BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Argentine lawmakers on Friday approved a deal with the International Monetary Fund to refinance $45 billion in debt, a vote intended to stave off economic turmoil but which has divided the ruling party.
The landslide vote of 202 to 37, with 13 abstentions, followed a marathon all-night debate as protesters angry at past IMF deals they saw as disastrous demonstrated and threw rocks and set fires outside the building of Congress.
The measure now goes to the Argentine Senate and must also be approved by the IMF’s board of directors.
Argentina assumed debt in 2018 under the government of conservative President Mauricio Macri, but failed to completely crush inflation or solve the country’s economic problems.
The current centre-left government said the refinancing deal struck with the IMF last week was key to averting a loan default and even bigger problems for an economy plagued by repeated defaults and crises.
This would let Argentina delay paying off its debt until 2026, with payments continuing until 2034. Under the previous deal, debt payments would be concentrated in 2022 and 2023.
“This is the best agreement that can be reached,” said Carlos Heller, chairman of the budget and finance committee of the Chamber of Deputies.
President Alberto Fernández obtained the support of the main opposition bloc in exchange for some modifications.
Left-wing forces, including some ruling party members close to Vice President Cristina Fernandez, argued that part of the measure would worsen conditions for the 40% poor Argentines.
Rocks thrown by protesters shattered windows and damaged her office in Congress, where she presides. She posted a video calling the damage “paradoxical” because as president she had opposed IMF deals – as had her late husband, former president Nestor Kirchner.
Their son Maximo, now a member of Congress, voted against the deal – which he had earlier protested by resigning as head of the ruling movement’s delegation to Congress.
The government maintains that the new deal would not require any overhaul of the pension system or work rules, although it says it would force increases in the prices of gas, electricity and other public services.