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October 22, 2014
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Capitanich stands by penal reform

Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich answers questions from senators yesterday in congress.
By Tomás Brockenshire
Herald Staff

Cabinet chief takes questions from opposition in Senate for the first time in new role

A defiant Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich insisted yesterday that the government was determined to send the reform of the Penal Code to Congress, although he seemed to leave the timeline open, suggesting President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner could wait until next year.

In his first appearance before the Senate that was still going on at press time, Capitanich suggested that government has “expectations and hopes” that a packet of structural judicial reforms, which include the Penal Code, will be on the Congressional agenda before Fernández de Kirchner’s last day in office on December 10, 2015.

Capitanich’s statements seemed to throw cold water on those who had interpreted recent statements as a sign that President Cristina Fernánez de Kirchner’s administration was trying to cool down rhetoric by postponing a controversial reform.

The former Chaco governor also placed emphasis was also placed on education, as he urged teachers’ union to not pass the cost of ongoing salary talks to students.

Capitanich was presenting his first report to the Senate on the Executive’s activities, something he is required to do under the Constitution.

Reforms in judiciary

Capitanich told the assembled senators during his opening remarks before turning the floor over to questions that the government is interested in making sure that reforms to the Penal Code, the Civil Code, the code regulating administrative disputes and law regulating the state’s civil responsibility, the Penal Procedural Code and finally, the Legal Digest are approved before the president steps down.

A proposal to modify the Penal Code has been at the centre of recent rhetoric, with members of the opposition expressing objections to the reform. A multifaceted commission of jurists and politicians from all major parties and Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni drafted the proposal and it is currently being studied by the presidency and is liable to be modified before it is sent to the Congress for approval.

Teachers at centre-stage

At a time when almost five million students in Buenos Aires province have yet to begin classes, education also featured prominently in Capitanich’s opening remarks as he recognized that “there are problems derived from the salary conflicts that take place on an annual basis.” He also demanded “that teachers guarantee that any demand that they may have not be at the cost of our students nor by corrupting our public and popular school system.”

Capitanich reminded the senators that “the solution to this conflict requires a series of actions to achieve a fruitful consensus” while also considering that “in this case the national government is not a major employer and is only responsible for two percent of the total of teachers but it has an institutional responsibility” to help resolve the problem.

Capitanich highlighted that between 2003 and 2013 teachers’ salaries rose “832.5 percent.”

Referring to a Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey that placed Argentina 59th globally in terms of student performance in mathematics, reading comprehension and science, Capitanich said that “the assessment is unfair” but also recognized that the report helped the government to improve curricula for students.

Trading fire on the Senate floor

Capitanich spoke repeatedly about his desire to open up political dialogue and debate in the Senate, and specifically requested to be positioned facing the senators in a break from the normal protocol.

He also said that “we shouldn’t be arguing through journalists” and instead that the Senate floor was the appropriate place for political discourse.

The first senator to speak, Laura Montero of Mendoza from the Radical party (UCR), quickly drew fire from the Cabinet chief as she demanded to know what the government was doing to address the ongoing labour disputes that she said are “paralyzing the country” and if the government has a plan to combat inflation.

Capitanich’s answers and Montero’s ripostes became increasingly heated until the two engaged in a shouting match, with the Mendoza senator accusing the Victory Front of being “orthodox” for raising interest rates and devaluing the peso and Capitanich responded by calling Montero “the perfect representative of neoliberalism in Argentina.”

Senator Ernesto Sanz, also senator for Mendoza from the UCR, also put pressure on the Cabinet chief when he asked him “Did the government devalue for economic or political reasons? Did the government devalue, yes or no?” Capitanich refused to answer, instead asking Sanz why he was asking him that question.

Senator Sanz also put Capitanich under pressure about the production, transit and consumption of illicit drugs in Argentina, with Capitanich insisting that there was no industrial production of in Argentin. Sanz suggested that a report released by Security Secretary Sergio Berni contradicted to the Cabinet chief’s statements.

@tbrockenshire

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