Amid shouts, insults and standing ovations, President Alberto Fernández launched 2023’s congressional sessions with a lengthy and at times explosive address in the Lower House today.
In a speech that lasted over two hours, he reviewed his government’s main projects before moving onto major political controversies including judicial independence and the assassination attempt against his vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Kirchner sat next to him for the first time in months of rivalry inside their ruling coalition, Frente de Todos.
Representatives and guests from across the political spectrum attended, from Buenos Aires City mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, to Estela de Carlotto, President of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. The most striking absence was Maximo Kirchner, Congressman and son of Cristina Kirchner and leader of kirchnerist organization La Cámpora.
In the first minutes of the speech, he addressed the assassination attempt against Cristina Kirchner last September.
“Six months ago, we faced one of the most unfortunate moments in these 40 years of democracy,” he said. “I demand that justice investigates, judges and condemns the intellectual and material authors of the crime, with the same urgency they use to freeze cases where judges, prosecutors and businessmen are accused.”
After underscoring the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine presented for his administration, Fernández highlighted achievements including Argentina’s post-lockdown growth of 5.4% in 2022 and his government’s housing, tech, education, social security and tourism policies. He also acknowledged the country’s current financial challenges.
The Néstor Kirchner pipeline, his administration’s hope for economic growth in the upcoming year, figured prominently in the speech. The project will provide the country with gas from the Vaca Muerta shale field, and the government hopes it will reduce Argentina’s dependency on gas imports and open up the possibility of gas exports.
“Argentina is the energy that the world needs,” Fernández said.
The first section of the Néstor Kirchner gas pipeline is scheduled for completion in June and the government is in talks with Brazil to finance an extension in order to reach the neighboring country.
Internationally, Fernández emphasized the importance of the bonds between Argentina and Brazil, highlighting his support for recently-elected Brazilian President Lula da Silva, and his request for Argentina to enter the BRICS group of emerging economies, currently composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
The President’s speech became increasingly animated towards the end, as he discussed the most controversial issues in Argentine politics currently. In December, the Supreme Court ordered the government to restore a portion of federal tax revenues to Buenos Aires city, a decision Fernández has consistently claimed is illegal and takes funding away from poorer Argentines in the province.
“I cannot remain indifferent in the face of the asymmetries that separate this marvelous city from corners of our homeland where Argentines’ dreams are put on hold and seem condemned to oblivion,” he said, visibly emotional, prompting a standing ovation from some members of his coalition.
He reiterated his position that federal tax revenues are established by law and cannot be forced by judicial rulings. Fernández in December announced that he would seek to impeach the Supreme Court as a result of the tax share dispute, a move which has been criticized by some rights organizations as compromising the separation of powers.
In his speech, Fernández asked Congress to vote in favor of the Supreme Court justices’ impeachment. The process is currently being debated in the Lower House.
“They went against the current federal tax share law,” he said. “Justice’s intrusion in the way the budget is implemented is inadmissible.”
Only two Supreme Court Justices – Horacio Rosatti and Carlos Rosenkratz – were present at the speech. The event is usually attended by all of the Justices, and the absence of Ricardo Lorenzetti and Juan Carlos Maqueda was read as a snub.
As his speech continued, members of ruling coalition Frente de Todos cheered, while the opposition shouted, and he paused at various points to respond to insults. Also on the judicial agenda is the stalemate in the Council of Magistrates, which said was exacerbating Santa Fe’s inability to fight worsening organized crime.
Fernández also presented several members of the public to highlight their role in Argentine society. Most notably, ahead of the April anniversary of the Malvinas War, he introduced a veteran and thanked him publicly, stressing that the Malvinas Islands (known in the UK as the Falklands, although Argentina emphatically rejects this name) “were, are and will be Argentinian.”