Tag Archive | "FPV"

Law Proposed to Fine Deputies who Switch Parties

Buenos Aires Deputy Dulce Granados of Frente Para la Victoria (Photo courtesy of Argentine Government)

Buenos Aires Deputy Dulce Granados of Frente Para la Victoria (Photo courtesy of Argentine Government)

Deputy Dulce Granados of Frente Para la Victoria (FPV) has proposed a law that would fine members of Congress who change their party or vote in opposition to their party during their elected term. Granados has proposed the fine be up to $1m.

“To turn on the fly during your elected period, as Senator Leonor Granados Gonzáles did, is an outrageous act for voter confidence, as their vote sets out their beliefs and political decisions,” argued the national representative in defensive of her position.

Granados referred to her sister-in-law Senator Granados Gonzáles of Buenos Aires City who left official government party FPV to move into the ranks of Sergio Massa.

Deputy Granados asked Granados Gonzáles to renounce her seat given to her “in good faith by the voters”, whom she repaid by switching loyalties. “Betrayal is a cowardly and detestable depravity,” she added, quoting enlightenment thinker Baron d’Holbach.

The law would allow each one of the houses, with two-thirds of the votes to suspend the legislators with a lack of funds, compensation, or whatever other payment. Also, they would not be able to be elected or vote for between 8 and 12 years and would receive a fine of between $500,000 and $1 million.

Ironically, despite being the subject of Granados’ example, the law would not actually affect Granados Gonzáles as it would only apply to the national congress, not the senate.

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Ten Years of Kirchnerism: The Power of Words

Often, words and actions are opposed in a false dichotomy. In politics, saying that one is a “man (or woman) of action”, someone who “talks less and does more” is an old cliché. However, as any discourse analyst knows, the distinction between words and actions can be blurry. Language philosopher John Austin focused much of his research on what he called ‘speech acts’, describing the performative quality of words. This can be observed in simple, every-day situations -the classic example is that uttering words such as “I promise” is, at the same time, performing the act of promising something- and it can also be the base to understand more complex social processes in which words, images, and symbols play a great part.

In the last few years, it has become common place in the Argentine media, and in every day speech, to mention ‘el relato‘ -‘the narrative’- put forward by the government in order to impose their view of reality. More often than not, the term is used in a pejorative way, almost as a synonym for lie, deception, a mise en scène that people naively buy into (or cleverly see through and pull apart).

Many seem to have only recently discovered the fact that governments -as well as other groups- promote certain ‘narratives’ in which they insert their actions and policies. This is in no way an innovation of Kirchnerism. Indeed, all governments and all systems need to construct their discourses in order to give legitimacy to their actions. Within modern, media-dominated democracies, the struggle for power is often played out in the field of cultural hegemony.

It is in this field in particular that words matter. What people, government, and the media talk and do not talk about plays a great part in shaping our understanding of the world.

Tomorrow marks a decade since the birth of Kirchnerism. If there is one thing that can be said about this decade, is that public debate has been well and truly alive. So what have Argentines been taking about?

Néstor Kirchner's inauguration, on 25th May 2003 (photo courtesy of Casa Rosada)

Néstor Kirchner’s inauguration, on 25th May 2003 (photo courtesy of Casa Rosada)

Words Matter

Debate happens within the realm of civil society, and while the government has dominated the agenda for years, not all debate has been started or imposed by it. In fact, to a great extent it has been the regional context -and more specifically, its crises- that has brought to the surface many issues that had been silenced for years.

The international consensus that dominated the world after the fall of the Berlin wall and of Soviet socialism marked the glorious triumph of capitalism and liberal democracy. The ‘end of history’ as announced by US academic Francis Fukuyama, was the predominant theory that explained the state of the world, and dissident voices were drowned out amid the cheerful celebrations of the establishment.

That model, now under the spotlight everywhere, first started showing signs of collapse in the crises that struck Latin America in the first few years of the 21st century. The governments that were tasked with picking up the pieces in their respective countries started breaking -more or less quickly, more or less radically- with the certainties of the past and trying out new ways to move their countries forward.

A new discourse, new ‘narratives’ have developed throughout these years, on subjects such as the economy, the role of the state, the rights of minorities, and the nature of power. These debates have helped shape the society that we live in, and have in many cases been either the cause or the consequence of government policy.

At the same time as the state regained its role as the organiser of economic and social relations, the question arose as to whether real power relies on its control or elsewhere. The first Kirchnerist government started off weakly, after having come second in the 2003 election and in the middle of a massive political and institutional crisis. From its very first days, when it confronted the corrupt Supreme Court it had inherited from the previous decade, it presented itself as the government that had come to fight the corporations that secretly pulled the strings of political and economic life.

Youth has become involved in politics (photo by Simon Guerra)

Youth has become involved in politics (photo by Simon Guerra)

As the government increased in popularity and power, the David and Goliath story lost some meaning. But, regardless of whether one considers that the government really fought the corporations or not, the necessary discussion about where power lies was firmly installed in the public debate.

