In a single month since being sworn into office, Argentine President Mauricio Macri has shown that his sights are set on reversing the overall political direction pursued by former Presidents Cristina Fernandez and Nestor Kirchner in the past 12 years of Kirchnerism.
Aside from going on vacation while tens of thousands of Argentines were forced out of their homes by massive flooding around Buenos Aires province, Macri has acted swiftly to begin to change a number of key policies championed by his predecessors.
While there have been a number of large protests against the government’s reforms, these five moves by Macri in his first month provide a glimpse into the neoliberal overhaul expected to continue in Argentina.
1. Gutting the Media Law
Within days of taking office, Macri started taking steps to undermine the country’s Media Law, a 2009 communications policy designed to promote media diversity by limiting the dominance of big media corporations and creating space for smaller, alternative, and community outlets. Macri targeted the state media watchdog, known as AFSCA, that prevents media monopolization, as well as the state technology regulator, creating by decree a new telecommunications body to absorb both previously autonomous regulatory institutions.
Although public media defenders protested the move to hollow out the Media Law, federal judges ultimately ruled that the changes could not be blocked on legal grounds. Macri, like Argentina’s largest media conglomerate Clarin Group, sees the Media Law as a restriction on private property and press. Scrapping the key watchdog institution working to strengthen media democracy will likely pave the way for increased media concentration.
2. Laying-off 10,000 Public Sector Workers
Macri’s administration has already cut more than 10,000 public sector jobs since taking office, and the ongoing and far-reaching review of state labor contracts is expected to result in more layoffs. Vice President Gabriela Michetti has said that the labor audit has already identified Kirchnerist “militants” loyal to Macri’s left-wing predecessors whose jobs could be on the chopping block.
Macri’s process has already cut 2,000 jobs from the senate, 600 from the Kirchner Cultural Center, some 6,000 from municipalities in Buenos Aires province, and dozens more working in government, infrastructure, communications, and other sectors. Major public sector unions have mobilized to protest the wave of job losses, and leaders say that their ranks of tens of thousands of state workers are on alert to continue to reject the unjust cuts.
3. Ruling by Decree
In the first 72 hours after being sworn in, Macri made 29 decrees, kicking off a trend of governing by decree to make a series of quick changes in his first month in office. The strategy allows Macri to make decisions without getting approval from congress, where the Peronist movement now forms the official opposition.
Ruling by decree is how Macri made rapid and major changes to media regulation institutions. Macri also used a decree to transform the Ministry of Education, eliminate the mandatory high school education law, and slash public spending on education by overturning a law that earmarked 6 percent of GDP for the education budget.
Macri also appointed two justices to the Supreme Court by decree, a controversial move that garnered criticism from many opponents, as well as constitutional lawyers and even some members of his own party. Many expect Macri’s trend of governance by decree to continue in the immediate term.
4. Devaluing the Currency
In his first week in office, Macri launched a strategy to devalue the currency, make the exchange rate of the Argentine peso free-floating, and scrap currency controls. The move prompted a 30 percent slump in the Argentine peso against the U.S. dollar.
Macri campaigned on promises to boost the ailing economy by attracting foreign investment through currency devaluation and other measures. Critics warn that the devaluation risks spurring further inflation.
5. Slashing taxes
Macri swiftly made changes to export taxes and import rules to open up Argentina to foreign companies. The changes included eliminating export taxes on big agribusiness corporations producing corn, wheat, and beef, and lowering taxes on soybeans, another of the country’s top agricultural exports. Slashing export taxes wiped out one of the flagship economic policies used under the Kirchnerist governments to fund social programs and infrastructure projects.
Macri also did away with Argentina’s Anticipated Sworn Declaration of Imports regulation, known as DJAI, a 2012 law that requires importing companies to declare goods in advance in the interest of protecting and promoting domestic production.
All photos by Reuters