Tuesday, April 16, 2024

ARGENTINA | 30-01-2024 15:43

Another judicial setback for Milei as court suspends repeal of 'Ley de Tierras'

Ruling signed by judge Ernesto Kreplak, responding to a La Plata war veterans centre, preventively suspends repeal of Ley de Tierras, temporarily blocking limitless purchase of land by foreigners.

More bad news for President Javier Milei. Following on from the suspension of the labour chapter of his sweeping DNU 70/2023 emergency deregulation decree, a court has now accepted an injunction and preventively suspended the president’s proposed repeal of the 'Ley de Tierras’ (“Land Law”).

Milei wants to repeal the law, which would open the door to the purchase of land by foreigners without any limit.

The decision was delivered by Federal Judge Ernesto Kreplak on Monday as he accepted a lawsuit lodged against the government by the CECIM (Centro de Ex Combatientes Islas Malvinas) veterans centre in La Plata, requesting that the above article be quashed as unconstitutional for repealing Law 26,737 (“The Régime for the Protection of the National Domain”) regarding the ownership of rural property.

In their initial writ, CECIM representatives had argued that "the repeal, by liberating the land market, would clear the way for its foreign and more concentrated ownership, thus bringing into crisis the principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty while conditioning the availability of not only Argentine soil but also fresh water." 

Beforehand the government had submitted a report asking for the writ to be rejected as lacking the "necessary [procedural] requirements." It further argued that the issues contained in the DNU fell under the control of Congress, rather than the courts. 

In his decision the judge first tackled the state questioning of the legitimacy of CECIM’s legal action against the DNU, quoting a Supreme Court precedent which sustains that "the simple condition of being a citizen is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a 'special' or 'direct' interest."

"There is a single and continuous action which might harm the sovereignty and, in consequence, the inhabitants of the Argentine Republic. This lawsuit invokes rights with constitutional roots (a potential danger of losing national sovereignty over land and water, among others)," wrote Kreplak.

Respecting the request for an injunction, the magistrate further ruled: "I find plausible the rights and dangers of delay as laid down in the Criminal Procedural Code and Law 26,854, for which motive I preventively suspend Article 154 of the DNU (Decreto de Necesidad y Urgencia) 70/2023, pending a definitive sentence."

The judge also criticised the government by claiming that the impugned DNU "had not complied with the essential and substantial procedures nor has made use of the permanent services of legal counselling." 

He expressed that, according to Legal & Technical Undersecretary María Victoria Marcó, the measure "does not contain any reports nor prior technical or legal rulings."

On this basis, Judge Kreplak required the state to submit within five days a report complying with the terms of the eighth article of the law governing challenges, supplying information on the precedents and grounding of the impugned measure. This report must be presented by the Justice Ministry as the representative of the Executive Branch in this case. 

The judge also ordered the case to be inscribed in the Supreme Court’s register of class action within 48 hours of notification with regard to the injunction to suspend.

The norm in question regulated land ownership in foreign hands. Law 26,737, sanctioned during the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Presidency in December 2011, established a ceiling of 15 percent of rural land in foreign hands at national, provincial or municipal level. 

To date, there has been compliance with this law at national level, with foreign ownership currently 6.09 percent or 16.2 million of the country’s total rural land surface of 266,707,361 hectares in foreign hands. 

Nevertheless, at the level of departments there have appeared cases of non-compliance, with recorded abuses in provinces including Salta, Corrientes, Misiones, Chubut and Santa Cruz.

The potential repeal of the law had aroused a growing enthusiasm on the part of the representatives of foreign firms to invest in this country. Indeed, the head of the local branch of a well-known multinational with hundreds of thousands of hectares in the south told Perfil that Milei’s decision as enshrined in the DNU was "very positive."

With the repeal now suspended, the government is expected to appeal the case to the Federal Appeals Court.


Ariel Stemphelet

Ariel Stemphelet

Redactor de información política y judicial de Perfil. [email protected]


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