President Mauricio Macri kicked off the 136th legislative year with the traditional “State of the Nation” address before both houses in Congress, as well as representatives of the other branches of government and provincial governors. Notable absences were former President (and now Senator) Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her son Máximo, a Unidad Ciudadana deputy, who chose not attend the event.
For almost 40 minutes, Macri went over the legislation that his administration will try to introduce to Congress, with most of the bills having to do with issues that have been dominating the national conversation since the beginning of the year.
He also took the time to send a few political messages and assure that the economy is going down the right path.
Before delving into the legislative Agenda, Macri asked the legislator present to honor the memory of the 44 crew members of the missing submarine ARA San Juan, which went disappeared last November and still has not been found. “We stand with their family members, and I want to repeat to them that we are doing everything possible to find them,” he said.
— LA NACION (@LANACION) March 1, 2018
The President went on to defend his administration’s gradual approach to getting the economy back on track. Although he conceded that his administration is dealing with problems in that area, he assured that “the worst [part] is behind us and now come the years of growth.”
“The transformations we implemented are beginning to show, are being felt,” he added, thanking all Argentines for “understanding that doing things the right way takes time, as there are no shortcuts or magical solutions.”
Macri then moved on to the eleven axes around which his speech revolved. Here are the main issues he brought up and the context in which the addressed them.
A STATE AT THE SERVICE OF THE PEOPLE
“We want a modern state that provides Argentines with the tools to improve their lives and forces officials to be held accountable for their actions. In these two years, us officials have set limits for ourselves like never before, in order to show that we are not here to make a profit. Now there are rules for making our assets known to the public, rules that solve conflicts of interest and that set boundaries to appoint family members [in the public sector.] Argentina climbed 21 positions in the international transparency ranking. We climbed from the 106th spot to the 81st. It is the first time Argentina does this in only two years,” Macri said.
In the past weeks, these issues were making waves in the public agenda. Following the scandal between Labor Minister Jorge Triaca and his now former domestic worker, the government passed a law preventing Cabinet members’ families from working for the public sector. And the “assets” part of leads to an inevitable reference to the former Deputy Secretary of the Presidency, Valentín Díaz Gilligan, who was ousted after Spanish news site El País revealed that he had US $1.2 million held in an undeclared Andorran bank account.
- Read more: Under Pressure, Díaz Gilligan Submits Resignation
- Read more: Macri’s Decree Against Nepotism Is Met with Both Support and Rejection
“2017’s inflation was lower than 2016’s. This year’s will be lower [than 2017’s] and next year’s will be lower than this one’s,” Macri assured, after touting that 2017 was the year with the most mortgage loans given in 20 years. (While the statement is true, inflation is going down at a lower rate than expected. In fact, the government had to adjust its inflationary expectations for the year from 10 to 15 percent in December. And the Central Bank [BCRA], private analysts and unions negotiating their yearly wage increases assure that the number will actually be around 20 percent.)
After assuring that unemployment is going down and that the amount of people working on the formal sector of the economy grew by 270,000 last year, Macri brought attention to the dire fact that one of every three workers still works on the informal side of the economy.
Taking this into account, he said that Cambiemos will introduce a so-called “labor inclusion” law (a sort of whitewashing for companies who keep their workers en negro, that’s to say, that are payed under the table) so “thousands of informal workers can pass to the formal sector without losing their seniority and get the benefits they are entitled to for their years of work.” According to El Cronista, the Macri administration expects 200,000 workers to be benefited by this measure in 2018.
The President then addressed gender inequality in the workplace, saying that according to the INDEC statistics agency, women earn up to 30 percent less than their male counterparts. “You have my commitment to have the equal salary our laws establish become a reality,” he said. Following this line of thought, he said that “in a world of equals, there is no reason for a father to only have two days off work when his children are born” and therefore, Cambiemos will introduce a bill to extend fatherhood leave.
The debate about the actions of the country’s law enforcement has been extremely present in the conversation during the last several months of the Macri administration. From the Santiago Maldonado case, to the clashes with protesters during the chaos that ensued in the context of the reform to the pensions system, to the Luis Chocobar case. As a result of case, different sectors of society have accused the Macri administration of enabling and encouraging police brutality.
About this, Macri said: “we believe that in this years of democracy, a tension between democracy and security persists. We don’t think there is a need to take a hard line on security or abolitionism to solve this. We believe in a system that prioritizes the victims of crimes, which respects security forces and that establishes sentences that are proportional to the crimes committed.” And in perhaps a reference to the officials involved in these cases, he said that “men and women of our security forces put their lives on the line for us and deserve our respect and admiration.”
EN VIVO | Mauricio Macri: “Hace muchos años sufrí a la mala policía, sé lo que se siente pasar por algo así. La seguridad es una de las demandas más grandes de los argentinos. La cantidad de robos se redujo un 11% y los homicidios un 20%” https://t.co/IlD3inmzlZ pic.twitter.com/3863Uq3f6Y
— infobae (@infobae) March 1, 2018
Following with the subject, he praised the actions of the security forces, providing some stats: “Drug seizing has reached new records, more than 300 tons; the amount of robberies was reduced by 11 percent and the murder rate is down more than 20 percent in the past two years.” He also emphasized on the need to reform the criminal code and the procedural code for criminal cases.
Amid the always tense wage negotiation season, Macri sent a pretty clear message to the teachers unions, saying “we can’t do politics with the education of our children.”
“We can’t only remember about education when wage negotiation season comes,” he added. As of today, only four out of the country’s 24 jurisdictions have reached agreements with their teachers unions and ensured classes will start on time. In fact, it was the first day in Buenos Aires City today and, while schools were open, unions have already announced strikes for Monday and Tuesday.
Macri then said that the current state of Argentine education is dire, and that this was illustrated by the poor results of the “Aprender” test.
“Those were the stats that affected me the most when I shared them. It confirmed that we are not preparing our children for the world that they will face,” he added.
Using the concept of education as a standpoint, Macri addressed the issue of unwanted pregnancies among teenagers, saying that 70 percent of the 100,000 pregnancies among women under 19 years old fit into this category.
To tackle this, he said the government is working “with the Social Development, Health and Education ministries in an integral initiative for schools, health centers and communities to have professionals who advise children in the matters of sex education, reproductive health and contraception methods.” “Sex education is a tool that empowers our young. It helps them to make informed decisions,” he added.
Perhaps having used the former issue as an introduction, the President addressed the ongoing debate about the legalization of abortion, which has taken the Argentine conversation by storm ever since the government announced it would not block it in Congress and would allow Cambiemos’ lawmakers to vote with their conscience.
Macri reiterated his pro-life stance, but said he is also “in favor of mature and responsible debates that, as Argentines, we need to have. That is why we welcome that Congress includes this issue in its agenda for the year.” According to the media, the issue will begin to be debated in special commissions in less than three weeks and will continue until at least early June.
- Read more: Congress Set for Drawn-Out Abortion Debate
The President finished his speech highlighting positive economic indicators such as “the fact that investment grew by 11 percent,” that “in January there were record sales of cement, asphalt, cars, motorcycles, tourism and flights.” He then repeated that the worst times are behind us and equated the work his administration has been doing with laying the foundations for a building.
“This invisible growth happened, and each transformation was made on firm foundations that will ensure they last for a lifetime,” he finished.