The most positive outcome of this has been that the privileges of corporations have been put into question. Though in the media-dominated public sphere debates tend to become simplified to the extreme, issues such as the power, influence, and political interests of media conglomerates, the inscrutable nature of the privileged judicial caste, or the lobbying power of big business started to be analysed, or at least talked about, outside of the academic world.

The question of power opened up to debate the question of politics as a space for participation, and after the collapse of the party system in 2001, political activism slowly began to regain its place in society. While the ’90s had given rise to some important and interesting political manifestations, it will go down in history as a decade of apathy and despondency. The restoration of the belief that politics can actually change people’s lives and that it is something worth becoming involved in -in a country with a long history of political activism- has sparked a growing interest, especially with young people who seem to have become more active within political parties and social organisations.

However, the understanding that not everything is the same, and that there is more to politics than just corrupt politicians, seems to be increasingly at risk by the degradation of the public discourse encouraged by mass media. When the logic of reality TV takes over, and shock and scandals matter more than discussions about important issues, the public debate suffers as a result.

The value of the commitment to a cause and the struggle for one’s beliefs was exemplified by some of the voices that had screamed for years to be heard and that finally obtained the recognition they deserved, and important policies to go with it.

Gay Marriage Passes Congress (Photo: Beatrice Murch)

Gay Marriage Passes Congress (Photo: Beatrice Murch)

The debate about the importance of dealing with the pending issues from our past and of obtaining justice in order to move forward, promoted tirelessly by human rights organisations for over three decades, resulted in the end of impunity for many perpetrators of human rights violations. The recognition obtained by organisations like Madres and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo and HIJOS was a historical restoration.

Finally, the discussion about equality which ended (or started) with the passing of laws such as those of marriage equality and gender identity allowed us to move ever further from the reactionary conservatism of institutions that still expect to have a final say on issues concerning society’s moral values.

Silenced Voices

Much has been said and much has been put into question in the last ten years. However, in such a vocal era, when everyone tries to scream a little bit louder than the rest, there are still many voices that cry out to be heard.

Despite the massive discussion taking place across the continent -and the world- over the power of media, and despite the regulatory law that was passed in Argentina in 2009, access to the media and the attention it commands remains a privilege reserved to a select few. As with the rest of the economy, the communications’ market is still highly concentrated. The political and economic interests that media owners try to protect shape the agenda, degrading the terms of the public debate and drowning out dissident voices.

Though each new tragedy manages to scratch the surface of the public agenda, the issue of land rights, especially that which involves aboriginal communities, is very rarely analysed with the seriousness it deserves. The expansion of the agricultural frontier and the social and environmental damage it causes is not a concern for the government or for the business elite -both benefit from the dollars obtained by grain exports. One of the most important political conflicts of the last few years, the campo crisis, revolved around the appropriation of those dollars. Not much air time was given to those who used the opportunity to question the agricultural model in place.

QOM camping on 9 de Julio and Av de Mayo protesting their treatment  (Photo: Jessie Akin)

QOM camping on 9 de Julio and Av de Mayo protesting their treatment (Photo: Jessie Akin)

In a resource-rich continent like Latin America, the environmental discussion in general still lags behind. As economic growth and the re-distribution of wealth consolidate, inevitably the time will come when we will have to question our dependency on fossil fuels and non-renewable sources of energy, the appropriate implementation of environmental laws, and our outdated view on industrialisation.

While some minorities have managed to have their voices heard, there are still silent majorities that must keep fighting for their rights. Physical violence against women is a problem that will not go away as long as symbolic violence -which manifests itself in every day speech and in the constant degradation of women in the media- is still prevalent and accepted in society. While the advancement in the rights and participation of women in public life is undeniable, rights that in other countries are considered basic, such as access to a legal and safe abortion, are hardly being discussed on a mainstream level. In these matters, the conservative right still has the upper hand and manages to install a criminal silence.


Debate, discussions, exchange of ideas… they are vital to a democracy. While there are many issues that remain unspoken -or rather, unheard- the balance of the last decade is positive in terms of the many truths that have been questioned. Nothing should be sacred, and everything should be up for debate. Going forward, and as the voices seem to become louder and more aggressive, it is important to ensure that meaningful debate is not drowned out or dumbed down, and that the new truths do not in turn become unquestionable.

It is also important to not become too infatuated with the sound of our own voices. Everyone is talking, but we should also learn to listen.

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Judges to Pay Income Tax Under New Law Proposals

The Palace of Justice (Photo: Thiago James, in Flickr)

Judges and judicial officers may soon have to pay tax on their earnings after the Frente para la Victoria (FpV) submitted new proposals to Congress. The move comes as a first step in the government’s planned “democratisation of the judiciary,” as announced by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last year.

“It is about complying with the Constitution, which states that all Argentines are equal before the law,” FpV deputy Pablo Kosiner, author of the bill, told Pagina 12.

Supreme Court Judge, Raúl Zaffaroni, spoke in favour of the new law, stating, “It is important that the State raises the debate concerning the democratisation of justice, opening it up to the political arena is the best way forward.”

