On Milei’s “omnibus bill”

The Argentine government led by Javier Milei seeks to dismantle essential procedures and implement regressive measures affecting human rights and democracy. Within a span of three weeks, from Decree 70/23 to the proposed “Bases…” law, the Executive Branch introduced 1649 articles altering the entire social and political landscape, protection parameters, and state architecture. Congress bears the political responsibility to refrain from validating it.

Less than a week after the enactment of decree of necessity and urgency (DNU) 70/2023, the government of Javier Milei returned with a legislative onslaught by sending a bill with proposed reforms distributed across 664 articles. Despite being framed as essential for “adopting a set of emergency measures” to “consolidate economic stability,” the bill goes far beyond economic concerns. This is the second phase of the government’s attempt to pursue a regime change, in Milei’s own words. But it is not only a change in the economic regime, but also in the political regime. The government is advocating for the authority to govern and legislate without the involvement of Congress.

The initial provision of the bill called “Bases and Starting Points for the Freedom of Argentines” underscores the Argentine Executive Power’s request to Congress to delegate it with extraordinary legislative powers in all aspects of economic, financial, fiscal, social security, security, defense, tariff, energy, health and social life. The government seeks a two-year mandate for these powers, extendable until the conclusion of its term, all without the necessity of parliamentary or societal deliberation.

DNU 70/2023, comprising 366 articles, alters and repeals dozens of laws. This “omnibus law” doubles its size. Both measures exhibit a disregard for the fundamental well-being of individuals, impacting basic aspects such as access to food, housing, and healthcare. While the bill sent to Congress asserts a commitment to safeguarding people’s economic, social, and cultural rights, it conditions these rights to a general valuation “among all rights in order to procure the common good.” This opens the door to a broad justification, potentially subjecting them to market-driven logic. Only those capable of affording the market-defined “equilibrium price” will have access to essential services like healthcare, education, housing, and food.

This withdrawal of the State from the guarantee of rights is most evident in its intention to disengage from the provision of essential public services. The bill proposes to declare 41 public enterprises “subject to privatization,” regardless of their financial viability, in order to quickly acquire dollars, transfer resources to the private sector and achieve the goal of a minimal State. The deregulatory spirit of the government’s initiatives leaves no guarantee that the State will exercise adequate control to ensure that, once in private hands, these companies will provide quality and affordable public service.

The Omnibus bill presents the following critical challenges of access to human rights:

Authorization to kill: a society with escalating violence
Title IV, Chapter I of the “omnibus bill” introduces a criminal reform that shields members of the security forces from accountability for their actions. This reform expands the justifications for legitimate self-defense or the fulfillment of duty by security forces, fostering a climate that tolerates and even encourages more violent social and security responses to crimes or conflicts. The bill provides a form of “legal security” for security force members involved in abuses or disproportionate use of force, potentially leading to a surge in alleged confrontations and extrajudicial executions.
Contrary to international norms, the proposed penal reform grants police and security forces special immunity instead of holding them to heightened accountability for firearm use. This reform is unlikely to contribute to crime reduction but poses a serious risk of escalating violence. Additionally, the text suggests that victims of institutional violence and their families would lose their rights to seek justice, reparations, or punishment if it is assumed that the deceased person was involved in criminal activity.

No protest or organization
In a departure from democratic principles, the “Omnibus bill” reframes social protest as a crime against public order, adopting a punitive stance reminiscent of totalitarian regimes. The bill makes no mention of safeguarding the rights of demonstrators. On the contrary, it seeks to impose multiple restrictions that broaden the scope for criminalizing demonstrators, leaders and organizations.
It modifies Article 194 of the Penal Code – “Whoever… impedes, hinders or obstructs the normal operation of transportation” – with heightened penalties and expanded scenarios for application. And it introduces the concept of the “organizer,” enabling the attribution of responsibilities and sanctions and laying the legal groundwork for political persecution. Notably, the bill defines any gathering of more than three people in a public space as a public demonstration, potentially subjecting a myriad of meetings and gatherings to these new restrictions and offenses, as in a kind of perpetual state of siege without any official declaration.

Crucially, all decision-making authority is vested in the Ministry of Security, framing protests as disruptions to public order and security rather than expressions of social conflicts to be addressed by other state agencies.

