President Javier Milei's parcel of laws to deregulate Argentina approved by the Argentine Congress

Image by Gabriela Mesones Rojo for Global Voices.

The so-called Omnibus Law, pet project of Javier Milei, elected president of Argentina in November 2023, was approved on February 2, 2024 in the Chamber of Deputies of the Argentine Congress by 144 in favor and 109 against. The Argentine Congress also experienced hours of tension, both inside the premises and on the street, where protesters interrupted the congressional session to prevent the half passage of the law. The purpose of the street protests was to put pressure on the deputies so that they would not approve the package of laws that aim to change the state model of Argentina.

The Omnibus Law was delivered by Javier Milei to the Argentine Congress in December as the third and final part of the liberal reform plan with which “he plans to mark a turning point in Argentine history.” This law is a megaproject that has 664 articles that modify up to 20 laws and that deal, among other topics, with the privatization of state companies, modification of pensions, transformation of the electoral system, relaxation of environmental regulations, reforms in education, raising penalties for public demonstrations and protests, and the toughening of police action.

A new country model

Since December 10, the day on which the recovery of Argentine democracy is celebrated since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1983, President Milei has presented government changes that generated controversy and concern among a part of the population. In his first weeks in office, Milei proposed modifying or repealing more than 100 laws and regulations in his 366 articles through a megadecree, to try to regularize the second largest economy in Latin America.

Read more: Why people are voting for ‘anarco-capitalist’ Milei, from an Argentinian perspective

Javier Milei is an ultraliberal economist and the leader of the La Libertad Avanza (LLA) coalition. He was elected president of Argentina in November 2023, after an eye-catching political campaign marked by his disruptive, daring stance and riddled with conspiracy theories. His political symbol is the chainsaw, as a metaphor for a fierce economic adjustment, severe cuts to public spending and concrete actions for “economic recovery.”

The context of the appearance and growth of Javier Milei as a political actor in just two years is due to a sum of factors ranging from inflation to the decline of public health and education systems, through levels of poverty never seen before. In Argentina's recent history — in the second quarter of 2023, 43.5 percent of people were unable to meet basic food needs.

A megaproject to deregulate Argentina

The law promotes the privatization of emblematic public companies such as Banco Nación, trains, YPF, TV Pública, and Aerolíneas Argentinas. Milei's view consists of reducing the state to its minimum expression, which is why he proposes deregulating large companies. He acts against the principle of free public education by promoting tuition for non-resident foreigners, and changing the financing of higher education.

In gender and diversity policies, the Omnibus Law confirms the transformation of the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity into an undersecretariat and reinserts concepts such as “family violence” and “unborn children.” Milei, during his presidential campaign, demonstrated against Law 27,610 on Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy. He also referred to the women's and human rights movements as a “cult of gender ideology.” In public statements, he considered homosexuality as each person's choice, although in an exclusive interview with journalist Jaime Bayly he made a brutal analogy between homosexual people and elephants:

Si querés estar con un elefante… Si tenés el consentimiento del elefante, es problema tuyo y del elefante. 

If you want to be with an elephant… If you have the elephant's consent, it is your problem and the elephant's.

The Omnibus Law also dedicates a chapter to retirement, and proposes that the mobility formula be eliminated so that the executive branch decides when and how much retirements should be increased. In other words, what Milei intends to do is eliminate the current regulations to create a new protocol that depends on his criteria. The new bill aims to repeal the pension law approved in 1993, which includes universal basic benefits, compensatory benefits, retirement because of disability, pension upon death, and permanence benefits.

In the field of culture, it seeks the closure of the National Theater Institute (INT) and the National Arts Fund (FAN), the defunding of the National Film Institute (INCAA), the National Institute of Music (Inamu), and the National Commission of Popular Libraries (CONABIP).

We reject Milei's #OmnibusLaw project that repeals the creation of the FNA and the INT, and defunds the CONABIP. All organizations with their own financing. Emerging artists with scholarships, independent theater works and popular libraries in neighborhoods could cease to exist

Other changes proposed by the megaproject consist of the use of black robes by judges and a gavel to open and close sessions or when they issue rulings, imitating the American judicial system, the end of free recitals, the promotion of divorces without lawyers, and, one of the most controversial, the requirement to seek state permission for a group of three or more people to gather on public roads.

The government proposal also incorporates new regulations on public demonstrations and protests, increasing penalties to up to four years in prison for those who use weapons or interrupt public transportation services, or up to five years for those who “direct, organize or coordinate a meeting or demonstration that prevents, hinders or hinders circulation or public or private transportation.” Milei also defends the actions of the police, highlights the task of the security forces, and emphasizes the decision to “restore dignity” to its members. This aspect has been particularly controversial, taking into account the abuse that has often been observed in the armed forces in the country.

Milei has a parliamentary minority, with 37 of a total of 257 deputies. One step away from approving said law, the government once again extended the extraordinary sessions of Congress to make it effective. Negotiations with the opposition are advanced but changes are still required in the proposal, mainly in relation to retirements, withholdings and privatizations. When it comes to electoral politics, the Omnibus Law encourages the repeal of the primaries, implements a single paper ballot, and proposes changing the composition of the chamber of deputies to fragment the country into different electoral districts.

Social demonstrations in response to the Omnibus Law

Although Milei has extensive support (he won the elections with 56 percent of the votes), on January 24, just 45 days after the president took office, the unions held the first strike against the Omnibus Law thanks to the call of unions, social organizations, opposition politicians and various self-convened groups.

To start the strike, a massive demonstration was also organized, in which thousands of people went to May Avenue, one of the main arteries of the city that connects congress with the Casa Rosada, headquarters of the executive. There was participation from different unions, groups and collectives: truck drivers, health workers, employees of state offices, retired people, tenants, cultural associations, feminist and LGBTQ+ groups, environmental activists, defenders of people's rights with disabilities and activists of national historical memory.

The diversity found in the protest is also a popular expression that the Omnibus Law will affect thousands of people in Argentina.

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