Argentine judges have not had to pay income tax since 1996 but the FpV are looking to restructure the judicial system. “There are many ways to fix it, although it might not be easy,” added Zaffaroni.

He also shrugged off rumors that the Argentine judges govern with corporate power. “There are many debates within our justice system which clearly demonstrates we are not a corporation. We must become more diverse.”

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Controversial ‘Habitat Law’ Passed by Senate

A new “Habitat Law”, drafted and supported by Frente Para la Victoria (FPV) legislators, was passed yesterday by the Buenos Aires Province Senate.

A gated community in Buenos Aires province (Alex Steffler, Wikimedia)

The law states that large property developments, such as country clubs, gated communities, and private cemeteries, must give up 10% of the cost of the property to fund social housing.

The lower chamber had already approved the bill last month even though the UCR and Unión Pro Peronista deputies have opposed it. Francisco De Narváez, of the Frente Peronista, said he would ask the governor of the province of Buenos Aires to veto the law. De Narvaéz said the law was “unconstitutional” and that if the governor did not veto it “they would take the issue to court”.

“It will produce less work and will not generate one piece of social housing. Destroying private property is not the way forward,” said De Narvaéz.

“This law shows the tip of the iceberg, revealing the way in which Kirchnerism sees society, they believe that private property is an evil,” he added.

Yesterday Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, member of the FPV, said that he would consider vetoing the law if it weakened the right to private property. However, today his chief of cabinet, Alberto Pérez, told Radio Continental that the law would be promulgated, stating however that “a strict regulation will be put in place so that the right to private property is not violated”.

Pérez added that “to the spirit of creating more social land has to be added that of protecting private property and acquired rights”.

The law also includes clauses that make the properties that are permanently inhabited by one or more families “unseizable”. It also allows for a raise in taxes on properties whose value increases by additional construction or changes in the area they are built in.

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PRO Party Goes Forward with Project to Increase Fuel Prices

Martín Ocampo, legislator for the Propuesta Republicana party (PRO), announced that the City of Buenos Aires will charge a new tax on fuel in order to finance the take-over of the subte by the city scheduled for January 2013.

Car loading fuel at a petrol station (Rama, Wikimedia)

“These measures are taken to encourage public transport over car use,” explained Ocampo. PRO’s intentions are to increase the price of fuel by up to $0,40 per litre depending on the type of fuel. The breakdown would be a $0,40/l increase for premium petrol, $0,30/l for other types of petrol, $0,20/l for gasoil, and $0,10/l for natural gas.

The measure initially counted with the support of Buenos Aires province governor Daniel Scioli, who recently backtracked.

“The difference is that Scioli obeyed orders and we try to be autonomous from the National government,” claimed Ocampo. Scioli is a member of the Frente Para la Victoria party (FPV), as is President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Fernández’ national government has been opposed to a measure it considers “regressive” and warns that the tax on fuel will lead to higher prices of products in other sectors.

Since finally accepting this month to take over the subte after a lengthy battle with the national government the city government has been looking for solutions to compensate for the national governments subsidies that will be cut in 2013.

Other measures PRO have considered are the increase of tariffs on motorway tolls, as well as raise prices of license plates. In this scenario Buenos Aires motorways (25 de Mayo – Perito Moreno, Illia and Dellepiane) tariffs would go up 10%, while license plates for cars valued at more than $150,000 would go up 5%.

At the moment they are not considering raising the price of the subte that already more than doubled in January of this year, from $1,20 to $2,50. Metrovias, the company in charge of the subte, said the price increase resulted in a large drop in passenger numbers.

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Country-Wide Protests Spring Up Against Government

Thousands gathered in cities across the country to protest against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her government last night.

A similar cacerolazo (from cacerola – pot which people symbolically bang on to indicate their discontent) had taken place last month, on 13thSeptember, but last night’s, with a participation of 70,000 to 700,000 people depending on sources, was larger.

Protesters fill the streets during the 8N cacerolazo (photo/Marc Rogers)

“What the Argentine people did [yesterday] they should be proud of. […] The message was for the President who is the one that has to change,” said Mauricio Macri, governor of the city of Buenos Aires and member of the opposition party Propuesta Republicana (PRO) on the radio program Primera Mañana.

“I didn’t lose any sleep over the protest last night and I won’t lose any sleep over it today,” Senator Aníbal Fernández from President Fernández’s Frente Para la Victoria (FPV) defiantly told Radio Mitre this morning.

The recurring themes during both protests were insecurity, corruption, freedom of expression, and opposition to constitutional reform. Argentines opposed to the government fear that President Fernández and her party will push for a constitutional reform that would allow her to run for a third consecutive term, which is forbidden under the current constitution. President Fernández however has never said a reform was in her plans or expressed the wish to run again for the presidency.

