WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
13 Jun 2024 | Commentary

Attention Needs to Be Paid to the Situation in Argentina

As President Javier Milei nears six months in office, taking stock of Argentina’s socioeconomic situation is essential. As promised, his government has introduced austerity measures to combat inflation. The Argentine peso was devalued by 118 percent. Significant cuts have been made including ministries, state subsidies for fuel and transport, pensions, retirement earnings, and tens of thousands of public service jobs. Numerous regulations have been lifted to “liberate” or deregulate the economy. Argentina is implementing a system that transfers public wealth to the economy’s private and more concentrated sectors. Concurrently, Milei’s government has attempted to ram through many reforms. Some were blocked or modified by Argentina’s National Congress, others are being disputed in court, and some have passed. While economic reforms were necessary, it is essential to ask how Argentines are faring under all these changes.

To better understand the situation, we invited the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), a leading Argentine human rights organization, to Washington, D.C. What we learned is alarming and leads to the conclusion that the international community must not just pay attention but also take action to address what is happening in Argentina.

The combination of austerity measures, deregulation, and the halting of public policies is not just numbers on a balance sheet. It is hurting real people, especially those in the middle-class and lower-income sectors. Poverty is at a staggering 55 percent, and extreme poverty is at 18 percent. People’s purchasing power has decreased by 20.7 percent, while costs of food and medicines have risen sharply. In March, UNICEF warned that if conditions didn’t change, child poverty would increase from 57 percent to 70 percent.

The economy has declined by 8.4 percent compared to the prior year, unemployment increased, and the country is in a recession. Care policies were defunded. Of the 43 central policies analyzed by CELS, only seven remain. Public education, culture, and science were also defunded. These cuts are not surprising, given that Milei has equated public policies aiding vulnerable and impoverished persons with communism.

The Milei government is not merely implementing policies; it’s advancing anti-democratic values. It verbally attacks all critics, stigmatizes the opposition, and has moved to criminalize protests. He attempted to push his entire government agenda through extraordinary measures, trumping democracy and human rights. Milei delegitimizes democratic institutions by attacking the Congress and governors who disagree with him. He verbally attacks the opposition, culture, feminism, and environmentalism.

One sector facing significant verbal attacks is journalists and the media. According to FOPEA,[1] 15 of the 37 attacks against the press came from the National Executive Power. Eight of the 15 attacks came directly from President Milei and two from the presidential spokesman, Manuel Adorni. In these attacks, journalists are labeled[2] “corrupt,” “liars,” and “extortioners.” These attacks prompted the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)[3] to urge Milei’s government to cease “attacking press freedom, stigmatizing journalists and allow journalists to do their jobs freely without restrictions.” Milei uses social media to attack, which eggs on trolls and creates a hostile environment for journalists.

There is an effort to shift the narrative against social justice by categorizing it as theft. Milei’s government includes conservative officials who are anti-rights and who either deny or justify the military dictatorship. These are opposed to the LGBTI population, marriage equality, gender policies, and abortion. Human rights are devalued. Among the youth, there exists a risk to democracy. There is a tendency to tolerate totalitarianism and violent state action while discrediting democratic institutions.

The government is moving towards squashing dissent through repression and criminalizing protests. Criminal and administrative tools are being used against social leaders and organizations, including hefty fines. Measures that previously regulated the use of police force in protests have been repealed. Three UN mandates responsible for the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of opinion and expression, and the situation of human rights defenders sent a letter to the Argentine government, listing concerns about the protest protocol and efforts to limit protests through the omnibus reform bill.

Another concerning issue is the Argentine government’s positioning internationally. The president has insulted multiple heads of state and parties and distanced himself from his South American counterparts. Libertarian Milei has aligned himself with global far-right governments, political parties, and NGOs. He participated in the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the U.S. and the Vox Conference in Spain. According to CELS, Milei is carrying out “an experiment that proposes brutal austerity measures with severe social consequences, supported by the IMF and has a conservative spirit in social, political, and cultural matters.”

While the situation has not escalated into large-scale violence, President Milei remains popular among his supporters. This is a delicate situation that can deteriorate quickly. As such, it is incumbent upon the international community to look at Argentina’s economic issues and the deteriorating state of its democracy and human rights.

[1] https://fopea.org/100diasdemilei-40-de-los-ataques-al-periodismo-provienen-del-gobierno/
[2] https://cpj.org/2024/04/cpj-urges-argentine-president-javier-milei-to-end-attacks-on-press-freedom/
[3] https://cpj.org/2024/04/cpj-urges-argentine-president-javier-milei-to-end-attacks-on-press-freedom/

The statistics that do not contain a footnote all come from CELS.

The original version of this article was published in Spanish in La Nueva Prensa.