Progressive landmarks they want to demolish

Image: Tobias Bjørkli


Correlations of the current stage of broad, sustained and profound offensive against work and social protection, taking advantage of the interest in Javier Milei's exuberant profusion of gestures

A few weeks ago, in this same space, I reflected on a periodization of the relative hegemony of the right in Argentina and Uruguay. I sought to begin to unravel their agendas, priorities and mutual influences that could be seen among the common denominators of legislative projects and main measures. Although the synchrony was not complete, among other reasons due to different electoral calls and periods of government, some trends supported my hypothesis with their insistent echo.

I was interested in outlining an agenda for future deepening, not only of the economic-social metamorphoses and of the State, but of the political, legal and cultural architectures. With a closer look, it was possible to establish some correlations of the current stage of broad, sustained and deep offensive against work and social protection, taking advantage of the interest in President Javier Milei's exuberant profusion of gestures. This last phase of Lacalle Pou-Milei should also be deepened in the future. However, to complete the outlined scheme, with the same original question and focus on convergences and possible divergences, it is time to analyze the progressive period on both banks.

I am specifically referring to the three successive governments of the Kirchner couple, on the one hand (2003-2014), and those of the Frente Amplio (2005-2020), on the other. I prefer to use the term progressive left in the first place because the term left was reserved in Argentina for the political expression of small orthodox groups, without electoral weight and, consequently, the ability to transform reality. This task was left in the hands of the Kirchners who adopted in their governments a set of measures that, comparatively, could be called exemplary and left-wing.

However, they attributed them to their belonging and to the Peronist ideology, a true empty signifier, to the point of abandoning their proclaimed project of transversality, replacing it with co-opting the existing provincial quasi-feudalism, regardless of the cost, to sustain their political leadership.

On the other hand, in Uruguay, although there are small equivalent expressions, the Broad Front (FA) itself is referred to as the national left. The history of the universal left is not precisely marked by an abundance of convergences, by generosity or by the willingness to agree, but by ruptures, disagreements, dogmas and sectarianism. A history irrigated by the ditch of bureaucratism, divisionism and stardom. To some extent, the Broad Front happily avoids this powerless tradition.

Thus, while the Kirchners in Argentina were entangled in the tangle of their own ambition and pragmatism, seeking to consolidate their power at any cost, the Broad Front in Uruguay charted a different path, trying to remain faithful to a broader and more cohesive leftist vision. The Kirchners, with their strengths and weaknesses, left a complex and contradictory legacy, marked by undoubted achievements, but also by a policy that, in its desire to endure, often sacrificed its ideals at the altar of Realpolitik.

On the other hand, the Broad Front, in its search for an authentic national left, navigated the turbulent waters of politics with a compass that, although imperfect, avoided the sectarian shipwrecks that so often divided and weakened progressive forces in the world.

The phase that I propose to begin considering is located between the first two post-dictatorial periods, where the right used a powerful regressive arsenal and attempted radical transformations, partially achieved, particularly in Argentina, to now be resumed in this attack of fury:

(i) 1980s: Alfonsín-Sanguinetti-Menem (violation of constitutional validity with unpunished inequality before the law).

(ii) 1990s: Menem-Lacalle Herrera-Sanguinetti. (demolition of States and robbery).

This period is characterized by an attempt to reconfigure the socioeconomic and political fabric, where conservative forces sought to impose their policies in an overwhelming way, leaving deep marks and a trail of social victims. On the other hand, the governments of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner and those of the Frente Amplio implemented a series of measures and policies through laws and decrees that resulted in significant achievements in several areas, partially repairing the damage caused by their predecessors. These legislative actions reflect a focus on social justice and inclusion, economic recovery and broader rights.

Each of these achievements is associated with specific laws and bills that highlight their governments' commitment to transforming and improving the quality of life of their inhabitants. Even today, in this regressive phase, this same week, consequences of these actions are emerging, such as the identification of the remains of the communist militant Amelia Sanjurjo, kidnapped pregnant, tortured and murdered, or the repatriation ordered by judge Casanello of the Argentine plane used in the Condor plan, discovered in Melilla airport. Obviously the similarities are not completely complete because there are differences in their specific approaches, such as Argentina's energy strategy versus the diversification of Uruguay's energy matrix, or financial inclusion versus credit policies in Argentina.

Taking these broad axes, without being exhaustive, the strategic convergences are notable, illustrated further in the table:

(a) Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction, where both governments implemented significant social programs to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable sectors.

Argentina: Universal Child Benefit (Decree 1.602/2009), Plano Procrear (2012).

Uruguay: FONASA (Law 18.211, 2007), Emergency Plan and creation of MIDES (Law 17.866, 2005)

(B) Human Rights and Memory: Focus on transitional justice and the search for truth and justice for victims of dictatorships, even with the limitations imposed in Uruguay by the validity of the expiry law.

Argentina: Annulment of the Laws of Due Obedience and Final Point (Law 25.779, 2003), Opening of dictatorship archives (Decree 1.086/2005)

Uruguay: Entry into barracks in search of missing people Decree 131/2006), Trial of soldiers accused of human rights violations (Law 18.831, 2011)

(C) Labor Reforms: Both implemented collective wage bargaining. Uruguay implemented specific laws for vulnerable labor sectors, such as rural and domestic workers, while Argentina focused on strengthening collective bargaining in general.

Argentina: Free parity and labor reforms focused on collective bargaining (Decree 108/2008)

Uruguay: Eight hours for rural workers (Law 18.441, 2008), Regulation of domestic employment (Law 18.065, 2006)

(D) Education: Both governments have made significant investments in education, improving access to and quality of education.

Argentina: Educational Financing Law (Law 26.075, 2006), Program Connect equality (Decree 459/2010)

Uruguay: Flat ceibal (Decree 444/2007), Creation of UTEC (Law 19.043, 2012)

(E) Health: Significant improvements in access and quality of health services.

Argentina: Expansion of the health system (various policies and programs), Plan Nacer (SUMAR Program)

Uruguay: FONASA (Law 18.211, 2007), Eye Hospital (various health policies)

(f) Gender Equality and Diversity: Progress in promoting minority rights and gender equality.

Argentina: Equal Marriage Law (Law 26.618, 2010), Gender Identity Law (Law 26.743, 2012)

Uruguay: Equal Marriage Law (Law 19.075, 2013), Legal Abortion (Law 18.987, 2012)

(g) Economic and Tax Reforms: Implementation of significant economic and political reforms to strengthen the economy and public administration.

Argentina: Tax reform (Law 26.731, 2011), Recovery of YPF (Law 26.741, 2012)

Uruguay: Tax reform (Law 18.083, 2007), Strengthening financial supervision (Law 18.401, 2008)

(H) Innovation and Science: Promotion of science, technology and innovation as drivers of development.

Argentina: Creation of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation (Decree 7/2007), Satellite Development Law (Law 27.208, 2015)

Uruguay: Creation of the National Research and Innovation Agency (ANII, various policies)

Comparison of the achievements of the progressive governments of Argentina and Uruguay

