• Olivia Wiggins

Argentina Trapped in Welfare Crisis

Recent reports of an eleven-year-old child giving birth following government efforts to delay a scheduled termination reverted global attention to Argentina’s fragile welfare system. As a juvenile and a victim of routine sexual abuse, ‘Lucía’ was legally entitled to a termination under the country’s stringent yet hotly debated abortion law (1). Despite this, the 1921 legislation was not upheld. This decision, which has been openly defended by Tucumán Province officials, has been met with public outcry. Commentators from all sides have questioned the legality of the province’s actions whilst pro-choice activists have lined the streets of Buenos Aires. Building on frustrations from the Argentine senate’s August rejection of a bill seeking to legalise abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, International Women’s Day marches saw unprecedented participation.

Disillusion with lack of access to reproductive rights was not the sole point of contention on 8th March, with a right as basic as safety becoming the prominent issue for many Argentines. It is estimated that once every thirty hours, an act of femicide occurs (2). Often unprovoked and explicitly gendered, this violence is entrenched within the nation’s popular culture. The anti-femicide campaign #NiUnaMenos (‘Not one less’) has witnessed multiple demonstrations against the continued use of Tango music such as Edmundo Rivero’s Amablemente, which intricately recounts the violent killing of a woman. Just as abortion policy has become dictated by religious conviction, the misogyny rooted within the country’s cultural heritage continues to leave a mark upon the population.

However, in the face of such public discontent, President Maurico Macri has remained quiet. Deeply conservative and openly preoccupied with the establishment of a competitive and market led economy, Macri’s priorities do not lie within social policy. Faced with recession and an inflation rate of 50.7%, the government has responded with a tightened monetary policy and pursued increased austerity measures (3). With the country’s recent currency crisis seeing them become the recipient of a record breaking $56.3 Bn IMF loan, these measures have been amplified to satisfy the fund’s stringent conditions (4). Public spending cuts have been wide reaching, with the country’s November 2018 budget cutting social expenditure by 35% after inflation (5). Civil service redundancies and a cap on salary increases below the rate of inflation are soon to be accompanied by cuts to healthcare, education, public works funding and utility bill subsidisation.

Macri’s controversial reforms predated the IMF bailout. In 2017 a bill that sought to restructure the pension formula was passed. This change, which saw a marked short-term income reduction for many citizens, promoted violent demonstrations and heated congressional debate. Critics have argued that the adoption of this measure saw the resolution of a fiscal deficit taking precedence over the protection of a financially vulnerable demographic. With 33.6% of Argentines currently living below the poverty line, the enforcement of such measures on a group largely dependent upon state provisions has left many pensioners exposed to the threat of insufficient living standards (6).

Current Minister of Social Development, Carolina Stanley, has undeniably been forced to neglect welfare institutions amidst Argentina’s ailing economy. Yet despite fiscal woes, the notion of a country in recent possession of G20 Presidency being the subject of international scrutiny and numerous non-profit charitable campaigns in recent years, does not sit well. Argentine citizens are faced with increasingly fraught and unreliable provisions across a broad range of outlets. From regressive utility bill subsidization cuts to the failure to protect vulnerable citizens in emergency circumstances, a crisis in confidence over the ability of the government to support its population has arisen.

However, the country's upcoming general elections do not promise to alleviate concerns over domestic welfare and human rights abuses. With polls opening on 27th October, Macri is set to defend his position with the backing of the neo-liberal elite. Former President and leader member of the new left leaning ‘Citizens Unity’ coalition, Christina Fernández, is expected to run once more. Seeing to the legalisation of gay marriage in 2010 and the approval of the legal right change gender in 2012, Fernández is undisputedly committed to social reform. Yet the populist’s potential has been greatly undermined by charges of corruption and fraudulent administration. Nepotism within her former cabinet and allegations of public works contracts being granted to businessmen close to the Fernández family has led to concerns over her Presidential viability (7). Paired with the delicate nature of Argentine party politics, it seems increasingly unlikely that a general election will harbour results conducive to the development of a productive, accessible welfare system.

It therefore seems that despite consistent public protest, mass media attention and overseas intervention, Argentina is set to remain caught in a welfare crisis. Insufficient attention from domestic politicians and financial unpredictability has left an increasingly vocal population vulnerable and misrepresented.

Articles cited

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/04/raped-argentina-church-deny-abortion

(2) https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2016/11/05/murder-and-machismo

(3) https://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2018/06/workers-paralyse-argentina-general-strike-180625160253760.html

(4) https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/tens-thousands-march-austerity-argentina-190213160623152.html

(5) https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/argentina-senate-passes-austerity-budget-181115184759290.html

(6) http://www.batimes.com.ar/news/argentina/uca-report-says-336-of-argentines-are-living-below-poverty-line.phtml

(7) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-38443546

At the time of writing, Olivia Wiggins is a second year student at the University of St Andrews. She is studying History. Areas that interest her the most are reproductive rights and religious conflict.