Insults and finger pointing continued into the afternoon in Buenos Aires where, after a scandalous Lower House session that included strong words and near blows, the ruling Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition failed to pass its controversial pension reform bill.
Lawmakers justified the suspension of the vote because of the climate of violence and hostility inside and outside of Congress. But some opposition lawmakers alleged it was because Cambiemos had been caught out seating lawmakers-elect in order to reach quorum, an accusation the government swiftly denied.
Taking aim during a press conference, Cabinet Chief Marco Peña said the opposition had opted “for violence instead of opting for dialogue and peace”.
“We’re convinced there is majority of lawmakers who wanted this vote, that’s why we secured two quorums during (Thursday’s) session. There is a majority who want this reform”, he told journalists, at one point describing the opposition as “picketers”.
Thirty people were injured outside Congress during clashes between Police and protesters and another 22 were arrested.
Thursday’s session reached boiling point when opposition lawmaker Leopoldo Moreau and House chair Emilio Monzó exchanged heated words and, to avoid what seemed like an imminent psychical altercation, had to be separated by their colleagues.
Moreau, who responds to former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, waved rubber bullet shells used by police on protesters outside Congress in Monzó’s face and called for the session to be suspended. As Monzó resisted, the tension escalated toward a near brawl. A video taken on a cell phone showed Monzó swinging at Moreau.
Earlier, opposition lawmakers had descended on Monzó en masse calling on him to suspend the session, a solution which only government kingmaker, lawmaker Elisa Carrió (Coalición Cívica), could achieve.
“I request that this scandalous session be lifted”, she said. “We will win this vote, it will be next week or next, but we’re going to win”. Soon after, the session was suspended.
Carrió had earlier exchanged words with leftist lawmaker Victoria Donda (Libres del Sur) after she called on the opposition to “take care in not trending on law and order”.
Donda entered the chamber on crutches claiming the Gendarmerie had set dogs on her in the hours prior to the session. “Come here and see what they did to me”, said Donda, taking fire at Carrió.
In a photo shared on social media, another lawmaker, Leonardo Grosso (Movimiento Evita), suffered rubber bullet wounds.
For his part, Facundo Moyano (Renewal Front), who had refused to give the ruling coalition quorum, complained he was not allowed entry into Congress.
The government of President Mauricio Macri hopes to slash 100 billion pesos in spending (US$5.7 billion) with changes to quarterly adjustments to welfare payments.
To date, the welfare office ANSES has calculated 50 percent of a person’s pension on the growth of wages and 50 percent on tax collection. Now, the adjustments will be composed of 70 percent inflation and 30 percent wage growth.
The opposition estimates that 17 million welfare recipients will be affected by the reform, though the government claims pensioners will eventually be better off.