An animated protester in Plaza de Mayo (photo/Marc Rogers)

The organisation of the protest mainly took place over the internet via social networking platforms with the tag 8N (for 8th November). Although the PRO party was the most largely represented, protesters united against the current government rather than in favour of any specific party. This is the result of an increasing polarisation in Argentine society between pro or anti-government groups and while the opposition count with the support of large parts of the private media they have no formal political representation.

A majority of those present were from the middle and upper classes of Argentine society who have felt most threatened by the current government’s fiscal and political reforms. Protests even sprung up in capitals across the world in countries with large Argentine expat communities. Protesters in front of embassies in Paris, Madrid, and Sydney will have been particularly hardly hit by the recent monetary reforms that have made it harder to send money out of Argentina.

"My money, my job. I don't want to support lazy people" (photos/Marc Rogers)

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Surprise Pact Between PRO and FPV in Buenos Aires Legislature

In the early hours of this morning, a controversial agreement was made between the ruling Frente para la Victoria (FPV) and members of the opposition PRO party in the Buenos Aires city legislature. The move allowed for the approval of 11 new pieces of legislation, including various building projects that will transform the city of Buenos Aires.

The pact, unthinkable till a few days ago, was made between the usually opposed legislators from the parties of both President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Buenos Aires mayor, Mauricio Macri, and has surprised lawmakers.

The building projects include the rezoning of railway land to allow for new construction ventures in Caballito and Palermo, social housing initiatives under the national government’s PROCREAR programme, the sale of Edificio del Plata in order to build a Civic Centre in the south of Buenos Aires and the ceding of 37 hectares of Parque Roca. The land in Parque Roca will be used for the construction of a large logistics centre.

The leading negotiators during the discussions were Deputy Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, the owner of pension administrators Anses, Diego Bossio, and Vice president of the chamber, Cristian Ritondo.

The 11 laws, driven through by PRO and FPV supporters, received initial approval as part of the Legislature session. However, in the early hours of the morning certain parties showed their disapproval by walking out. The pact was rejected by the Proyecto Sur, Buenos Aires Para Todos and Coalición Cívica blocks and branded as “a pact negotiated to empower millionaires”.

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Voting Reform: Triumph for Democracy or Political Opportunism?

A bill granting voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds is being debated in congress this week, creating tensions between government and opposition. The proposal has been held up as a major step forward for democracy by some, while others see it as an opportunistic political manoeuvre designed to boost government support in next year’s legislative election.

Voting in Argentina. (Photo: Caitlin Margaret Kelly)

The change in age restrictions would affect approximately 1.4 million young voters which represents 6% of the people that voted in the 2011 elections. Initially the bill included a clause under which foreigners that have lived legally in Argentina for over two years would also be granted voting rights. However, the government later announced that the issue would be addressed separately from the voting age debate and at a future date.

Senator for Buenos Aires, Aníbal Fernández, member of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Frente Para la Victoria party (FPV) presented the law before congress last week. “We have to give more rights to young people,” he announced and asked opponents “why are you afraid of youths?”.

Young Argentines and Politics

The concept of lowering the voting age has triggered a larger debate in Argentine society on the notion of political awareness among teenagers and what they could add to the political agenda.

Ines Canale, psychoanalyst and director of the Cooperative Amuyen Secondary School in Mar del Plata says: “I believe that this is a positive and logic step in integrating young people to the political culture of our society that is in accordance with the education reform implemented in 2004”.

The reform, put in place by the late President Néstor Kirchner, husband of President Fernández, included a number of modules designed to raise political awareness and responsibility in teenagers.

La Campora at a recent protest. (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

These include classes for 12 to 18-year-olds on Politics and Civism, Civism Construction, and Politics and Work. They are designed to encourage students’ sense of community and are articulated around projects created and managed by students as a group in what is an initiation to the mechanisms of modern democracy.

“In my school these new reforms have been extremely good, the students can choose what direction they want to take with their projects and have to compromise and discuss with their fellow students,” explains Canale.

Silvia Finnochio, a doctor in social sciences from the Latin American Faculty for Social Sciences, and professor in history at the Buenos Aires University who has written extensively on the place of young people and education in Argentine society, believes that young people are far from being “apathetic” as some opponents of the law have claimed. She said that they can bring a number of new elements to the public discourse and that they already have put forward new valuable perspectives on issues such as “memory and justice, the environment, and our consumerist society”.

A Question of Timing

In the current debate it is not so much the concept of extending voting rights to 16-year-olds, who can already be employed legally and are considered criminally responsible, that has been questioned by opponents of the government as the timing of the law proposal.

If the bill is approved, the new voting rights would first be used in next year’s legislative elections, in which the FPV will look to extend its dominance in congress.

Opponents of the bill see this, and not a desire to integrate the youth in politics, as the real reason behind the extension of voting rights. They point to a similar bill that was drafted by the Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP) in 2008 and was never properly considered by congress due to a lack of interest from the ruling party on the issue.

“It is a shame that such an interesting debate, that touches on what young people could bring to the political culture of our society is tainted by an inevitable sense of opportunism,” says Finnochio. In agreement is Doctor Adolfo Stubrin, from the Radical Party (UCR), head of planning at the Universidad del Litoral in Santa Fe and former president of the radical National Convention, who is “in favour of an extension of voting rights but as a part of a larger programme of inclusion and social integration”.

