by Eugene Walker
Inaugurated on Dec. 10, Argentina’s President Javier Milei wasted little time in imposing social welfare cuts, while at the same time threatening those who would protest. Calling himself a libertarian, he founded a new party, La Libertad Avanza (Liberty Advances), and has called for extreme downsizing of the state, eliminating the Central Bank and possibly converting the Argentine economy to the U.S. dollar.
FREEDOM TO DEMONSTRATE THREATENED
At the same time, Milei’s security minister, Patricia Bullrich, announced new protocols to limit the right to demonstrate. Argentina’s piquete movement is famous for organizing blockades. The new rules are aimed at preventing mass blockades, including making demonstrators pay for any security costs. Human rights organizations are raising objections to the rules, which essentially criminalize social protest. The response of a Bullrich legislative ally: “Prison or Bullet.”
Milei won against the traditional Argentine political parties that had ruled in the 40 years since the military dictatorship was deposed. Those parties, whether the series of Peronist governments, supposedly populist and pro-worker, or the right-wing government under Mauricio Macri, all utterly failed to resolve Argentina’s economic-social contradictions. They only deepened them. Some 40% of the population lives in poverty. Annual inflation has reached 140%, which is expected to grow even higher in the immediate future. Argentineans are already burdened with paying back a multi-billion-dollar International Monetary Fund loan.
Milei quickly devalued the Argentine peso by more than 50%. His government said it would cease new infrastructure projects and lay off recently hired government workers. On the horizon are the reduction of energy and transportation subsidies for the population, as well as reducing government money for Argentina’s 23 provinces and severely reducing the number of federal ministries.
WOMEN’S AUTONOMY ATTACKED
What else is at risk is Argentina’s abortion rights law, passed in December of 2020 after years of grassroots demonstrations over women’s deaths and a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body. It made abortion legal for any reason up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, and after that for rape and a woman’s health, and it is free in public hospitals. Approximately 40,000 women a year in Argentina were hospitalized for complications related to clandestine abortions. Milei has promised to hold a referendum to repeal abortion access.
Mass resistance from below is sure to develop. Indeed, it already has. Milei’s televised announcement sparked a “significant and spontaneous explosion of anger as protesters flocked to the Plaza del Congreso from across the city carrying kitchen utensils, whistles and Argentinian flags.” Will that and future actions be enough to break out of the political-economic-social straitjacket that Argentine masses have been living through for decades? Or is a more thoroughgoing social transformation needed based on emancipatory social thought, a philosophy of revolution in permanence, as well as mass action?