The proposal also strengthens highly debatable criminal offenses such as “attacking and resisting authority,” currently used to arbitrarily detain people. The bill’s aggravating factors could now facilitate even more frequent detentions. Notably, these cases typically rely solely on police testimony as evidence. The combination of heightened penalties and a meager evidentiary standard raises significant concerns, paving the way for the validation of fabricated cases.

Environment: deregulating and devastating the commons
The bill consistently subordinates Argentina’s forests, glaciers, and minerals to the imperative of maximizing profitability for private companies, devoid of any consideration for the common good or acknowledgment of the climate crisis.

Among the proposals is a modification of the Fire Law, to enable the burning of land/property for productive purposes. After 30 days without a response from the authority, the applicant would be “tacitly” authorized to start a fire.

Native forests would be left unprotected since the text contemplates the approval of clearing projects (once the public consultation process has been met). The current law establishes three conservation categories according to function and social environmental importance. The first category corresponds to forests of very high conservation value that should not be transformed. The second category covers sectors of medium conservation value, which may be subject to sustainable use, tourism, and scientific research. The third category covers sectors of low conservation value that may be partially or entirely transformed, subject to legal criteria. As of now, clearing is prohibited for the first two conservation categories.

Finally, the bill proposes amending the Glaciers Law to allow for the exploitation of periglacial glaciers. This reform primarily serves the interests of extractive mining, to the detriment of water protection. This modification capitulates to a longstanding demand from mining companies. Moreover, when viewed in conjunction with the repeals under DNU 70/2023 regarding the oversight of mining activity, it is clear that companies would have more latitude for exploitation in areas currently designated as protected, while facing reduced regulatory scrutiny.

Economic deregulation and fiscal policy
In terms of fiscal policy, the bill introduces adverse modifications, particularly impacting retirees and granting greater discretion to the National Executive Power. It abolishes the pension mobility formula, empowering the Executive to determine updates, resulting in pensions that can potentially be adjusted to compensate for macroeconomic imbalances. It also proposes transferring the ANSES (Social Security Administration) Guarantee and Sustainability Fund to the National Treasury. If approved, this measure would place pension contributions entirely under the control of the Ministry of Economy, potentially enabling their use as collateral for external creditors.

The bill eliminates the requirement for congressional approval of significant new debt. This law was approved almost unanimously in February 2021 to strengthen parliamentary oversight. It sought to prevent what happened in 2018, when the government swiftly and opaquely secured the largest-ever International Monetary Fund loan. If approved, this proposal would grant the Executive Branch the ability to incur debt, potentially binding future generations, without democratic oversight.

Finally, the bill proposes amendments to the personal property tax regime. In addition to introducing an advance payment system with benefits for participants, it proposes a progressive reduction in the applicable rates. Notably, the measure is primarily aimed at the highest personal property tax brackets, offering specific benefits to individuals with the highest net worth within the tax-paying population. The reduction is focused on the highest rate, decreasing from 1.75% to 0.5% over a three-year period. The decision to lower the tax burden on wealth effectively entails a wealth transfer from the general population to the wealthiest sectors.

Mental health
The bill would revert progression legislation like the National Mental Health Law to an outdated paradigm of complete seclusion, considered obsolete around the world. If enacted, it would curtail the decision-making rights of mental health service users and amplify intervention powers without their consent.

Gender violence
The bill amends the Micaela Law, narrowing the scope of trainings exclusively to family violence and restricting it to “competent” state authorities, excluding everyone else involved in public service across the three branches of government. It replaces the term “gender violence” with “family violence,” consequently rendering violence against LGTBIQ+ individuals invisible. Eliminating the discourse on gender violence overlooks its nature as a form of violence rooted in unequal gender-based power dynamics that far exceed the familial and private spheres. This proposed amendment neglects the State’s obligations to prevent and address such violence.

Shock policies require crises and states of emergency for their implementation. They are introduced forcefully without political or public debate on the nature or appropriateness of the measures they propose and seek to implement quickly. This is a hallmark of this government’s initiatives, which has unveiled 1649 articles in three weeks -between the DNU, the “Bases…” bill and its annexes- intended to impact all spheres of social and political life, altering protection parameters and reshaping state architecture.

This proposal aims to disable a fundamental pillar of the democratic process, advancing regressive measures concerning human rights and democratic principles. Congress bears the political responsibility to refrain from validating it.