Optional or Compulsory?

Election Day in Buenos Aires (by Jorge Gobbi)

One of the key points of the debate between opposition and the ruling party has been the non-compulsory element of the law. According to the Argentine Constitution, voting is compulsory and sanctions exist for those who fail to do so. An exception is made for citizens over 70 years old who, although in theory are still obliged to vote, can no longer be punished for not doing so.

“The optional element of the law has been shown as an incoherence and as proof of the opportunistic and manipulative intentions behind the project. It’s like saying: we will give the rights to everyone, but the ruling party, that is able to mobilise more young women and men, will benefit more,” says Stubrin.

He also denounces “an irruption of political propaganda in secondary schools” in recent years in favour of President Fernández and her party.

These accusations were levelled last month at President Fernández after it was revealed that young activists from the pro-Kirchner youth organisation La Cámpora, led by Máximo Kirchner, the president’s son, had been holding workshops in secondary schools. The government defended these interventions as voluntary social programs designed to help the schools and Vice-President Boudou linked the opposition’s criticisms to propaganda during the 1970s in which the last military dictatorship tried to depoliticise young militants.

Constitutional Reform

Another recurrent criticism of the new law is that creating an exception by making voting optional for 16 and 17-year-olds would imply modifying, or at least bending, the constitution. This point has been raised and is particularly problematic in the eyes of political opponents of the president who fear she may try to reform the constitution to run in the next presidential elections.

“For this law to be possible you have to change the constitution and that worries me; we don’t want it to be the case that behind this move is a masked attempt for a reform that would allow the re-reelection of Cristina [Fernández de] Kirchner,” said Horacio Larreta the head of the Propuesta Republicana party (PRO) for the city of Buenos Aires.

President Fernández is currently serving her second consecutive term and is therefore forbidden by the constitution to run in the 2015 elections. She won the 2011 elections with an overwhelming majority but she is yet to designate a successor who could benefit directly from her popularity and no one obvious candidate is yet defined.

Whereas the PRO still has to announce its official position on whether to vote in favour or against the current bill, the FAP party, headed by Hermes Binner who came in second in the last presidential elections, has called to vote in favour.

However the FAP, and in particular it’s youth branch, have called for a number of amendments in the law. “Our position is that the vote should be compulsory for 16 to 18-year-olds, if not it would be discrimination against this age category and would be in clear contradiction with our constitution that says that suffrage should be ‘universal, equal, secret and compulsory’”, explained Maximiliano Diaz, head of the FAP’s Socialist Youth organisation.

Voting Rights in Latin America

Should the law be approved Argentina would not be an exception in Latin America as Brazil, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Cuba have all granted the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Finocchio believes that in terms of granting more importance to young people in politics and society in general “it is very important that there is a balance in the region” and that “Brazil is a pioneer in this domain and has managed to do very innovative and interesting things that are unknown of, or ignored, in Argentina”.

In Brazil the constitutional reform implemented at the end of the last dictatorship in 1988 included the right to vote for 16 year-olds on an optional basis, while it is compulsory for citizens over 18. Policies of social inclusion in terms of gender, social class and youth have been banners of the two last presidencies.

The same voting rights apply in Ecuador and discussion on whether to implement similar measures are being held in Uruguay and Colombia and they were discussed and rejected in Venezuela. Nicaragua is the exception in the region as voting there is compulsory from age 16.

Argentina has followed the pattern of several of its neighbours in recent years in electing leaders running on platforms of equality and social inclusion, now it would seem that it wants to follow it’s biggest neighbour on the path of integrating younger people into its political culture. The consensus seems to be that lowering the voting age may be a step in the right direction but should serve as the first one on a longer path towards an extended democracy.

To find out what locals think about the voting reform, click here.

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Minister of Education Defends Vote for 16-Year-Olds

Minister of Education Alberto Sileoni defended the proposal that would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in a speech given before the Senate this morning. The gathering of speakers and politicians began at 9am at the Palacio de Congreso, and is the first public debate regarding the controversial bills.

Introduced by ruling party Frente Para la Victoria (FPV) senator Aníbal Fernández, the proposed bills would grant the right to vote to 16-year-olds as well as foreigners who have lived in Argentina for at least two years. At the moment, voting is mandatory for Argentines over the age of 18 and optional for those over 70.

Sileoni was the first of 61 guests invited to speak this morning, in a debate that is projected to last until at least 8pm tonight. Other speakers include Secretary of Human Rights Martín Fresneda, National Electoral Director Alejandro Tullio, representatives from various student and youth groups, as well as psychologists and sociologists.

“The expansion of rights is a victory, never a step back,” Sileoni said. He asked lawmakers to trust in the youth and their capacity to participate in the political process.

“We believe that our young people, who are struggling to have greater participation, are ready to do it,” he affirmed.

