Der irische Weltenbummler Tony Phillips, seit vielen Jahren in Buenos Aires ansässig, gehört zu den klügsten ausländischen Beobachtern der politischen Lage in Argentinien. Hier analysiert er die letzten Maßnahmen von Präsident Javier Milei.
President Javier Milei (Javi, others call him Nero) is at it again. Ten days into his term he tried a presidential DNU ⏤(D)ecree, (N)ecessary, (U)rgent⏤ a measure designed to be used in times of emergency such as when the previous president used one for COVID-19. Javi considers that he can use and abuse DNU’s at will. Javi’s first DNU, the mega-decree, deleted or rewrote 300+ Federal laws all in one giant attack on the separation of powers.
Then, just a week later, Javi came out with his “Omnibus Law” which is more of the same but contains an explicit attack on democracy. The Omnibus Law, if passed, effectively makes Javier Milei a dictator for two years bypassing the legislator for all new laws. It also comes with an option to renew for two more years. Incidentally one of the six hundred measures in the Omnibus Law automatically passes the previous DNU (with no possible democratic discussion even in the dodgy bicameral commission created by Javi’s vice president). It also has 351 pages of other laws. The onslaught continues but the nature of the destruction of a democratic state is being revealed.
In order to win the final presidential vote, having already defeated former president Mauricio Macri’s “Together for Change” coalition, Javi hooked up with Macri’s PRO faction, a traditional conservative party. Macri’s candidate was Patricia Bullrich. Once she had been eliminated from the presidential race Macri called both Javi and Patricia to his house. They joined forces to defeat a weak Peronist candidate Sergio Massa. It worked. Milei is now president and Patricia Bullrich his security minister. Her job is to keep the riff-faff off the streets while he empties the favours he owes in his in-tray. Javi is creating mass unconstitutional decrees (DNUs) and mega-laws filling them with diverse shopping lists of new, revised and deleted laws to reform the state. The process is only beginning.
Not everything made it into the omnibus law or his previous mega decree but many legal changes are still being treated as urgent anyway and Javi wants them discussed in emergency sessions now together with the Omnibus Law. One such ‘Urgent’ matter is the ratification of a double taxation agreement with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg which benefits owners of Techint/Tenaris (a $17 Billion global company with a huge local presence in Argentina including ownership by Paulo Roca, Argentina’s richest man. Techint/Tenaris manufactures oil and gas pipelines like the massive President Nestor Kirchner Gas Pipeline (GPNK), the group’s companies are also in the oil and gas business themselves. Based in Italy, Techint has always had a large presence in Argentina with an Argentine subsidiary Sidarca and massive government contracts. Techint/Tenaris has been constructing expensive pipelines to enable LNG and gas exports (much of it fracked) demonstrating bare-faced ignorance in the light of the the global climate emergency. Javi says he doesn’t believe humans have anything to do with climate change.
Mauricio Macri, when he was president had tried to ratify this Luxembourg taxation agreement in 2018 but failed. Now it’s back, and it’s urgent! An investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Project team called OpenLux also revealed that Mauricio’s own brother has a major interest in a secret Luxembourg-based company called Lares Corporation SPF so his family too may have some burning interest in signing this bilateral tax agreement with urgency.
Milei plays fast and loose with rules and government. He’s happy to oblige! Who cares about congress? He has called for an emergency session on 31/12/2023 to force everything through. The fundamentalist Austrian school (of which Milei is a fervent disciple) believe taxation is stealing from an entrepreneur’s pocket so Argentina losing a few billion in annual tax income to tax haven nations like Luxembourg isn’t a problem.
There are hundreds of clauses in the Omnibus Law with multiple legislative changes favouring landlords, health insurance companies, tourism, banking, and every employer due to the reduction in legal rights for workers. Christmas 2023 was raining gifts for the corporate sector but the problem for Milei is that the deputies in the Parliament and the Senate might not agree. He’s even accused them on television of asking for bribes to vote in favour of laws, adding yet more legal issues, even leading to Milei being cited in new charges.