AppearanceArgentina (Kirchner governments)Uruguay (broad front governments)common point
Social inclusionUniversal Child Allowance (Decree 1.602/2009)FONASA (Law 18.211, 2007)Programs to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of vulnerable sectors
Procreate Plan (2012)Emergency Plan and creation of MIDES (Law 17.866, 2005)
Human rightsAnnulment of the Laws of Due Obedience and Final Point (Law 25.779, 2003)Entry into the barracks in search of missing persons (Decree 131/2006)Transitional justice and the search for truth and justice for victims of dictatorships
Opening of dictatorship archives (Decree 1.086/2005)Trial of military personnel for human rights violations (Law 18.831, 2011)
EducationEducational Financing Law (Law 26.075, 2006)Ceibal Plan (Decree 444/2007)Investments in education, improving access and educational quality
Connect Equality Program (Decree 459/2010)Creation of UTEC (Law 19.043, 2012)
HealthExpansion of the healthcare systemFONASA (Law 18.211, 2007)Improvements in access and quality of health services
Nascer Plan (SUMAR Program)Eye Hospital
Gender equalityEqual Marriage Law (Law 26.618, 2010)Equal Marriage Law (Law 19.075, 2013)Progress in minority rights and gender equality
Gender Identity Law (Law 26.743, 2012)Legal Abortion (Law 18.987, 2012)
Economic reformsTax reform (Law 26.731, 2011)Tax reform (Law 18.083, 2007)Significant economic reforms to strengthen the economy and public administration (IRPF and income tax)
Recovery of YPF (Law 26.741, 2012)Strengthening financial supervision (Law 18.401, 2008)
Innovation and ScienceCreation of the Ministry of Science and Technology (Decree 7/2007)Creation of ANII (various policies)Promotion of science, technology and innovation as drivers of development
Satellite Development Law (Law 27.208, 2015)
EnergyRenationalization of YPF (Law 26.741, 2012)Diversification of the energy matrix (Law 18.585, 2009)Difference: Argentina focused on renationalization, Uruguay on renewable energy
SecuritySocial inclusion policies and police reformsCreation of PADO and the New National Police (Law 19.315, 2015)Difference: Uruguay implemented structural reforms in the police, Argentina in social inclusion
Financial inclusionCredit and direct social assistance programs (Procreate, 2012)Financial Inclusion Law (Law 19.210, 2014)Difference: Uruguay promoted financial inclusion with specific law, Argentina with credit programs
Infrastructure and TourismInvestments in hospital and educational infrastructurePromotion of tourism and improvement of cultural infrastructures (SODRE)Difference: Uruguay focused on tourism and culture, Argentina on health and education
Labor ReformsFree joint ventures and collective bargaining (Decree 108/2008)Eight hours for rural workers (Law 18.441, 2008)Difference: Uruguay implemented specific laws for vulnerable labor sectors, Argentina reinforced collective bargaining
Regulation of domestic employment (Law 18.065, 2006)

Needless to say, the foreign policy of both governments demonstrated a strong commitment to regional integration in Latin America. They actively promoted participation in regional blocs such as Mercosur and UNASUR, seeking to strengthen cooperation and solidarity between countries in the region in a historic period of the rise of progressivism. Perhaps Kirchner's rhetoric was more confrontational against a slightly more conciliatory and pragmatic tone from his ally, patiently weaving the threads of the integrative tapestry.

Other spheres of activity followed different paths due to the characteristics and starting points of each country. For example, in energy issues, Argentina focused on renationalization and state control of energy resources, such as the renationalization of YPF (Law 26.741, 2012), while Uruguay focused on the diversification of its energy matrix with a strong emphasis on energy renewable energy sources such as the diversification of the energy matrix (Law 18.585, 2009 and other renewable energy policies).

In terms of security policies, Argentina implemented little, while on the eastern bank structural reforms were implemented in its police force, such as the creation of the PADO and the New National Police (Law 19.315, 2015). Uruguay implemented a specific law to promote financial inclusion and money traceability (Law 19.210, 2014), while Argentina focused mainly on credit programs and direct social assistance, although it also promoted financial inclusion.

Just as in the political-cultural dispute it is essential to oppose the slogan that no one is saved alone to individualism, what is outlined here suggests, in addition to the need to continue investigating correspondences, the importance of a regional synergy to overcome the inevitable isolationist abyss of an eventual “progressivism in a single country”.

*Emilio Cafassi is senior professor of sociology at the University of Buenos Aires.

Translation: Arthur Scavone.

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