Sunday, July 12, 2020
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ARGENTINA | 28-02-2020 07:00

Fernández set to outline agenda in speech to Congress

Abortion, agriculture, pensions and debt restructuring expected to be included in Peronist leader’s address to lawmakers this Sunday.

All eyes will be on President Alberto Fernández on Sunday, with the Frente de Todos leader set to review his government’s first few months in office and announce a host of new measures and legislation in a major speech.

The Peronist leader will open the ordinary sessions of Congress as from 11.30am tomorrow with a state-of-the-nation address expected to be tantamount to a second inauguration.

Fernández is expected to address issues such as abortion, debt restructuring and agricultural duties in a speech “written by his own hand,” a government official said this week.

Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa will open the sessions, one hour before Fernández arrives at Congress to deliver his own speech.

Debt restructuring

The settlement of Argentina’s foreign debt has been central to the president’s agenda since it assumed office on December 10 and, given the recent positive news on that front, it is expected to be given pride of place in the speech.

The International Monetary Fund's stamp of approval for Argentina’s definition of the foreign debt as “unsustainable” earlier this month is seen as the ideal launching-pad for delicate debt restructuring talks with bondholders. 

The IMF’s for a “meaningful contribution from private creditors” was almost as good as spelling out a haircut, even if the Fund did not explicitly underwrite the strategy of not repaying debt until Argentina is back on a growth path, nor did it reject it.

An upbeat tour of Europe in the first half of this month and a substantially lower inflation figure for last month (2.3 percent) are further grounds for optimism on the economic front.

But the good news may not extend as far as Argentina’s farmers, who stand to be hit with an extra three percent in export taxation to balance the budget, whose spending now includes the distribution of an estimated 1.4 million Alimentar food stamp cards to needy families by next month.

Abortion reform

The economy is expected to be the dominant theme of the state-of-the-nation speech – but not the only one. 

Fernández has made no secret of his plans to flag abortion reform as a top priority for these ordinary sessions, with officials trailing that a bill will be announced on Sunday. 

The Peronist leader will frame the abortion debate as a public health issue, reports this week said. It is expected that any legislation presented will be accompanied by initiatives to assist mothers who do want to go ahead with their pregnancies, in order to counter the polarisation aroused by this issue.  

This month’s massive green pañuelazo demonstration on February 19 has once again given huge momentum to the campaign to legalise abortion in Argentina, though local Church leaders have called a counter-demonstration for International Women’s Day (next Sunday, March 8).

This week’s hot topic in Congress has been the bill to trim judicial (and diplomatic) pensions. Fernández is sure to make some reference to that – but also quite possibly to propose a judicial reform on a much wider scale.

There may also be news on a less controversial measure: the government’s Economic and Social Council. 

Little details have emerged about the council of late, with the president said to be waiting for ex-presidential candidate Roberto Lavagna to decide how much of a role he will play in it. Reports suggest the former economy minister has yet to make a final decision.

Regions

Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta is also lined up to open the City Legislature’s ordinary sessions at 8am on Sunday with a speech to lawmakers.

Axel Kicillof, the governor of Buenos Aires Province, has pushed his own speech to lawmakers back to Monday, March 2, so as not to clash with Fernández’s address. 

Chubut Province Governor Mariano Arcioni and Río Negro Province Governor Arabela Carreras have done the same. 

Kicillof and Fernández are expected to criticise “the economic inheritance” bequeathed to them by their predecessors in office, María Eugenia Vidal and Mauricio Macri. Sources close to the presidency, however, say that Fernández will instead focus on a call for national unity.

"It will be a message that will highlight government priorities for the most vulnerable sectors and call for national unity over ideological differences," an unnamed official close to the presidency told Infobae this week.

– TIMES

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