Although FPV officials believe that the bills will pass easily in October, there are those who remain skeptical of the law’s practicality. In August, the principal of Buenos Aires National School (a high school affiliated with the University of Buenos Aires) expressed doubt, stating “they [16-year-olds] are still being formed as citizens and have a lot to learn.”

Sileoni countered these arguments, stating that the bill – which makes voting optional for 16-17-year-olds – “does not presume that all youths have political vocations, however it makes it desirable that they get involved in politics”.

If passed, Article 7 of the Electoral Code will have to be amended to allow Argentines who have reached the age of 16 to enjoy full political rights under the Constitution. The 2013 elections would see an additional 1.5 million young people eligible to vote, or about 4.6% of the total population that voted in 2011.

With over 140 guests expected to speak, the debate will most likely continue in Congress next Wednesday, 26th September.

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The History of Peronism (Part II)

Juan Domingo Perón's funeral - July 1974

Celina Andreassi concludes the complex history of peronism in the second part of our series. To read Part I, click here.

Juan Domingo Perón died on 1st July 1974, just as the tension between the left wing of the peronist movement -embodied in La Tendencia, the left of the Peronist Youth- and its right wing -manifest certain factions of the CGT and Minister José López Rega- reached breaking point.

In his last term, Perón wife, María Estela Martínez (aka Isabel Perón), was vice president. But Isabel was no Evita, and the death of Perón left her in a position she was unable to fulfill.

Perón had met Isabel in Panama, where she worked as an exotic dancer, in 1955, and married her six years later in Spain. She was sent to Argentina in 1965 as Perón’s delegate and during this trip she met former policeman José López Rega (aka “the warlock”) and bonded with him thanks to a shared interest in astrology and religion. López Rega moved to Spain and became the couple’s private secretary, exercising a great deal of influence on them, especially Isabel.

After Perón’s return to Argentina and the presidency, López Rega was appointed welfare minister. From this position, he surrounded himself with extreme right-wing organisations and, after Perón’s split with the peronist left, he organised the paramilitary organisation Triple A (Argentine Anti-communist Alliance) to quash the “subversives”.

It is believed that the Triple A started its operations in 1973, just before Perón took office. There is some debate regarding the role of Perón himself in the actions of the Triple A: the most commonly accepted theory is that whilst he was not personally involved in the group’s operations, he was aware of its existence and did nothing to stop them.

Is it estimated that the Triple A committed over 2,000 murders in around two years of existence. Its main targets were key leftist figures—both peronist and non-peronist—including politicians, unionists, scientists and artists. The height of its activity ocurred during Isabel Perón’s government, between 1974 and 1975, when López Rega’s influence was at its peak.

In the midst of a situation dominated by violence and terror, the government was proving to be more succesful killing its enemies than in managing the country. The international oil crisis affected Argentina’s economy, causing high inflation, a decrease in capital investments, and external debt growth. In 1975, López Rega sponsored a new Economy Minister, Celestino Rodrigo, who implemented a 100%devaluation of the currency combined with a massive increase in the prices of fuel and services such as electricity.

The plan was a disaster and was met by strong opposition from the workers. This, which coincided with in-fighting between López Rega and some sectors of the CGT, brought about the first general strike against a peronist government in history, and both Rodrigo and López Rega were forced to resign. López Rega had to leave the country and returned to Spain.

Isabel Perón and José López Rega

Isabel was now alone, and subject to pressures from all sides, whilst the political violence did not wane. She turned to the Armed Forces, naming Jorge Videla as chief of the Army and giving them free reign to carry out the fight against “subversive elements”. In this way, the illegal actions of the Triple A were legitimised and handed to the military.

The conflicts did not cease, and to avoid a military coup, Isabel Perón called for early elections to be held in late 1976. This manoeuvre did not work and another coup—the last to this date—was carried out on 24th March 1976. By this time the left wing guerrilla groups were already very weak after years of illegal repression and neither the government or the opposition were able to stop it.

Despite the fact that Argentina had been suffering from coups and military governments since 1930, no one could foresee that what happened in 1976 would become the biggest tragedy in the country’s history. Not only because of the seven years of indescribable terror that followed, but also because of its deep and long-lasting political and economic consequences, which extended well beyond the return to democracy.

The Peronist Renewal (1983-1989)

Despite the massive amount of murders, kidnappings and forced exiles during the years of the dictatorship, the faces that re-emerged in the peronist movement after the return to democracy in 1983 were the sames ones as in the mid-70’s. Isabel Perón was still the president of the party’s National Council, despite living abroad and not wanting anything to do with Argentine politics. Both the party and the unions were still divided in factions.

It is not surprising then, than after losing the 1983 elections to the radical candidate Raúl Alfonsín -the first ever loss for the peronist party in a presidential election- the situation reached a crisis point.

After many years in which the trade unions had been the backbone of the peronist movement -years during which the peronist party had been banned- the renewal that took place in the 80’s was based around the need for the political wing to take control. After a conflictive power struggle, politicians triumphed over the unionists, and a new wave of peronist leaders—more liberal, more inclined to look at the middle classes for electoral support, and more concerned about the institutionalisation of the movement emerged—took control of the national peronist movement.

One of the main figures of this renewal was La Rioja governor Carlos Menem, whom, with the support of the unionists he had contributed to displace in the first place, won the internal election in 1988 and became the presidential candidate for the Partido Justicialista (PJ).

Raúl Alfonsín hands the presidential baton to Carlos Menem in 1989

The Menem Era (1989-1999)
In 1989, the economic situation was so critical that then-president Alfonsín was forced to bring the election forward by a few months, and then, after Menem’s victory, to hand over the power six months before he was due. Alfonsín’s term had been difficult and the peronist opposition -notoriously hard to deal with, as had been demonstrated during other non-peronist governments- had been more part of the problem than the solution. The president had to endure a record fourteen general strikes led by the CGT and the blockage of important bills in Congress which the peronist would later on implement themselves whilst in government.

Menem’s image and discourse in 1989 were very different to what they would become in the 90’s. He presented himself as a populist caudillo from the countryside, who got to power by promising to carry out a “production revolution”, a “salariazo” (wage increase) and to reestablish the culture of labour. As he confessed in a interview a few years later, “had I said what I was going to do, no one would have voted for me”.

In a movement broad enough to accommodate the most extreme right and left wing factions, there were always certain underlying elements— a certain nationalist rhetoric or the importance of the worker’s movement—that could be found across the factions. Menem exploited this peronist identity during his presidential campaign, but very soon after coming to power he turned his back on the historical “three banners of peronism”: social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty.

During his ten years in government, Menem finished off—in economic terms—what the last dictatorship had started: the establishment of a neoliberal model to replace the peronist-era import substitution industrialisation, putting finance at the centre of the economy. The pillars of the new paradigm were the mass privatisation of public utilities—including strategic assets such as the energy network—, the pegging of the peso to the US dollar to curb inflation, a strong market liberalisation and a reform of the State which, in theory, would make it smaller and more efficient.

After a relatively prosperous period which lasted until about 1994 -supported by funds from selling public assets- all socio-economic indicators started to drop, and would continue to do so for almost a decade.

The overvalued peso made the Argentine industry non-competitive and unable to rival the flood of imported products To counter this, labour costs were lowered and labour laws loosened, making it easier for firms to lay-off workers. Industrial activity lost ground to financial activity, and went from representing 35% of the GDP in the early 70’s to 16% in 2001. Unemployment, a minor problem in Argentina for decades, began to rise rapidly. Foreign debt soared as the government struggled to maintain the value of the peso.

The unions were not there to protect their members. Whilst many of the more combative unionists and political activists had not survived the 70’s violence, those who did often fell victim to another major component of the model: corruption. The main CGT unionists—the so-called “fat cats”—were co-opted into defending their own economic interests and those of the employers, even as state companies were sold at bargain prices to foreign conglomerates.

At odds with the menemist faction of the movement, dissident groups abandoned the peronist party and formed new organisations, though without ever renouncing their peronist identity.

Of these new groups, the most important was the Frente Grande, led by Carlos “Chacho” Alvarez, which added a new dimension to the traditional Peronist-Radical dichotomy. The Frente Grande ended up joining the Alliance with the UCR between 1999 and 2001, when the economic troubles of the 90s came to a head.

Even within the peronist party, there was significant opposition to Menem, such as the group of Santa Cruz congress-people, led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Likewise, within the union movement there was a dissident group led by Hugo Moyano, whose unions left the official CGT and organised themselves in a new dissident faction that was against the Menem government and “fat cats”. Meanwhile, in 1991, another workers’ confederation, the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA), was created. Unlike the more traditional CGT, the CTA become more involved with social movements and allowed the unemployed to become members. In the second half of the decade, these social and piquetero (picketer) movements positioned themselves at the fore-front of the opposition.

Riots in Buenos Aires - December 2001

The Crisis (1999-2003)

After serving two terms, Menem left power in 1999. The economy was, by then, deep in recession and would erupt into crisis in two years. Radical Fernando De La Rúa was in power at the time, but the foundations of the crisis were laid by the military dictatorship and Menem’s government.

When De La Rúa resigned in December 2001, Argentina went through five presidents in a two-week period. One of them, peronist Adolfo Rodríguez Saa (whose brother Alberto is running for president in the current elections) lasted a week, which gave him enough time to default on the country’s debts but not to muster the party’s support to face the crisis.

After his resignation, peronist senator Eduardo Duhalde (who had been Menem’s vice-president and governor of Buenos Aires province in the 90’s) was appointed president by congress. It has been suggested by some journalists and politicians that Duhalde played an important role in the events that led to the resignation of both De La Rúa and Rodríguez Saa, motivated by a life-long ambition to become president.

