Privatizations loom as key roadblock as omnibus bill debate continues

Deputies reconvened at noon after an opening day that featured tense exchanges on the floor and violent clashes on the street

Argentina's Congress debates President Javier Milei's reform package, which proposes broad economic deregulation and massive privatization of public companies. Source: Congress press office

The omnibus bill debate in the Lower House ended Wednesday night after 11 hours and reconvened Thursday at noon. The first day of the long-awaited session featured not only tense exchanges inside the chamber but also violent clashes on the streets as the police harshly clamped down on protesters and arrested at least six people. 

As day two kicks off, negotiations between the government and certain opposition sectors are expected to continue as there is still no consensus to approve the privatization of state-owned companies, arguably the largest roadblock at this time given that it is a key issue for the Milei administration. 

Over 140 deputies are still expected to give their views on the bill. Depending on how long this takes, the general vote on the bill could either take place in the early hours of Friday or be postponed to Saturday after another potential recess.

The bill is very likely to be approved as a general item — ruling coalition La Libertad Avanza (LLA) has gathered around 140 votes with the help of the so-called “moderate opposition.” After that, deputies will vote on the articles individually: that’s when the debate will get more heated.

The bill has been thoroughly modified, but it still includes the privatization of 36 state-owned companies and the partial privatization of three others. And although the government is very reluctant to make modifications, a LLA source admitted they will have to compromise if they want it to pass.

Deputies from opposition bloc Unión por la Patria (UxP) said Wednesday night that LLA still hadn’t delivered the final version of the bill. At the beginning of the session, it was announced that several articles had been removed from the original proposal after agreements made the day before in a commission meeting.

UxP, however, said that the ruling coalition changed other articles without making them public. The document lawmakers are currently working on was approved last week, but it still includes 139 articles that have already been removed.

“It’s 9:35 p.m. and the session in the Lower House was lifted after 11 hours of debate without an official verdict,” deputy Julia Strada posted on X, meaning that they never received the final version of the bill that was signed last week. 

UxP whip Germán Martínez wrote that the ruling coalition “is still modifying the bill because they don’t have the required votes to approve privatizations or the delegation of legislative powers.”

Clashes on the street

The tension was also palpable in the streets. At 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, one hour before the start of the session, dozens of military police SUVs were already swarming around Congress. Federal Police officers were stationed behind security fences surrounding the front and right side of the building. Patrol cars were stationed in nearby streets, and military police officers were seen arriving. 

In the afternoon, security forces launched a violent operation against the relatively small number of protesters outside Congress. Officers using pepper spray and hydrant cars were shown harshly pushing people out of the streets to keep them in the Dos Congresos square or on the sidewalks, in line with the security ministry’s anti-protest protocol.

At least six people were arrested during the protests. Out of them, four women were released on Thursday morning after spending the night in a police station. One is Ivana Bunge, a Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) activist who was shown being arrested by TV cameras. As police escorted her to the patrol SUV, she said she and her friends “were just sitting on the street, singing the National Anthem.”

During the security operation, a military police officer was seen wearing a patch with the libertarian flag sewn on his uniform — a snake symbol with the phrase “don’t tread on me.” Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said he and any other officer who were wearing political symbols would be sanctioned.

Social leader Eduardo Belliboni, from the left-wing movement Polo Obrero, was shown laying on the ground visibly hurt. He later said he had been pepper sprayed by police. “While I was lying on the ground, I was beaten and kicked to a mush,” he said. “The police wouldn’t stop attacking and hitting people.”

More protests are expected on Thursday. Political parties and social movements will be there, as well as a group of ordinary citizens who have called for a “vigil of necessity and urgency” in front of Congress. The extreme heat will likely make the situation even more tense, given that the temperature is expected to rise to 36º Celsius in the afternoon.

You may also be interested in: The original omnibus bill has been cut in half. Here’s what’s left.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald