Violent protests in Argentina as Milei squeezes through shock therapy reforms

MPs in Argentina were injured on Wednesday as protesters and police battled with petrol bombs and tear gas following the passage of “shock therapy” reforms in parliament.

President Javier Milei’s radical package to slash the budget squeaked through the senate by a single vote before demonstrations turned violent.

Protesters flipped over cars and launched projectiles at police, who responded with water cannons and tear gas.

Seven people, including five MPs among the protesters, were treated at hospital after being pepper sprayed, according to the health ministry.

The measures will allow Mr Milei to privatise some state companies, give lucrative tax breaks to investors for 30 years and delegate expanded presidential powers to shake up pensions, energy and public safety.

Police clash with protesters over Argentina's controversial reforms
Police clash with protesters over the president's controversial reforms - Gustavo Garello/AP

Senators initially voted 36-36 on the main bill late on Wednesday night, reflecting how bitterly divided the chamber is.

Victoria Villarruel, the vice-president, broke the deadlock by casting the deciding vote in favour of the package.

“Today there are two Argentinas,” Ms Villarruel said as she cast her vote. “A violent Argentina that sets a car on fire, throws rocks and debates the exercise of democracy, and another Argentina with workers waiting with great pain and sacrifice for the change that they voted for.”

The vote was a badly needed first legislative win for Mr Milei since he took office in December 2023.

A man eats a sandwich on the sidelines of the clashes in front of congress
A man eats a sandwich on the sidelines of the clashes in front of congress - Fernando Gens / Avalon
A man removes his clothes in front of police during a protest outside of the Senate
A man drops his trousers in front of police - Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

The controversial politician, a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” who frequently wielded a chainsaw on the campaign trail, has vowed to take drastic action to cut government debt and triple-digit inflation.

He has already used his executive powers to fire thousands of public workers, slash social spending, devalue the peso and deregulate chunks of the economy.

But his ambitious plans to completely transform Argentina’s heavily subsidised economy into a free market have been stymied by congress, which he has described as a “nest of rats”.

His Liberty Advances party has just a handful of politicians in each house, which has prevented him from passing any legislation since taking office.

Javier Milei's shock-therapy laws narrowly won senate approval before demonstrations became violent
Javier Milei's shock-therapy laws narrowly won senate approval before demonstrations became violent - Anadolu
Anti-government protesters challenge police
Anti-government protesters challenge police - Rodrigo Abd/AP
Police fire tear gas during the clashes
Police fire tear gas during the clashes - Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/Shutterstock
Officers used rubber bullets and pepper spray against the rioters
Officers used rubber bullets and pepper spray against the rioters - Fernando Gens / Avalon

With annual inflation near 300 per cent, the poverty rate surging from 40 per cent to nearly 60 per cent and soup kitchens overwhelmed, many analysts warned that Mr Milei was racing against the clock to pass his divisive reforms.

The social divisions they have caused were on full display on Wednesday as thousands of union members, including teachers and firefighters, demonstrated outside congress.

Some of them engaged in violent clashes with police, with some throwing petrol bombs and setting at least one car ablaze.

Mr Milei’s office accused them of being terrorists attempting to carry out a coup. But protest leader Luis D’Elia said: “Argentines’ lives are at play. This poison has failed several times in Argentina and we won’t allow this to carry on.”

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