On the morning of July 17, after 16 hours of debate, Argentina’s Senate rejected a law proposed by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to raise the tax on soy exports from 34% to 44%. The Chamber of Deputies had approved the bill earlier. The measure would have made into law a tax hike that Fernandez put into effect previously by decree. The Senate was tied over the bill until Vice President Julio Cobos, who is connected to agricultural interests, ended the impasse by voting against his own government. It was “the most difficult day of my life,” he said. A number of senators from Fernandez’s Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist) also voted against the bill.
Soy is a major export crop for Argentine farmers, and in March agricultural producers responded to the tax increase with a strike that at times threatened to cut off food from the main cities. The strike also sharply divided much of the left, with some groups supporting Fernandez, some supporting the strikers and some opposing both sides. On July 15 supporters of the farmers and of the government held massive competing demonstrations in Buenos Aires. Former president Nestor Kirchner (2003-2007), Fernandez’s husband, addressed the pro-government demonstration, which local media said drew 95,000 supporters, including such left-leaning groups as the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Other leftist groups participated in the pro-strike demonstration, along with rightwing organizations; about 225,000 people reportedly came out for the farmers’ protest, far more than for the government. (Xinhua, July 15; La Jornada, Mexico, July 16, 18)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 20