Published: 17:15, March 19, 2024 | Updated: 17:55, March 19, 2024
Austerity measures, policy disputes mark Milei's first 100 days in office
By Xinhua

President Javier Milei addresses lawmakers during the opening legislative session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 1, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

BUENOS AIRES - Argentine President Javier Milei, who took office on Dec 10, 2023, has marked his first 100 days in office with austerity measures and policy disputes with provincial governors.

'Shock measures'

The Latin America's third-largest economy, after Brazil and Mexico, faces significant economic challenges, not least high inflation.

Argentine sociologist Marcelo Rodriguez, director of the Hector P. Agosti Center for Marxist Studies and Training, said the country is witnessing "one of the biggest austerity programs ever implemented in Argentina's history, with spending cuts in very sensitive areas and layoffs that are increasing by the day".

According to Milei, the measures are necessary to put Argentina on the path toward economic recovery, growth and development following the government of his predecessor Alberto Fernandez.

Political opponents of Milei have raised concern about the strict belt-tightening measures and the forceful manner in which they are being imposed

However, Rodriguez noted that the unemployment rate is expected to reach 8 percent soon from 6.8 percent at the end of Fernandez's term.

ALSO READ:Study: Poverty in Argentina reaches 20-yr high at 57.4%

Public works, an important driver of Argentina's economy, have been halted by the current administration and more than 50,000 jobs have been lost, said the analyst.

"If we add that to a freeze in industrial activity, layoffs in the public sector and a very large decline in the country's economic life, then we are truly facing a very tough situation," Rodriguez said.

"He has presented an initiative known as the 'Omnibus Law' with more than 1,000 reforms of different types and a Decree of Necessity and Urgency (DNU) that also proposes many reforms that are regressive for the economic and political life of the country," he said.

Both documents have sparked protests by unions and social organizations, along with strikes in some sectors, and have been struck down by the National Congress of Argentina in separate votes.

"We are seeing the application of 'shock' measures and a vast austerity program as part of severe ultra-neoliberalism in economic issues," said the analyst.

"His main problem is inflation and in that he has not shown results yet. The question is how long will people wait for those results, given the critical social situation," said political analyst Rosendo Fraga, a member of the National Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of Argentina.

"Not only has the purchasing power of formal and informal wages declined, but pensions are at their lowest level in history," he said.

People receive free, hot meals at a soup kitchen run by the Excluded Workers Movement in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 8, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

Heated policy disputes 

Milei, 53, took office after winning a runoff vote on Nov 19 with 55.65 percent of the vote.

"Today a new era begins in Argentina. We end a long and sad history of decadence and decline, and begin the road to rebuilding our country," Milei said in his inauguration speech, calling for an end to "decades of failure, infighting, and senseless struggles."

Political opponents of Milei have raised concern about the strict belt-tightening measures and the forceful manner in which they are being imposed.

Presidential spokesperson Manuel Adorni said on March 15, after the DNU's latest setback in the Argentine Senate, that the administration prefers "consensus, but we are also willing to confront" to reveal "who is with the people and who is looking out for their own interests."

Argentina's political discourse has recently included terms such as "political caste" and slogans like "they can't see it," used by the ruling party to criticize those who do not back their proposals.

According to Adorni, "zero deficit, lower inflation and the consolidation of the central bank are non-negotiable" goals of the reforms.

"We are going to achieve it with or without the collaboration of those who are trying once again to obstruct the path of change. We ask all Argentines for patience and trust," he said.

ALSO READ: Argentina lawmakers push Milei's 'omnibus' reform bill

In foreign policy, Rodriguez has referred to a "clear and strong alignment" with the policies of the United States and Israel.

One of the first measures that Milei took was to cancel Argentina's entry into the BRICS bloc, which took place on Jan 1, 2024, said Rodriguez.

"Everything seems to indicate that Milei will continue proposing austerity measures and giving away Argentina's sovereignty and resources, which will generate many conflicts," Rodriguez added.

According to Fraga, Milei's first 100 days evinced his confrontational leadership style, which was evident during his election campaign.

Looking to the near future, Fraga and Rodriguez share the view that the rest of the year "will continue to be tense and conflictive."

"The fight with the provincial governors for resources will continue permanently. The relationship with the two chambers of the Congress will continue to be difficult," he added.