Argentina Congress approves pension overhaul amid violent protests

World Today

Despite protests in opposition, some of which turned violent, Argentina’s Congress passed a pension system overhaul on Tuesday. Those opposed to the change say it will hurt retirees, but the government says it will cut the country’s deficit.

CGTN’s Joel Richards reports.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered near the National Congress on Monday, hours before the vote on austerity measures. Argentina has received praise from outside the country for its economic reforms, but within its borders, many Argentinians feel differently.

Hundreds of police deployed as the Congress passed the pension system overhaul. Shortly before voting was due to begin, chaos erupted.

Some demonstrators broke up the pavement and used chunks of cement to battle police. Violence escalated from one side, and then from the other. People are angry over not just the reform measures, but also with what they say is the heavy-handed approach by security forces. Videos and photos of the violence have spread on social media.

This was the second time that the vote for pension reform descended into violence just meters outside Congress.

Pension reform is part of an austerity package to reduce Argentina’s growing deficit. The measure that passed will change how pension increases are calculated, reducing the amount retirees receive. The government aims to save over $5 billion and says the reform is fair.

A demontrator kicks back a gas canister at riot police during clashes within a protest against proposed pension reforms outside the Congress in Buenos Aires on December 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH)

“This formula will guarantee that increases will always be more than inflation,” according to President Mauricio Macri. “It is part of the continual reform which we are doing, always aiming for the same thing: reduce poverty, grow and generate opportunities so the middle class can grow.”

But critics say that while powerful sectors like mining and agriculture have benefited from tax breaks, this broader reform, which includes more than just pensions, hurts millions of Argentines.

”The key here is the reform is taking from retirees, from welfare for the poorest children, from Malvinas war veterans, and disabled. The most vulnerable sectors of society,” according to National Deputy Alcira Argumedo.

The government defends its austerity program, but has yet to convince the many Argentines who it affects.