With “no to the military on the streets” as their main rallying cry, thousands of people marched in different cities across the country to protest the government’s decree aimed at restructuring the role of the armed forces. The central event in the City of Buenos Aires was organized by different human rights organizations and took place outside the Libertad building, which houses both the Defense Ministry and the main Army headquarters.
“We are marching throughout the country to say ‘never again’ [nunca más] to the repressive Armed Forces. No the militarization of Argentina,” claimed Lita Bolitano, member of the organization Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos por Razones Políticas [family members of people forcefully disappeared for political reasons). The main document that was read from the stage was also signed by Grandmothers and Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Línea Fundadora, CELS and APDH, among others.
The already effective decree aims at reshaping the deployment of units and will ensure a larger military presence at the northern border in an effort to fight drug trafficking. It also intends to “protect strategic locations, and it will be up to the Executive to decide what qualifies as an asset in need of protection, but it would likely include natural resources reserves, dams, and government buildings guarding sensitive information.
Reading the document, Bolitano went on to say that the decree “strengthens the repressive model of a government that represents the interests of few, while impoverishing most.” “These austerity measures can only be enforced with repression. The government is bringing back the theory of the internal enemy to try to silence the social protests and keep at bay the ever-growing marches in protest against the Macri administration’s anti-popular policies, based on the demands imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
From South Africa, where he attended the BRICS summit, President Mauricio Macri criticized the march, saying “it’s astonishing that so many leaders, who have to be responsible with their words, have not even read what we have signed.” “What they [the Armed Forces] will do is compliment the security forces in the fight against drug-trafficking by providing logistical support. It is clear that the Armed Forces will not be involved in homeland security,” Macri added.
In a TV interview earlier this week, former Deputy and Defense Secretary Miguel Ángel Toma, who drafted the National Defense law from 1988, defended the decree and said it is a return to its intended spirit. “We are facing a new debate and need to have it. The world has changed and new threats have emerged. And when I say those threats affect national security, I think the armed forces need to provide support. That is what marks the difference between homeland and national security, to support,” he said. In 2006, late President Néstor Kirchner signed a decree limiting the armed forces’ capacities to only address “aggressions of external origin perpetuated by armed forces belonging to other states.”
The Frente Renovador and Argentina Federal (Peronist Party) caucuses have called for a special session in order to introduce two bills aimed at taking down Macri’s decree. However, in contrast with the protesters and the Frente Para la Victoria’s intentions, they didn’t make the call to completely take it down, but to discuss its potential implementation through a law debated in Congress, rather than a presidential decree.
Nonetheless, FpV representatives announced they intend to assist to the debate anyway – potentially to ensure the deputies garner quorum and are able to take down the decree.
“One of Congress’ attributions is sanctioning rules aimed at organizing and governing the Armed Forces, the Lower House being tasked with initiating legislation concerning the matter,” said the head of the FR caucus in the Chamber of Deputies, Graciela Camaño.
A heightened role of the military was one of Sergio Massa’s main rallying cries during his 2015 presidential campaign. Back then, he presented a plan whereby the army would be deployed to neighborhoods plagued by drug-trafficking and tasked with providing backup to police.
In fact the FR intends to reintroduce a bill from 2017 which would grant “subsidiary abilities” to the Armed Forces, such as “patrolling, custody, logistical support, specific intelligence activities and vigilance, in collaboration with security forces in border areas or territories of assigned intervention.”
On its end, the Argentina Federal caucus led by Pablo Kosiner will introduce a bill of its own, requesting the government call the Homeland Security Council to “define a plan of operational support for the fight against drug-trafficking,” which consists of the “urgent redistribution of Gendarmerie officials in order to effectively go back to guard the border.”
The FpV will directly introduce a bill to take down the decree and keep the status quo: “The government tries to legitimize military intervention in the so-called ‘new threats’ like drug-trafficking and terrorism, which is absolutely unconstitutional,” reads a passage of the document. Given the other parties’ intentions, it is likely this is the proposal that garners the least support.
The government has not yet announced whether it has outlined a strategy aimed at keeping the decree alive, or if it will accept having the discussion in Congress.