Argentina suspends debate on pension reform after violent protests

BUENOS AIRES – The Chamber of Deputies of Argentina have suspended a controversial pension system reform vote after a heated legislative debate and clashes between police and protesters outside the building, in a blow to the government’s plans to reduce the public deficit.

The project, which already has the approval of the Senate, is part of a package of reforms with which the liberal president Mauricio Macri hopes to lower Argentina’s production costs to attract investment.

Critics say the bill, which was expected to be discussed in the framework of the extraordinary end-of-year sessions that the government called this week, will hurt retirees.

“It is a good law (…) What was seen was a vocation of many deputies to debate, but not in that context of violence, then it was not voted today,” said Cabinet Chief, Marcos Peña, at a conference of press after the incidents.

The ruling party – which has no majority in any House of Congress – said it obtained the necessary quorum to debate, but the opposition said it was after the deadline and counted legislators who are not yet part of the Congress despite having been elected in the October elections.

After half an hour of strong arguments the session was suspended on Thursday.

“We are not going to lower our arms (…) The truth is that it is outrageous that the years go by and are always affecting those who have less,” the opposition deputy Mirta Tundis of the Frente Renovador told local television.

Outside the building, where some opposition deputies had to fight with security agents to enter the Congress, thousands of protesters called by trade unions and leftist groups protested against the reform, and some groups threw stones and sticks against the metal fences.

While the huge security operation repelled the protest with rubber bullets and tear gas, the skirmishes continued in the area surrounding the Congress, where trash cans and a car were set on fire.

The chief of staff said that it is not known when Congress will try to debate the project again.

The Government says that, with the new law, retirements would rise 5 points over inflation next year, which the Central Bank aims to rein in between 8 and 12% in 2018.

“This formula guarantees the sustainability of the system and guarantees that retirees will not lose against inflation,” government deputy Luciano Laspina told reporters earlier.

Violent protests in Buenos Aires as Congress discusses pensions reform plan

But many point out that the pension reform, which implies a saving of billions of pesos for the State, will imply a lower increase than the one currently foreseen for retirees and pensioners, in the midst of a high inflation that hits the purchasing power of the employees .

The powerful General Confederation of Labor (CGT), the main Argentine union center, threatened a general strike if the norm was approved.

The eventful parliamentary session also raises doubts about what will happen with other reforms that the government hopes to pass this year or in the first months of 2018, such as tax or labor.

The ruling party says that its reform plan is essential to attract foreign investments that boost the economy. After taking office in 2015, after a decade of center-left governments, Macri took a strong turn in economic policy, but investors are asking for more changes that reduce costs.–MercoPress