate rights of workers and pensioners.

Security forces deployed outside National Congress in Buenos Aires
Several people including police officers and protesters were injured during demonstrations in Buenos AiresImage: Mariana Nedelcu/REUTERS

mfi/ab (AFP, AP, Reuters)