Changing hundreds of laws by decree in a 200 year old democracy is not that easy even if you are, like Milei, happy to use obscure emergency legislation and special powers to bulldoze congress over the Christmas break when they are not in session. Why let elected legislators approved (or disapprove) his laws? No problemo says Milei. Just bypass the legislature. Shove everything into a giant law or a mega-decree over their heads, and if some changes can’t do into your first DNU then try a massive law which can be rushed through parliament when they’re on vacation.
So, just a week after the Mega-decree, came the second omnibus law, a veritable smorgasbord of police ‘freedoms’, union restrictions, crackdown on legal (maybe now soon to be not-so-legal) protests, on unions, on strikes and labour with market deregulation causing spikes in prices in almost everything. This was all handcrafted by corporate lawyers, obscure oligarchical economists in the Mises institute and lobbyists, some who also lobbied Macri and Federico Sturtzenegger for the same favours five years back.
Civil Society Reacts
Then came the reaction, the resistance. Legal protections were filed and human rights group wrote up claims of unconstitutionality. Lawyers, actors, workers and unions as well as a few left wing politicians (particularly the candidate for left-of-centre Peronism, Juan Grabois) got busy over Christmas trying to stop the bulldozer from flattening congress before the deputies return to the capital, Buenos Aires, in the New Year.
It proved impossible in the short term to prevent the DNU from going into force. The blatantly undemocratic decree came into effect on the 30th of December. However it is entirely possible that this decree will be reversed by the courts, though they don’t seem none too rushed to come back from vacation either. Even if the DNU is rejected as has happened before, a lot of damage, evictions, job losses, extreme hikes in prices will have happened in the meantime. Indeed they have already begun. Between Christmas and New Years 2023, for example, most private health insurance premiums rose 40%. That’s not 40% inflation in a year but rather a once-off December 2023 rise. Health insurance used to be controlled, with the legal changes in the DNU prices can and have more than doubled in 2023.
When the mega-decree was slowed and questioned by legal protective means Javi promised he would try to blast it through anyway. Just in case somehow the legal system managed to reverse it later. He resolved to call for a plebiscite to pass the mega-decree by referendum. Unfortunately Milei was misinformed on that possibility too. While it is in Javi’s power to call for a plebiscite, its results would not be binding so it would be a waste of time. It should also be noted that the vote could easily go the other way and that would be a huge political defeat. Many aspects of this mega-decree were very hard on the poor and the middle classes, such as changes to the rental laws with hikes in rent every three months and simpler evictions. Javi’s not as popular as he once was.
Complementary Packages of Laws
The Mega-decree focused on removing social restraints on capital, freeing companies from social responsibilities or federal controls on their conduct. The Omnibus laws also include restrictions on strikes and making marches illegal, increasing punishments by law while implementing trigger-happy laws for police that absolve them from possible prosecutions if they happen to accidentally kill citizens in their work. In fact the reason the Omnibus was not implemented as another DNU is because certain measures in the omnibus affect penal laws — explicitly banned from DNUs due to misuse by dictators in the past.
Both are pure ultra-liberalism, a fundamentalist variant of neoliberalism. The Austrian school is more fundamentalist than even the Chicago school of Augusto Pinochet and Carlos Menem was. They also have very different ideas on monetary policies. Milei’s economic sect-like policies is something which has never been put into practice in any nation on Earth till now. The Austrian school preaches against the power of the state itself (with notable exceptions for national security and secure property rights). Voting for an Austrian school president makes little sense as it gives the most powerful actor in the state the destructive power to destroy their state. It looks like this will be a rush job.
The 2023 presidential elections proved that Argentinians are desperately tired of economic failures and corruption. They were willing to give Javi (or anybody new) a try. While many now repent, a majority of voters are still loathe to admit that by voting against Peronism they may have made a very serious mistake.
Milei’s Omnibus Law pompously entitled “The Base Law and Starting Points for Liberty for the Argentine people”.
