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ARGENTINA | 10-12-2019 17:16

Alberto Fernández vows to prioritise poverty over debt payments

In speech stretching close to an hour, newly inaugurated president calls for great social contract and moves to rally support for his new agenda, as he tells IMF and bondholders that Argentina can't pay off debt.

Alberto Fernández told the world he would prioritise poverty over debt payments on Tuesday, as delivered his first speech as president of the nation.

Speaking in a televised address, the Peronist leader promised a "new, fraternal and caring social contract," saying Argentina needed to "overcome the rancor and hate" that has polarised the country’s politics.

In a pointed message to bondholders and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he also vowed to prioritise the fight against poverty over debt payments, saying he wanted to pay up but that the nation doesn't have "the means to do so."

"It's impossible to pay external debt without growth," he declared.

Taking a more political turn, he described Argentina as "indebted" and "cloaked by an instability that discards the possibility of development and leaves it hostage to foreign financial markets.”

“Argentina should grow with a project of its own [that is] implemented by Argentines, not dictated by foreigners with old recipes that always fail,” he added.

Touching on foreign policy, Fernández reiterated Argentina's claim to the disputed Malvinas (Falkland) Islands and called for an end to colonialism.

He then moved onto criticise the Judiciary and court system and especially, the use of pre-trial detention, vowing to reform the system.

“We have seen a judicial deterioration in recent years. We have seen undue persecutions and arbitrary detentions induced by the rulers and silenced by some media complacency. That is why today I come to demonstrate, in front of this Assembly and in front of the entire Argentine people, never again."

The president also called for a restructuring of AFI Federal Intelligence Agency. In recent days, there has been much speculation over who will head the agency under the new president.

Instead, in his speech, Fernández criticised the shadowy actions of intelligence services operatives and said the agency would be overhauled, with funds from it pushed instead into his Plan Against Hunger programme.

“Never again to the secret state, never again to the obscurity of funds, never again to depths of democracy, never again is never again,” Fernández said, repurposing the famous ‘Nunca más’ phrase so associated with the human rights movement.

‘Not just a normal day’

The new president, who read from notes with Fernández de Kirchner alongside him, had begun by alluding to the significance of today’s date in Argentine history.

“The tenth of December,” he opened, “is not just a normal day in our collective memory, it is the day that our people 36 years ago opened the door to democracy,” he said, referencing the return to democracy, a central theme in his address. Later on, he would highlight that the date was also International Human Rights Day.

The Frente de Todos leader underlined that his priority was poverty, saying that his administration's first meeting would focus on reducing hunger, which he tied to Argentina’s dire economic and social situation. 

"'I come before you to call for unity from all of Argentina, to build a new social contract of brotherhood and solidarity," Fernández declared. “One that is fraternal and in solidarity. Fraternal because we will hug those different from us. In solidarity because we will start by addressing the most marginalised to be able to reach all.”

"I come before you calling for all to put Argentina on its feet, to put the country on a path toward development and social justice," he told the diplomats, lawmakers and officials.

Calling for national unity, Fernández went on to make reference to the “walls that separate us,” saying they must now “come to an end.” 

They’re walls “not of different thought,” but of “hatred and rage, of hunger that leaves millions of men and women out of the communal table,” he said. 

– TIMES/AFP

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