Macri defends record in fiery speech to Argentine Congress


Buenos Aires (AFP)

President Mauricio Macri delivered a robust defense of his austerity policy Friday in a State of the Union address to Argentina's Congress ahead of a reelection bid in October.

Macri went on the offensive in a turbulent session that featured shouts and heckling from opposition lawmakers, declaring there was no turning back on his policies.

"Today Argentina is better off that in 2015. We continue to make profound changes. We have left the swamp behind us," he said in a vehement speech punctuated by ovations from his Cambiemos (Let's Change) center-right coalition.

Speaking loudly and at times angrily, the president said he remained committed to "a zero fiscal deficit" as part of a $57 billion International Monetary Fund bailout earlier this year.

He took pains to justify severe public spending cuts which has seen the economy shed 200,000 jobs in the past year.

"The fiscal deficit is what causes inflation and poverty," he said.

"We are on the right track."

Opposition lawmakers held up posters saying "Macri Out" and "There is another way". Others interrupted with shouts of "Liar."

Macri's angry riposte was that "your insults speak for you more than me."

The center-right leader will seek reelection in October's presidential election, but the latest opinion poll shows Macri with a 64 percent disapproval rating among voters.

Since his election in 2015, the market-friendly former Buenos Aires mayor has launched important economic reforms to balance years of spending by the previous leftist government of Cristina Kirchner -- but his promises to defeat inflation and place Argentina on the path to sustained growth have proved empty.

Latin America's third-largest economy shrank 2.6 percent in 2018 and inflation reached almost 50 percent, topping 3.0 percent for the month of February alone.

The economy suffered two currency crashes last year that saw the peso lose half of its value against the dollar.

Outside Congress, Olga Alderete -- a 46-year-old cleaner who earns $150 a month -- was among demonstrators calling for Macri to resign.

"Macri must go. We can't go on, everything is more and more expensive, people are getting thrown out, factories are closing.

"Now school is starting and it's a problem because people have no money to buy supplies," she said. Other protesters behind her raised a banner saying: "Macri Out Already."