In the end, the government managed to pass the 2019 Budget Bill in the Lower House in the early hours of the morning, but just like it happened in December last year during the pensions reform bill, everyone’s attention was focused on the circus around it.
On the Lower House floor, representatives from both sides of the political spectrum clashed to such an extent that a heated exchange between deputies Daniel Filmus and Nicolás Massot almost ends up in a fist fight. Outside, things were much, much worse. The area surrounding Congress had once again turned into a war zone, after what started as a peaceful protest led by unions and social organizations quickly descended into chaos after clashing with the armed forces deployed around the building.
As it is always the case in this kind of situations, each side of the aisle pushes a different narrative and present different interpretations of the causes and motivations of the those involved in the clash in order to better adjust its political purposes.
One side assured that police acted within the law, neutralizing violent groups associated with Kirchnerism and leftist parties, who were given orders to disrupt the session from the outside after politicians on the inside confirmed they did not have enough votes to reject the bill.
The other camp argued that the alleged protesters were in fact “undercover intelligence agents” who answered to the government, tasked with causing mayhem and destruction in order to justify the consequent police brutality.
Those supporting this version uploaded different videos to social media to back up their claims:
No hace falta usar el VAR:
Un policía se tira de la moto, imita una caída y ahí nomás se desata la represión. pic.twitter.com/CXWguP3sKy
— Mauricio Polchi (@MauriElbueno) October 24, 2018
“A police officer jumps off his motorcycle, pretends to have fallen and, just lie that, the repression begins,” reads the tweet above. The police were also accused of conducting random arrests and of even planting evidence in order to support this narrative. The tweet below, by magazine La Garganta Poderosa, indicated that after one of its workers was arrested, the police officer in charge of taking him down had produced a crowbar in an attempt to make it look like it was his.
La Policía de la Ciudad le planta una barreta a uno de los compañeros de La Poderosa detenidos, y las cámaras reproducen la mentira. pic.twitter.com/GxAXsxYebB
— La Garganta Poderosa (@gargantapodero) October 24, 2018
But Buenos Aires Security Minister Mauricio D’Alessandro said the officer was not planting evidence, but rather “recovering a weapon” that the suspect – a journalist- had and only seconds ago had disposed of.
“Semantics, wink emoji,” sarcastically responded journalist Juan Amorín.
Cuestión semántica ? https://t.co/nkjDZVcw9g
— Juan Amorín (@juan_amorin) October 25, 2018
As a result of the violent episodes, which included rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons on one end, and slingshots, lots of rocks and homemade weapons on the other, 26 people were arrested. Among them was another of La Garganta Poderosa’s journalists, Ignacio Levy, and a journalist working for Télam state news agency.
Tensions continued until the early hours of the morning, as activists and police once again clashed, except this time it was outside the police station where the arrested “protesters” were being held.
— Myriam Bregman (@myriambregman) October 24, 2018
According to Tiempo Argentino journalist Ariel Zak, the suspects, none of which had a police record, were released a few hours ago.
Inside Congress, tensions were equally bad. At around 3 PM, two deputies from the Movimiento Evita interrupted the ongoing debate, demanding it be suspended as a result of the protests outside, which had erupted half an hour before. The head of the Kirchnerite Frente Para la Victoria caucus, Agustín Rossi, asked Luis Pastori, his Cambiemos counterpart who had the floor at the moment, to yield so he could officially request the session’s suspension.
Pastori’s rejection led to chaos: several deputies immediately approached the desk of Lower House President Emilio Monzó to show him videos of the situation unfolding outside Congress, turning the whole session into chaos. Things got so bad that a heated argument between deputies Nicolás Massot – head of the PRO party caucus, member of the Cambiemos alliance – and Kirchnerite FpV’s Leopoldo Moreau and Daniel Filmus almost ends in a fist fight.
The reasons for the brawl change depending who you ask, but consensus among most journalists present in the session is that Moreau compared Massot’s family to the police repression taking place outside Congress, and considering that Massot’s uncle was accused of committing crimes against humanity during the dictatorship – the Cambiemos deputy lost his cool and reacted violently.
(FpV representatives say that Massot called on Moreau to “take things outside,” but the PRO party denies it.) Then as Deputy Filmus entered the brawl to defend Moreau, Massot refocused his attention on him. Things got so bad that other fellow caucus members had to break them apart before they started throwing punches at each other.
Here’s how it all went down, from Pastori’s refusal to yield to the fight between Massot and Filmus.
After being separated, their fight continued on Twitter.
After Filmus indicated that Massot’s alleged behavior was “an embarrassment, incompatible with democracy,” the PRO deputy answered by arguing that his “honor, and especially his family’s” wass priceless, unlike Moreau’s.”
“Mine has value, and is infinite. I will always defend it, in whatever way merits it. Manhood, same as Moreau’s cowardice, are democratic. Just different,” the tweet reads.
Mira @FilmusDaniel, mi honor (y sobre todo el de mi familia) no tiene precio como el de Moreau; el mío tiene valor, y es infinito. Siempre lo defenderé, de la forma que lo amerite. La hombría, al igual que la cobardía de Moreau, son ambas democráticas. Solo son diferentes. https://t.co/fDe6EST1bu
— Nicolás Massot (@Nicolas_Massot) October 24, 2018
Seeing it was impossible to reestablish order, Monzó decided to suspend the session twice, something that created a state of uncertainty about whether the whole day of debate would have to be called off. Cambiemos was able to solve this issue by summoning City of Buenos Aires Security Minister Mauricio D’Alessandro – as the police operation was under his jurisdiction – who assured safety conditions were given to resume the debate.
From then on, the session continued “normally.” Deputies set to vote against the bill accused the government of drafting a document that is detrimental to the people’s interests, and favorable to international capitals, the elites and the International Monetary Fund. In fact, some took United States flags to the chamber to taunt the government representatives, while Deputy Victoria Donda upped the ante by bringing a cardboard figure of IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde wearing a presidential sash with the colors of the Argentine flag.
Cambiemos deputies, in contrast, argued that the current economic woes are largely a responsibility of the former government’s mismanagement, and while they conceded the near future is bleak, it is a necessary effort to achieve sustained growth. They had the silent support of their Peronismo Federal counterparts who, despite critical of Cambiemos’ economic policies, voted in favor of the bill.
The budget was finally voted at 5:47 AM, with the favorable votes of 138 deputies. 103 voted against, 8 abstained and 7 were absent. The bill aims at eliminating the primary fiscal deficit – i.e the one that does not take into account sovereign debt interests – in 2019, in accordance with the reviewed Stand-By agreement reached with the IMF in September. In order to do so, the bill contemplates severe austerity measures illustrated by budget cuts – both real and nominal – in most sectors of the government.
The bill will now make its way to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass.