By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina’s government passed a controversial reform of the country’s pension system on Tuesday, December 19. The bill has prompted violent protests in the city’s capital.
After 12 hours of debate and several demonstrations outside of the chamber, the reform passed the lower house by a 128-116 vote. The legislation had already cleared the Senate and would essentially change the formula by which pension benefits are calculated. It bases them largely on inflation instead of wage growth and tax contributions, which economists expect to lower the amounts paid. Another controversial change in the new law is the increase in retirement age from 65 to 70 for men and from 60 to 63 for women. Protestors have communicated their fear that the changes will have a heavy impact on the poor.
This legislation is a key element of the economic changes being implemented by President Mauricio Macri’s government. The goal is to reduce Argentina’s high deficit and attract investments. At a press conference at the presidential palace, the president said, “We’ve created a formula that defends (retirees) from inflation and guarantees that they will be better. Our priority is to take care of the retirees.”
However, opposition law makers, union leaders, and other critics attack the bill. They claim it will cut pension and retirement payments. Also, it could take away aid for some poor families because consumer prices are expected to decrease. Opposition lawmaker Agustin Rossi states, “We tried to impede it from passing, but we couldn’t get the numbers. This harms retirees.”
The vote was originally scheduled for a week earlier, but civil unrest delayed it. In response, President Macri promised an additional payment to existing pensioners as a concession. However, demonstrations continued. The day before the vote, protestors threw stones, fireworks, and improvised explosive devices at police. The police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in turn. Protests continued into the night. Almost 150 people were injured in these riots and about 60 were arrested.
Regardless of the protestors’ violent clashes with police, Congress approved the measures the next morning. The opposition called for peaceful protests to continue. Argentines have had a tradition of marching while banging pots and pans since the 2001-2002 economic collapse. Demonstrators have continued this peaceful form of protest. Argentina’s largest union contributed by calling a 24-hour strike which grounded hundreds of flights.
President Macri acknowledged that there will undoubtedly be people who disagree with the reforms. He said, “It would be illogical to have unanimity. But I’m asking them not to doubt the intention because I’m convinced that it will help them.”
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