Javi the Zealot
So why the big rush? Why is Milei in such a hurry? Why does he not propose implementing his dream law by law so that the change he offers can be created democratically, the way presidents are supposed to, though it should be said that Javi is not the only president to abuse DNUs but he’s by far the worst so far. Also how did Milei sell his curious political ideas to the Argentine people? Well zealots can be very persuasive especially zealots with a massive farm of social media trolls.
A zealot is someone who doesn’t take no for an answer. Their job, as they see it, is to lead us to the light. They have the magic potion, the snake oil. In Javi’s case his God is Mammon operating in a free market. Javi’s zealotry fills him with energy, he thinks himself unstoppable, he’s on a mission. He wants more and he wants it fast and he must start yesterday. Javi has seen God and he’s desperate to show us. His vision is to bring Argentina back to being the world power it never was. Javi is a kind of reverse Messiah. Instead of converting from a Jew to a Christian (as Jesus sort of did) Javi’s going the other way. Javi is a disciple of market greed which he mistakes for competition. His religion is an economic one but its not one of the big recognized economic schools. The Austrian-school political economics has never been tried out in the real world at scale. Javi’s Austrian school sect that hates the state. It is a sect that wants everything to be measured in money even freedom. Free markets in human organs? Sure why not! What of the person who loses the eye or the kidney? Let the market decide, says Javi. Freedom of choice to sell and to buy everything, beautiful US dollars is what Javi is selling. Anything at any price, the market will find equilibrium. Trust me he screams, just give me your faith, give me power and I can turn Argentina into paradise. But you must believe, there can be no debate, no compromise, no other choice! There is only one true God and that is the market.
Listen to me, but only to me, says Javi! My Austrian religion is the one true religion, all other religions are evil. The devil is a socialist. The one true light is our God, the market. Greed is good. God loves a market, a market Nirvana. Nobody comes to Nirvana but through Me, Me, Me! Carajo!
The Austrian school is that horny teenager at the college party trying the same line on every girl he meets. Finally after being shut down so often Javi’s found a jaded partner. She’s called Argentina, a beauty alright, but chronically abused by her elites and their puppets in the political classes. Argentina, Javi argues, is corrupted by socialism. In fact she has been repeatedly corrupted by those with disdain for democracy, people for whom a coup d’état is equivalent to an election. Javi has the magic snake oil to sell to this desperate Argentine society. All of the other snake-oil salesmen were corrupt liars but he, Javi, is different, he’s the true messiah. Instead of fixing corruption Javi wants to close down the modern state going back 100 years. Who needs a welfare state? Who needs workers’ rights? Not Javi! Tear it all down! Shrink the state and all will be well with capital.
The austral summer is traditionally a time to suspend criticism and head to the beach. “Just give him six months”, say his voters as they head for their chalets. Six months? Six months is nothing, you can’t get to heaven in six months! There must be more economic pain, 25 years, maybe 35? Now Javi is talking 45 years till a fully liberal Argentina can take its rightful place in the world. Let’s start with two years. Javi’s Omnibus law devolves special powers to him for two years with an option to renew for two more.
Argentina has a problem says Javi, the problem is that the market is not powerful enough here, there is too much of the economy in the public sector. Argentina has been sullied by his hated socialists, it is rotting from within by people who want to control the market, to restrict prices on healthcare or drugs. Trust me he says as he collapses their economy into hyper-inflation by devaluing their currency and workers wages 125% on day two of his presidency. This caused hyperinflation and which might well have been Javi’s attempt to force an emergency (a shock doctrine emergency). While health insurance premiums spike in price Javi defunds the public health service. He’s keeping wages, especially public wages, stagnant driving doctors into poverty. Trust me! Just give me the power to take this all the way. It might hurt just a little now, but trust me, trust me! It will all come good in the end.
