Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero presented his maiden report to Congress in the Senate on Thursday when he fielded a marathon 624 questions from the opposition with the expropriation of Vicentin food conglomerate and pensions at the forefront.
Presenting the incursion into Vicentin as a salvage operation, Cafiero argued that pensions had improved in real terms so far this year (hiked 19 percent for the first half with inflation of 14 percent) despite collecting less than they would have under the inherited index-linking system now supplanted by presidential decree.
Even if Vicentin remained the dominant issue of the week, the government’s decision on the same day as Cafiero’s Congress appearance to extend adjustment of pensions by decree for the rest of this year led to at least as many questions on this subject.
Showing some of the nerves of a beginner, Cafiero denied that any other companies were in line for expropriation or that legal security was threatened in any way.
Farming leader Alfredo De Angeli, an opposition senator from Entre Ríos, questioned the “food sovereignty” argument underlying the Vicentin expropriation, pointing out that Argentina produces 10 times more food than the country’s needs.
The Cabinet chief brushed aside any government responsibility for the negative economic data so far this year, arguing that these were the fault of the coronavirus pandemic, not quarantine, and venturing the opinion that the previous Mauricio Macri presidency had also been a pandemic.
Cafiero also announced that in the second half of the year ATP (Asistencia al Trabajo y la Producción) emergency wage relief paying half the salaries of employees in companies subjected to lockdown would only be extended to the most critically affected sectors such as tourism and the entertainment industry.
Two major issues were almost absent from the virtual session – coronavirus (the public health aspects as opposed to the economic aspects) and foreign debt despite the possible imminence of a default. Cafiero also highlighted the “historic” intervention of AFI intelligence.
In the first report of a Cabinet chief to Congress in 14 months, Cafiero was not alone in replying to opposition questions with various Frente de Todos senators chipping in. Only three senators (all Upper House authorities) were present in the chamber apart from Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who inaugurated the session but left early.