Hours after the controversial pension reform bill was voted by a majority of lawmakers in Congress, President Mauricio Macri offered a press conference to stand by his administration’s efforts to pass the bill and criticize the violent acts that took place outside the building yesterday and last Thursday.
The President also insisted that the protesters were “organized” and their actions were “premeditated”, criticized lawmakers who seemed to support them, and defended the actions of the armed forces tasked with protecting the Congress while the Lower House was in session inside.
“I believe in peace and dialogue” is how Mauricio Macri chose to begin his speech after yesterday’s violent protests that turned the Congressional Plaza into a war zone as people with their faces covered turned up en masse to hurl stones at the City Police, protesting a controversial bill that was being debated inside Congress.
“This violence we saw, clearly orchestrated, will be met with justice to know who was responsible because it wasn’t spontaneous. Argentina today lives in a climate of peace, there’s hope for the future. And what happened sought to stop Congress from working. The good thing is that, despite what they did, democracy works in Argentina,” he said.
“Congress was in session for 17 hours, with the opposition speaking for fourteen hours. They had the chance to offer their points of view and then they voted,” he added.
Before the press conference, President Mauricio Macri met with his entire Cabinet in Casa Rosada at 9:30 AM.
Macri then moved on to address the bill, which in the last few weeks has been largely criticized by members of the opposition as they argue that pensioners and welfare recipients would see their purchasing power decrease next year as a result of the law’s provisions.
President Macri insisted that protecting pensioners was “one of his priorities” as Head of State and assured that, on the contrary, this new law – which is supported by provincial governors – would guarantee that pensions would not be affected by inflation.
After his initial statements, Macri allowed for a few questions from the local media. Most of the questions were softballs and were mostly focused on the violence perpetrated by protesters. (And while these protesters were indeed very violent, there was barely any comment about the Border Patrol’s actions last Thursday (and the massive deployment of guards, which even Elisa Carrió said was excessive.)
“What happened yesterday and on Thursday was clearly orchestrated and it is already being investigated,” he told a reporter. “We want our justice system to inspire respect and that will happen when those who tried to stop Congress from working pay for what they did yesterday,” he continued, adding that “over 80 policemen had been hospitalized” as a result of yesterday’s violence.
“We can’t naturalize what happened. I’m surprised that there isn’t any condemnation of the violence against the police yesterday coming from opposition leaders,” he said. “These people are working for the community and are looking after us.”
Macri was then asked if, considering that he thought the incidents were “premeditated”, he could name who he thought was behind the protesters’ organization and financing. However, he said he would rather not jump to conclusions before the justice system carries out an investigation. He also said “it’s clear there were lawmakers who incited violence.”
“I saw some surprising transcripts [of their speeches in Congress]. Nothing justifies violence. We Argentines want to live in peace. There’s no reason why a group should believe they can impose their ideas through violence. It’s not going to happen,” he said.
Macri was also asked about last night’s cacerolazo protests that broke out throughout the country, as many Argentines tried to express their opposition to the bill.
“Express your opinion but leave some room to believe that [reforms] suddenly could work. I’m not asking you not to protest, you have a right to do it. But it’s important that you don’t refuse to give it a chance to work,” he said.
When it comes to the pension reform bill, many who side with the government have however criticized the administration for once again failing to appropriately communicate to the population what they were trying to do, causing a crisis that could have easily been avoided had they approached it in a different way.
But Macri wasn’t having any of it. “I’ve been listening to this ‘lack of explanation’ thing over the last two years. We can always improve in terms of communication, but it’s important to know that I’m not here to be in a comfortable situation. That would be lying to you. I’m not here to sweep our problems under the rug.”