Getting Laws Passed; Bypassing Democracy
If Javi’s Omnibus law does into force it effectively turns Argentina into a dictatorship reverting the powers of the congress to Javi for two to four years so he can rewrite the state in blocks of laws like he has begun doing. Milei’s massive legal changes (wrapped in mega-laws and DNUs) are beyond extraordinary. How can a congress give a yes or no decision on 300+ laws in 600 articles and still pretend to be democratic? The first attempt at pushing through the mega-decree did not show the least regard for separation of powers. Milei is ham-strung by his party’s weak presence in the legislature so he’s trying to bypass the legislature and govern (as dictators do) by decree.
His first attempt to ram the DNU through was botched by Vice President Patricia Villarruel who built an unrepresentative Bicameral commission (with the power to speak for congress and the senate to take a decision to sign the decree into law). The commission did not reflect the actual balance of powers, leaving out whole (opposition) political parties, something for which Villarruel could theoretically be deposed. The impetuous president’s second law is 351 pages long. It includes certain specific items designed as undemocratic ways to ram through his mega-decree package and any other law he might need.
The Omnibus comes with two hidden powers:
(1) There is a provision to automatically pass the mega-decree so that it is not judged by parliament or the senate nor even by the dodgy bicameral commission set up by Villarruel, and
(2) Milei added a clause to the Omnibus law which tells the legislative branches to devolve the power of approving laws to Javi himself so he effectively becomes a dictator.
Presidents can draft laws in a democracy, as can other lawmakers. In a democracy with separation of powers these proposed laws are sent to the legislature (senate and parliament). They then discuss, amend and then vote upon these laws, first in the house of representatives then with ratification (or not) in the Senate. This is about to change if Javi’s new “omnibus” law gets through. Here are the details from the law itself…
Then, it is proposed that Congress make effective the legislative delegation provided for in article 76 of the National Constitution, declaring a public emergency in economic, financial, fiscal, social security, security, defence, tariffs, energy, health, administrative and social matters until 31 December 2025. On this basis, legislative powers are delegated to the executive branch in these matters, with the relevant time-frame and bases, so that the executive branch, with its administrative structure and technical expertise – and with the necessary speed – can dictate and apply the regulations required by the emergency. On each occasion, the legislative policy has been specified in the best possible way, which will allow for a clearer and swifter enactment of such regulations and, when the time comes, to check their validity.
Ley Omnibus (author’s translation)
President and Dictator, Judge and Jury
In the legal world we speak of “Judge and Jury”. These two roles are always separate and complementary. The judge interprets the law and the jury decides on guilt. Something analagous can happen to create new laws too, presidents can suggest a legislative change and the legislature can respond, but Javi wants it all. He wants to be both judge and jury, to propose new laws (and delete old laws he doesn’t like) en masse in complex shopping lists AND he wants to replace the legislature with himself. The omnibus law devolves to him all of the ability to decide what new laws to suggest and to decide on their implementation dictator-style. Talk about overstepping the mark.
If the omnibus passes it will effectively give this angry little man both the ability to design a new state and to implement it too without any checks or balances. In fact it even allows Javi to borrow money in foreign currencies (adding to an already massive external debt) without the inconvenience of having to ask congress to raise any debt ceilings or discuss what the new debt might even be used for. In short this will turn our Javi into a dictator for two years with the possibility of extending said dictatorship for another two years, and yes! You guessed it! He decides on the extension too.
What kind of a nation writes a blank check to a dictator to do what they want eliminating government checks and balances? Such a distortion of executive powers is excessive and completely illegal. Worse still it demonstrates Javi’s disdain for the state that he now presides over. He doesn’t believe in Argentina. As a zealot he believes that the Argentine people should allow him to rise from president to dictator. It’s an emergency after all, a zealot’s emergency, time to delegate to the hand of God.
The omnibus law argues that Argentina is facing not one but a dozen emergencies: “economic, financial, fiscal (taxation), social security, security, defense, in tariffs, energy, sanitation and health, administrative and (let’s just throw this one in last) social”. Like any juicy contract, Javi might like his dictatorial powers and maybe want another two years. He can have them too, he just has to ask himself. Why stop at two years, or even four? Heaven can’t wait! Javi is a man with a mission.