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ARGENTINA | 01-03-2019 14:43

'No turning back,' declares Macri in turbulent speech before Congress

In a turbulent session in Congress – which featured heckling from opposition lawmakers, calls for silence and crossed words – the president went on the offensive, indicating there was no turning back on his administration's policies as he laid out his case for re-election.

President Mauricio Macri today issued a fervent defence of his government's austerity measures in a speech to Congress today, indicating his belief that despite the economic crisis, Argentina is on the correct path.

In a turbulent session in Congress – which featured heckling from opposition lawmakers, calls for silence and crossed words – the president went on the offensive, indicating there was no turning back on his administration's policies as he laid out his case for re-election.

"Today Argentina is better off than in 2015 [when I took office.] We continue to make profound changes, we have left the swamp behind," he said in a speech that was greeted with regular applause from politicians in his Cambiemos ("Let's Change") coalition.

"Deep changes require patience. Many will think 'I am worse than before' or 'Everything costs more'. And they are right. But what we are achieving is enormous," he added. 

The weight of the electoral year hung heavy in the address to lawmakers from both chambers of Congress, with no love lost between the opposing sides.

The president often spoke loudly and at times angrily, clearly frustrated by repeated attempts to interrupt him from opposition lawmakers, who showed little sign of respect for the PRO leader, ignoring requests from Vice-President Gabriela Michetti to refrain from interrupting.

Macri himself even responded to the insults, especially calls that he was a "liar."

"The insults say more about you than me," he replied angrily on several occasions.

Many opposition politicians sat with signs reading: "Hay Otro Camino" ("There's another way") and "Macri fuera ya" ("Macri out now").

Justifying his administration's severe cuts in public spending, Macri said that "the fiscal deficit is what causes inflation and poverty."

His government's committed objective, as stated to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is "the zero fiscal deficit," the president added.

'No turning back'

Macri argued that Argentina had long outlived its means and asked the country for more time, saying that "some changes require patience."

"There is no turning back" on the policies that are being applied, he added, despite recent data indicating that the country is now in recession. Inflation reached 48 percent last year.

Macri acknowledged the tough times at present, admitting that poverty was on the rise and declaring he would do his best to improve conditions for industry, with factories and businesses contuning to close.

He also confirmed that the Universal Child Allowance (AUH) welfare payment would rise by 46 percent, from 1,800 to 2,644 pesos as from March. 

The president trod carefully on economic ground, pointedly not saying that "inflation is low," as he did a month ago. Official statistics showed prices rose 2.9% rise in January, which increased the year-on-year accumulated figure for the last 12 months to 50 percent, the highest in 28 years. Almost 200,000 employees were fired in 2018, according to official figures.

Macri, however, said he remained positive. "We are on the right path," he reiterated.

Close to Congress, on the streets outside, Olga Alderete, a 46-year-old cleaner who earns 6,000 pesos per month ($150), said: "May Macri leave. We can not go on, everything increases. People are getting fired. Factories are closing. Now school starts and it's a problem because there is no money to buy the supplies."

"Macri told lies about industry, employment [levels] and workers," said Agustín Rossi, the head of the Peronist caucus in the Chamber of Deputies.

SOMOS lawmaker Victoria Donda described the speech "was of a president who is leaving power."

Election year

Macri declared in his speech that he saw Argentines "with hope and strength," but the recent economic turmoil is testing his support base. One of the largest pollsters in the country, Poliarquía, recently revealed that 64 percent of people disapprove of Macri's management of the country at present, complicating his chances of re-election.

Nobody at present knows exactly who the president will be facing off against in October. The biggest question mark is whether his biggest rival in the polls, former president and Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, will run.

At one point, the president trained his fire on the senator for Buenos Aires province in his speech, contrasting his government's approach to the Venezuelan government, now led by Nicolás Maduro, to the former head of state's policies.

Macri said Fernández de Kirchner's government had "decorated Maduro" with honours, despite the Venezuelan leader's lack of respect for human rights.

- TIMES/AFP

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