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Argentina: President Promises Change Amid National Turmoil

by Associated Press / / Source: Associated Press
Argentinian President Mauricio Macri (C) delivers his speech during the opening of the first session of parliament in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 1, 2016.David Fernandez / EPA

BUENOS AIRES -- Argentine President Mauricio Macri spoke to the nation Tuesday, saying the country is broke, drug traffickers are prospering and borders are barely protected because the army is weak and many air force planes are disabled.

In Macri's first address to Congress of the legislative session, he blasted the previous administration, saying that political patronage had led to a major spike in the number of workers on government payrolls. Several thousand people have been fired since Macri assumed office in December.

"We are a great country with enormous potential," Macri said, sitting next to Vice President Gabriela Michetti as he addressed Congress. "But the first thing we must do is recognize that we are not in good shape."

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Macri, a conservative and former mayor of Buenos Aires, campaigned on promises to modernize the economy by attracting foreign investment, root out corruption and solve a long-standing spat with creditors in the U.S.

Speaking in a somber tone during the hour-long speech, several times Macri returned to the issue of drugs. He said Argentina was a "prosperous country for drug traffickers," and added that the South American nation had become the world's third largest producer of cocaine.

The problem was exacerbated by "borders that are virtually defenseless" and a military so weakened that it possessed "planes that don't fly."

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Macri addressed the long-standing fight with a group of creditors in the U.S., bluntly framing it as a problem now in the hands of Congress. On Monday, Argentina and the group of creditors led by billionaire investor Paul Singer announced a tentative deal, potentially putting an end to years of legal fights that have kept the Latin American country from accessing international credit markets.

The deal, however, must be approved by Congress, where Macri doesn't have majorities in either chamber and will likely face stiff opposition from some sectors of the Peronist Party, which lost the presidency for the first time in 12 years in last year's election.

Macri said he trusted legislators would "be responsible" in their rhetoric and "we'll build the necessary consensus" to pass a deal.

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