Duhalde’s aim was to finish off De la Rúa’s term and call for elections in October 2003. He had the difficult task of ruling the country at one of its most desperate moments, with over half the population living in poverty, 25% in extreme poverty and with 20% unemployment. During his term, his economy minister Roberto Lavagna -who would remain in the job during Néstor Kirchner’s presidency, until late 2005- lay the foundations for the current economic model. Probably the most important single policy of Duhalde’s government was one of his first: the ending of the ten-year long pegging of the peso to the US dollar, which triggered a huge devaluation and opened up the possibility to reactivate industrial activity.

The 2001 crisis had an economic cause and a social reaction. After the protests that ended De La Rúa’s government, there was a state of permanent mobilisation. Social movements grew, as well as popular assemblies, and it was a time of intense social conflict. In June 2002, a piquetero protest that was blocking a bridge between the City of Buenos Aires and Avellaneda was violently suppressed by the Buenos Aires police, who killed protesters Maximiliano Kosteki and Darío Santillán. The so-called “Avellaneda massacre” had a strong political impact, forcing Duhalde to bring the election forward to April 2003 and to hand over government in May of that year.

The scandal over the death of Kosteki and Santillán also forced Duhalde to give up his hopes for a re-election, despite having control over the peronist party and a stronger position than his internal rivals Menem and the Rodríguez Saa brothers. Instead, Duhalde chose to support the relatively unknown governor of the southern province of Santa Cruz, Néstor Kirchner.

Just as in 2011, there were three peronist candidates in 2003: Kirchner, Menem and Adolfo Rodríguez Saa. The winner of the first round of the election was Carlos Menem, with 24% of the vote, followed by Néstor Kirchner with 22%. A run-off was scheduled to take place three weeks later, however Menem—aware of his weak support and probably in an attempt to weaken the next government—withdrew from the election, leaving Kirchner to take office on 25th May 2003.

Kirchnerism (2003-2011)

A decade of neoliberalism produced profound changes, not only economic, but also social, political and cultural. The intense political activism that had dominated Argentine life for decades, and that received its hardest blow during the last dictatorship, gave way to years of apathy and individualism, exacerbated by the break-up of traditional community ties brought about by unemployment and social exclusion.

Though the kirchnerist governments have so far left many pillars of the neo-liberal economic model untouched, in the last eight years there has been an undeniable cultural and symbolic change, which seeks to restore the activist spirit of the 70’s. Politics and debate have once again become means to resolve social conflict. In this context, there has also been a revitalisation of the debate about peronism and its historical role, with certain long-forgotten words brought back to every-day conversation.

The good relationship between Néstor Kirchner and Eduardo Duhalde did not last long. As Kirchner started to act with more autonomy and their political differences became obvious, the struggle to control the party intensified. In the 2005 legislative election the split was official and each leader presented its own peronist ballot—Duhalde kept the official Partido Justicialista banner, whilst Kirchner ran under the Frente para la Victoria (FPV). The FPV won the election and with it the control of the party, especially in the crucial Buenos Aires province, the most populous district in the country and a traditional peronist stronghold. Duhalde was then forced to leave the “official” peronist party and join the ranks of the dissident Peronismo Federal, led by Alberto Rodríguez Saa.

Néstor Kirchner and President Fernández in 2008 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

After a crushing victory for the FPV and its allies (which included non-peronists, like Radical vicepresident Julio Cobos) in the presidential elections of 2007, when Cristina Fernández de Kirchner succeeded her husband, Néstor Kirchner strengthened his grip over the PJ.

This, however, was short-lived, as the campo crisis of 2008 caused a massive exodus of government supporters. The FPV performed very poorly in the 2009 legislative elections and even lost to dissident peronist Francisco de Narváez in Buenos Aires province.

2009 was a good year for the opposition, and especially for the dissident peronists, who can be considered the right wing of today’s peronist party. By 2010, with this year’s presidential elections on the public agenda, a struggle began between dissident peronists looking to position themselves as candidates.

In the end, there were two pre-candidates left: Eduardo Duhalde and Alberto Rodríguez Saa, the incumbent governor of San Luis. Internal elections were scheduled to decide on one candidate, but after voting in two provinces, these were cancelled amidst crossed accusations of fraud, and both candidates decided to run separately. Duhalde, who is supported by a dissident CGT group called CGT Celeste y Blanca—opposed to Hugo Moyano’s official, kirchnerist CGT and led by the “fat cats” associated with the Menem years—performed slightly better in the primary elections in August 2011, though current polls indicate that Rodríguez Saa could obtain more votes in the October elections.

Meanwhile, the government’s image had started to improve in 2010. The death of Néstor Kirchner in October 2010 only accelerated this process. The landslide victory of Cristina Kirchner in the August 2011 primaries and the weakening of the dissident groups has opened up a new chapter in the history of peronism. As Néstor Kirchner has already been placed by his followers next to Perón and Evita on the peronist pantheon, some see kirchnerism as the final evolution of the movement.

However, history has showed that peronism is an ever-changing, contradictory political movement whose very nature lies in its capacity to adapt to the political and social environment. Even after 66 years, any attempt to provide a neat definition of peronism is doomed to fail.

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