27 June 2008

The export tax: debate and circus

There are a lot of things to report about the the government vs. the farmers and the legislative handling of that infamous Resolución 125 (Bill No. 125 of the Executive Branch) that imposed mobile export taxes on soybeans. So many things, in fact, that I've been unable to summarize it these days. You simply can't stay on top of it all.

In short — No. 125 is being debated at the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house), although so far it's been more like a disordered assembly than a true discussion among lawmakers. Clearly as a dilatory measure, Kirchnerism staged an open meeting, where everyone who wished to do so could get in and listen. Insignificant organizations representing minuscule groups of interest demanded to be heard one after another, and the audience applauded or booed. In the meantime, different groups of politicians were lobbied or pressured in different directions, Néstor Kirchner tried to re-inforce his hateful black-and-white view of the issue, the president spoke here and there, the vice-president was rebuked and praised for his meeting with several opposition governors, and finally came... the tents.

First the farmer leader Alfredo De Angeli announced they were setting up a "green tent" on the square before Congress to mark their position. The Kirchnerists reacted quickly and set up several tents of their own. The government of Buenos Aires City ordered them to be taken down, but the Kirchnerist mob insulted the official in charge and refused to acknowledge the authority of the city government or its laws. The Federal Police was asked to intervene, but since it responds to orders of the national government, nothing happened. Yes, you got that right — the City of Buenos Aires has no police force of its own, and the police it's got simply won't enforce the law if the perpetrators are Kirchnerist militants. The government of Buenos Aires filed an accusation (the tents have no security measures and are invading public space without a permit) but a judge, prompted by a Kirchnerist deputy, granted them immunity, the reasoning being that once the tents are installed, the police would have to force the people out and that would be worse than letting them stay. Glory be to fait accompli!

There are now six Kirchnerist tents before Congress, with wooden floors, electric power and heating, plus pamphlets and plasma TV sets. The farmers finally set up their own, and the MAS (a socialist group) brought another one, favouring neither the government nor the farmers. The farmers also hired a giant inflatable bull, which was promptly named "Alfredito", while the Kirchnerists erected an inflatable penguin called "Néstor" (symbol of their leader) and supplied several of their pamphlet-handling militants with egg-shaped costumes. They're considering to bring in a mechanical bull as well. This sounds like a circus, and in a sense it is. Once the entertainment is over, however, no-one knows what might happen.

The government party would have enough legislators on both Houses to turn the presidential bill into law, but only if they were to align with the partisan line dictated by Néstor Kirchner. That won't happen. Most Deputies have had to accept that the bill won't pass unchanged, that they're going to have to concede some things. At least 30 and possibly even 40 Peronist Deputies are going to vote partially or totally against the bill, either because they know it's wrong as it is, or because their constituencies won't forgive them if they submit to Néstor K's wishes. (In fact, unless a miracle erases people's memories or typical Argentine political short-sightedness prevails, it's likely that Kirchnerism will suffer a terrible blow in the legislative elections next year. Some formerly popular politicians are already unable to walk the streets of their home towns without bodyguards.)

Many non-Peronist allies of K are unsure what to do or have already turned their backs on Kirchner, disturbed by his violent discourse and his wild accusations of widespread conspiracy against his wife the nominal president. The opposition is, as always, scattered, but they're converging on a couple of projects regarding the export taxes.

The farmers say that if Congress turns the bill into law without fundamental changes, they'll go back to the strike and take the roads again. Kirchner has told his fellow party members to raise their hands and pass the law exactly as it is. The need to find some middle ground and some compromise settlement is obvious and should be (for savvy politicians) a simple matter of time. But this is Argentina after all...


  1. Anonymous18:20

    When will all this end? It is turning into a battle of wits and we already have alot of circus in town..we do not need another.
    Thank you for the very well written article. A breath of fresh TRUTH air. Keep up the fabulous and informative work.

  2. Hmmm, I hadn't realised it had descended to such pathetic, childish and farcical levels. I'm looking forward to my trip to BA in a couple of weeks to experience the madness first hand. I hope there's something to eat.


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