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Opposition Challenges Government Decree Restructuring Army

Critics argue the decision should be made by Congress.

By | [email protected] | July 26, 2018 12:21pm

congress-of-argentina-in-buenos-airesThe Argentine Congress.
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The primary opposition parties in Congress have vocalized their rejection of the government’s decree aimed at restructuring the armed forces announced by President Mauricio Macri on Monday. Party leaders have manifested they are planning on challenging it, arguing Congress is the proper venue to debate the initiative, which aims at ensuring a larger military presence at Argentina’s northern border in an effort to fight drug trafficking and terrorism, among other “homeland security” issues.

However, their reasons vary. Some, like the members of the Frente Para la Victoria (FpV) and Libres del Sur, reject the decision outright. They argue that what the government actually intends to do is enable the armed forces to intervene in homeland security affairs to ultimately repress social protests, which are destined to intensify in the future due to poor administration.

Others, such as the members of the Partido Justicialista (PJ) and the Frente Renovador (FR) have not rejected the decree’s intentions, but argue lawmakers should decide how the initiative should be carried out.

Head of the FpV caucus in the Lower House Agustín Rossi introduced along with other colleagues an initiative to take down the decree: “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.

The party led by former Deputy Sergio Massa, on its end, did not reject the initiative, just the way it was implemented. “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.

Head of the FR caucus in the Lower House, Graciela Camaño.

In fact, a heightened role of the military was one of 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. The plan would have also had the army assist in engineering works, such as the construction of sewage systems.

Head of the PJ caucus in the Lower House, Pablo Kosiner, issued statements along the lines of Camaño’s. “We agree to request the decree be reversed and Congress enable a discussion regarding the best way to achieve a modern and democratic homeland security policy,” he argued. Kosiner went on to say “we do not reject military support in border areas, but that should not be an ‘ordinary competence’ or the armed forces in homeland security affairs.”

The opposition members have significant precedent in their favor. In 2014, then-Deputy and current Security Minister Patricia Bullrich introduced an initiative aimed at taking down a decree signed by late President Néstor Kirchner in 2006, which limited the armed forces’ capacities to only address “aggressions of external origin perpetuated by armed forces belonging to other states.”

Besides modifying this mentioned decree, administration’s decision effectively puts into question the long-standing Ley N. 23.554 passed in 1988, which stated that “in order to elucidate the issues pertaining to National Defense, the fundamental difference that separates National Defense from Internal Security must be kept permanently in mind. Internal Security will be governed by special law.” In addition, the Decreto 727, signed by late President Néstor Kirchner in 2002, further limited the armed forces’ capacity to address “aggressions of external origin perpetrated by armed forces belonging to other states.”

However, former Deputy and Defense Secretary Miguel Ángel Toma, who drafted the aforementioned law, defended the decision 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 a TV interview yesterday.

Human rights organizations will march today to bring visibility to their rejection of the decree. Head of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo Estela de Carlotto called the restructuring plan “scandalous” and said “we do not want our country to be militarized.” “Look at what happened in Brazil and Mexico. I don’t know what their intention is, to shut us up [the opposition],” said Carlotto in an interview.