June 30, 2008

    

Hardball politics emerges in Argentine soy tax vote, balloons as well

   
  

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez's fight to secure enough votes from the legislature for her controversial soy export tax became more desperate over the weekend as news broke that the bill could be overturned.

 

A congressional majority was needed to endorse the President's export tax, which was put to the House for voting last week after months of farmers' protest hampered farmers deliveries to the country's largest cities.

 

Ruling Peronist party legislators who refuse to toe the party line face a potentially heavy price. Cordoba province Senator Roberto Urquia was pressured to resign as chairman of the budget committee Wednesday for failing to support the president on the export taxes, local daily Clarin reported.

 

Urquia, who is also owner of top grain export company Aceitera General Deheza, said he would not be supporting the interests of his agricultural province by voting for higher taxes.

 

The president moved quickly to fill the committee's empty seat with a strong ally and promoted another party loyalist as chair.

 

Farmers suspended their strike Friday and shifted their focus to lobbying Congress to vote against the tax. The farmers seem to be making headway in garnering support among members of Congress from rural provinces.

 

Local daily La Nacion reported Thursday that more than half of the members of the House have voiced their opposition to approving the new tax scheme, sending the government scrambling to secure the votes needed to tip the balance.

 

While rancorous debate continued inside the halls of Congress, supporters of the government and farmers filled the plaza in front of the building with tents where activists gathered.

 

A 30-foot tall inflatable bull hovered over the farmer's tent, staring menacingly at a slightly-smaller inflatable penguin bearing the president's name. The bull supposedly represented charismatic farm leader Alfredo de Angeli, who has risen as the public face for farmers.

 

President Fernandez and her husband, former president Nestor Kirchner, are often referred to as penguins due to their political roots in the southern Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, home to numerous penguin colonies.

 

The battle of the balloons took a slightly sinister turn Wednesday night, when the bull's nose was pierced by an unidentified supporter of the government. Duct tape restored the figure.

 

Critics accuse the government of stalling and preventing debate on the key issue of the export tax.

 

Christian Gribaudo, vice president of the Agriculture Commission, said Thursday that "Monday is the last day for the ruling block to maintain credibility."

 

Congress has so far failed to directly address the export taxes, focusing debate on other farm-related issues.

 

In recent years, the presidency has largely ruled by decree, bypassing the legislature. Congress granted the president emergency powers during the economic crisis in 2002, but five years of rapid economic growth has undermined justification for the emergency powers.

 

A third balloon went up Thursday - a large inflatable dove set up by supporters of "the rights and guarantees of the Argentine Constitution."
      

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