Argentine President Javier Milei presented a massive omnibus bill to the nation’s Congress on Wednesday that, if passed, would implement sweeping reforms to the Argentine state in a wide variety of sectors.
The Office of the President of Argentina stated that the 351-page, 664-article long bill – titled “Law of Bases and Starting Points for the Freedom of Argentines” – will “restore the economic and social order” as perceived through the nation’s constitution. The office stressed its “firm will to undertake, immediately and with suitable instruments, the fight against the adverse factors that threaten the freedom of Argentines; that prevent the proper functioning of the market economy; and are the cause of the impoverishment of the nation.”
Es decisión del Presidente Javier Milei liberar de las trabas del Estado opresor a las fuerzas productivas de nuestra Nación con el objetivo de comenzar a transitar el camino para volver a ser una potencia mundial. pic.twitter.com/tqxTGskPhG— Oficina del Presidente Javier Milei (@OPEArg) December 27, 2023
Argentine law grants the nation’s deputies, senators, president, and citizens the ability to present bills to Congress for their corresponding review and debate.
The bill, which reportedly contains “two-thirds” of all of Miilei’s reform proposals for Argentina, calls for the declaration of a public emergency in economic, financial, fiscal, social security, security, defense, tariff, energy, sanitary, administrative, and social matters until December 31, 2025, which can be extended by the executive for a maximum term of two years.
The bill complements the Necessity and Urgency Decree (DNU) signed by Milei last week that modified or eliminated over 350 socialist policies. The bill formalizes some of the DNU’s contents through codification and includes topics that an executive order cannot cover, such as penal, tax, and electoral issues.
Milei announced that if Congress rejects the DNU he will call for a national plebiscite for its approval.
On the matter of state reforms, the bill proposes to declare all of the roughly 40 state-owned companies as “subject to privatization,” including the oil company YPF, the Aerolíneas Argentinas airline, the Banco Nación bank, the Télam news agency, water company AYSA, and the Ferrocarriles Argentinos railway company. It also proposes that the Argentine state will no longer be able to regulate fuel, power, and gas prices.
The proposal includes an article that prohibits the use of the word “free” for benefits or services that are paid for with taxpayers’ money.
On taxes, the bill includes provisions to allow persons or entities to regularize up to $100,000 in cash, real estate, assets, or cryptocurrencies without paying taxes. The text proposes a new comprehensive regime for the regularization of tax, customs, and social security obligations, eliminating certain existing taxes such as a tax currently imposed on anyone who sells a property bought after 2018.
The bill will also eliminate a 50-percent customs tax on Argentine citizens or residents who return from a flight bringing products for personal use worth over $500.
On education, the bill would modify the functionality of Argentina’s public universities so that they can charge tuition and other fees to foreigners who are not residents in Argentina, stating that public university education will continue to be tuition-free “for every native or optional Argentine citizen and for every foreigner who has permanent residence in the country.”
Other education-related proposals pertain to the implementation of a mandatory final test for high school students “that measures the learning acquired and the capabilities developed” prior to their graduation. Teachers must revalidate their skills and knowledge every five years, under criteria to be determined by the corresponding authorities.
The bill proposes reforms to the Argentine penal code to greatly expand the definition of “legitimate defense,” eliminating penalties for those who use weapons in cases of self-defense. It also explicitly defines that it would be legitimate self-defense if someone found “a stranger inside their home or a property in which they were legitimately staying or working, provided that there is resistance or signs that could lead to the presumption of an imminent aggression.”
The proposal aims to increase penalties for those who, “without creating a situation of common danger, impede or hinder the normal functioning of land, water, or air transportation or public communication, water, electricity or energy services,” with greater penalties imposed on those who extort others to participate in a protest.
Another change would make it mandatory for judges to wear a black robe and gavel to conduct trials.
At an electoral level, the bill proposes the elimination of Argentina’s PASO open primary election system, a mandatory process introduced in 2009 that all political parties must participate in to determine their candidates for an election.
The changes would, according to the Argentine government, let parties pick their candidates the way they see fit and at their expense, not the Argentine taxpayers’.
In addition to other electoral-related changes, the bill also proposes changes to the total number of members of the Chambers of Deputies and the way they are elected. Currently, deputies are elected according to the number of votes that their corresponding party obtains in any one province. The proposed changes will introduce “uninominal circuits,” a system resembling that of the United States, allowing each circuit to independently elect its representative.
Martín Menem, the head of Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies, told Infobae that the corresponding commissions will be formed before the end of the week to start the legislative processes. Menem added that, starting in the first week of January, Argentina’s ministers and relevant officials will go to Congress to “explain the importance of moving forward with these reforms.”
“Everyone has to understand that Argentina, besides not having money, does not have time,” he stressed.
The two houses of Argentina’s Congress must also debate and discuss whether or not to approve the DNU signed by Milei last week.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.