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ARGENTINA | 01-03-2024 16:35

President Milei to lay out plans to lawmakers in state-of-the-nation address

President Javier Milei will address Congress at 9pm tonight, inaugurating normal sessions of Congress with a speech that is eagerly awaited.

Argentina's self-styled anarcho-capitalist President Javier Milei will make his first policy speech to Congress on Friday, facing lawmakers he has described as "rats" and "traitors" for stalling his project of deregulation and budget cuts.

Since taking office in December, Milei has clashed with a Congress dominated by the opposition over his mega-reform 'omnibus bill' designed to introduce sweeping changes to the crisis-riddled economy.

Many of his planned reforms are being challenged in court, with more than 60 lawsuits under way by labour unions, business chambers and NGOs, while Argentina has seen massive protests by citizens who fear Milei's plans will leave them poorer.

Faced with parliamentary reticence, the La Libertad Avanza leader first scrapped almost half of the initial 664 articles in his bill, then withdrew it altogether.

But the president has vowed to return his bill to Congress, in a form he will likely announce later Friday. He has threatened to pass his reforms by presidential decree if lawmakers do not fall in line.

Argentina is grappling with severe economic struggles after decades of mismanagement that has driven poverty levels to nearly 60 percent and pushed inflation to an annual rate over 200 percent.

Milei, a 53-year-old political outsider, won a resounding election victory last year on a wave of fury over a financial crisis marked by rampant money printing and fiscal deficit.

He began his term by almost immediately devaluing the peso more than 50 percent, slashing state subsidies for fuel and transport, cutting tens of thousands of public service jobs, and scrapping hundreds of rules in his bid to deregulate the economy.

Congress was not consulted on any of these measures, most of which passed by decree.

The government claims some of Milei's changes were already bearing fruit: in January, Argentina reported its first monthly budget surplus in 12 years while boosting foreign currency reserves from US$21 billion to US$27 billion. Most of the savings came from a refusal to update pensions in line with inflation.

But as consumer price hikes continued to bite, the poor have been hit hard – Milei has ripped away generous transport and energy subsidies and frozen aid to 38,000 soup kitchens pending an audit.

Milei insists Argentina has to swallow a bitter pill to rescue the economy, and has warned the population to brace themselves for things getting worse before they get better.

Breaking with tradition, the president will address Congress at 9pm local time, rather than noon, to "allow as many Argentines as possible" to tune in after work, according to the Presidency.

Labour unions, left-wing groups and social organisations have called for street protests outside the National Congress building at the same time.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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