Excerpts from Argentine President Rodriguez Saa’s Inaugural Speech to Congress Translated by Cynthia Rush

Today, we begin the transformation of our beloved country; starting today, nothing will be the same…we are perfectly conscious that, today, a new republic has been born.’

Argentina’s new interim President, a very confident Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, spoke these words to the national Congress today, after having been sworn in, and outlined the crucial policy areas to be dealt with as immediate priorities. He acknowledged that the demonstrations which led to the demise of the de la Rua government had a good and bad side. The bad side was the “vandalism, irrational lootings, and absolutely unnecessary deaths”; the good side was that a people came together to demand an end “to an entire period of oppression and prostration, that could no longer be tolerated.”

The main points of his speech are indicated below, but it is important to note his emphatic insistence, that Argentina’s {constitutional mandate} to care for its people, to guarantee access to decent jobs, wages, and adequate food, has been violated, and that this would change immediately. There was a tremendous response from the legislators, who interrupted the speech several times with applause, especially as he announced the suspension of foreign debt payment. The main points are as follows:

1. Foreign debt payment is suspended. This doesn’t mean repudiation, or “a fundamentalist attitude.” On the contrary, “it is the first act of a government of rational character, to deal with the foreign debt correctly.” [This announcement got a standing ovation, as legislators began to chant “Argentina, Argentina, Argentina, Argentina…..” Wild applause.] He emphasized that government’s position cannot be defined by the phrase “we shall honor the commitments we’ve assumed.” Some say the foreign debt, “at least partially, is the biggest economic business ever seen in Argentine history.” Debt negotiations have always been a secret process, “in offices behind closed doors, with decisions unknown to, and made apart from, the general interest. Worse, payment of the so-called foreign debt has been prioritized over the debt which this nation has to its own countrymen.”

2. The Congress will now assume the responsibility of overseeing payment of foreign debt, both domestic and foreign, {as mandated by the Argentine Constitution.} Rodriguez Saa announced that his government “opens the doors to this Congress to study all the books and administrative acts related to Argentina’s foreign debt, including during this [current] period of government. …Gentlemen, the books are open for you.”

3. “All money allocated in the budget for the foreign debt, for as long as that payment is suspended, will be used, without doubt and without exception, for plans to create jobs and social progress… Tonight, we shall begin to develop a social plan to create one million jobs in Argentina.” [Here, there was wild applause–legislators jumped up and again begin chanting “Argentina, Argentina…”]. “We are going to consult, reflect and decide over the next several hours on reestablishing the {constitutional right}, according to which each worker has the right to a minimum, vital wage.” An emergency food program will also be created immediately. “It is inconceivable that in a country with all our possibilities of food production, people are subjected to hunger, marginalization, and poverty.” An emergency program “implies the reconstruction of the social safety net, whose destruction we should have never allowed…”

4. The “convertibility” system, which ties the peso to the dollar in a one-to-one relationship, will be maintained. While this system creates difficulties, especially related to trade, there can be no devaluation, which would “significantly reduce workers’ salaries in the same proportion,” raising prices; “the immediate effect of that measure would be the loss of workers’ purchasing power, accentuating even further the already critical situation under which Argentine workers are living…”

5. A “third currency” will be created, in order to “inject liquidity into popular consumption. This will hurt no one, and will bring benefits to Argentine homes…”

6. There will be austerity, and corruption will not be tolerated. Salaries of officials in the Executive branch will be reduced. “No one, I repeat, no one may earn more than the President, whose salary… will be fixed at $3,000 [monthly].” Many percs will be eliminated. No legitimate public sector employee will lose his job, but much of the corruption and padded public employee rolls, will not be tolerated. Rodriguez Saa concluded his speech by appealing to a sense of Argentine nationhood: “I believe in the greatness of our forefathers; I believe in our historic flag; I believe in Argentina’s martyrs; I believe in Oct. 17, and a people who gave [Juan Domingo] Peron the opportunity to dignify Argentines [a reference to October, 17, 1943 on which then-Labor Minister Juan Peron was released from jail, due to mass demonstrations by labor–crr]. … I believe that our workers and our producers, through their efforts, will give Argentina back its greatness. ….I believe it is possible to have an Argentina without poor, without unemployed, without hunger and misery; I believe in social justice.”

[Source: speech of Adolfo Rodriguez Saa before the Argentine Congress, Dec. 23, 2001, available on www.presidencia.gov.ar]