Photo via Diario La Opinion

In a speech at the Armed Forces’ annual “Comradery Dinner” yesterday, President Mauricio Macri told the army it should take on a “leading role in the country’s new era” and said that many Argentines expect us to “work together to find solutions and achieve zero poverty [one of Macri’s main rallying cries].”

“Argentines need the forces to participate more actively. In order to develop and generate employment, we need to have peace,” said Macri. He went on to explain that by this, he means he wants the army to help control the country’s borders, fight drug-trafficking and help during natural emergencies (i.e. floods).

Defense Minister Julio Martínez, however, today clarified that the Armed Forces will not directly get involved with these issues but will provide technical support to national security forces, in charge of dealing with them: “We will collaborate as the law allows us, by providing air support with military planes and radars,” he told Radio Vorterix today. 

Talk of extending the military’s sphere of influence in Argentina typically creates some concern due to the armed forces’ history here. It wasn’t held in the highest of regards by Argentines even before the 1976 coup that installed the last Argentine military dictatorship, at which point most lost all faith in the institution. After democracy returned in 1983, the army continued to have a bad reputation, especially during the Kirchner administrations, leading to its current state of absolute decay (there was hardly any funding).

Macri during his speech. Photo via La Brujula 24
Macri during his speech. Photo via La Brujula 24

Macri addressed the military’s financial woes. He conceded that for several years, “the work you did was not recognized by corresponding salaries,” and said that his administration has begun readjusting salaries, “especially for retirees.” However, he made no concrete announcements.

According to a report by the Human Security Center, defense spending represented only around of 0.8 percent of the GDP between 2004 and 2013. Since salaries are included in that, the army couldn’t properly raise salaries to cope with inflation. To make up for the lack of a substantial wage increase, the Defense Ministry gave officers extra salary bonuses.

However, one major problem that resulted from this system was that officers’ retirement funds were calculated based on their official salaries — without the added bonuses — meaning that by the time they were out of service, they were receiving very little from the State.

According to Infobae, today the army has a little less than 50,000 members. 6,000 are officers and the rest are divided between sub-officers and privates.