Argentina is a vibrant representative democracy with competitive elections, lively media and civil society sectors, and unfettered public debate. Economic instability, corruption in the government and judiciary, and drug-related violence are among the country’s most serious challenges.
- In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Argentina imposed one of the strictest and most prolonged lockdowns in the world, which lasted for more than six months. In addition to steps taken by the central government, some provinces and towns erected irregular roadblocks and arbitrarily impeded legal transit. Despite these measures, by the end of 2020 more than 43,000 people had died from COVID-19, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.
- Enforcement of the national quarantine produced a rise in police brutality, including several deaths, with young people from marginalized sectors particularly vulnerable.
- The pandemic and the measures to contain it deepened Argentina’s economic crisis. The country has been in a recession since 2018 and the economy contracted by more than 10 percent in 2020, driving the poverty rate from 25 percent in 2017 to more than 40 percent in mid-2020.
- Since taking office in late 2019, President Alberto Fernández and Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (no relation) have attacked the judiciary for its alleged politicization and launched initiatives that, if enacted, could diminish judicial independence. In 2020 this included verbal attacks on the Supreme Court and a proposed judicial reform that would allow the administration to appoint new judges in key federal courts.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for a president to be elected for a four-year term, with the option of reelection for one additional term. Presidential candidates must win 45 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. Alberto Fernández, a center-left figure who aside from a brief time in the Buenos Aires city legislature had never held elected office before, was elected president in the first round of elections in October 2019 with 48.24 percent of the vote, against incumbent Mauricio Macri’s 40.28 percent. The poll was deemed competitive and credible by international observers.
Fernández’s victory was widely viewed as benefiting from having political veteran and former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on his ticket. A member of the populist Peronist movement, she was the subject of multiple allegations of corruption at the time of the election.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The National Congress consists of a 257-member Chamber of Deputies, whose representatives are directly elected for four-year terms with half of the seats up for election every two years; and the 72-member Senate, whose representatives are directly elected for six-year terms, with one-third of the seats up for election every two years. Legislators are elected through a proportional representation system with closed party lists.
Legislative elections, including the most recent ones held in October 2019 together with the presidential vote, are generally free and fair. In the lower chamber, there were 130 seats contested in 2019, of which President Fernández’s Frente de Todos won 64, former president Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio won 56, and a number of smaller coalitions won between one and three seats each. The Senate saw 25 seats contested in 2019, of which Frente de Todos won 13, Juntos por el Cambio won 8, and Frente Cívico por Santiago won 2. Frente de Todos holds the greatest number of seats in both houses.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
Argentina has a clear, detailed, and fair legislative framework for conducting elections. There is universal suffrage. Voting is compulsory for people between 18 and 70 years old, and voluntary between 16 and 18, and for people older than 70. However, the system suffers from some shortcomings, including inconsistent enforcement of electoral laws and campaign finance regulations. Further, aspects of election management fall under the purview of the executive branch, as Argentina’s National Electoral Chamber (CNE) works in conjunction with the National Electoral Directorate, a department of the Ministry of the Interior.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Argentina has competitive political parties that operate without encountering undue obstacles. Primary elections are mandatory for presidential and legislative elections, and only party candidates that obtain 1.5 percent of the national vote can move on to the general election.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Argentina’s multiparty political system affords opposition candidates the realistic opportunity to compete for political power, and opposition parties command significant popular support and hold positions in national and subnational government.
The 2019 elections marked the return of Peronism to national power after a 4-year-hiatus under Macri, who in December 2019 became the first elected non-Peronist to complete a presidential term since 1928.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
Argentines’ political choices are generally free from domination by groups that are not democratically accountable.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
Members of ethnic and religious minority groups have full political rights in Argentina. However, in practice, the government frequently ignores legal obligations to consult with Indigenous communities about legislation and government actions that affect them.
Women and women’s interests are reasonably well represented in the legislature. The 2019 legislative elections, in which a portion of seats were contested, were the first conducted under a new law that mandates all party lists to have full gender parity, with men and women alternating. Women now hold 42 percent of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 38 percent in the Senate. Previously, the law required that at least 30 percent of a party’s legislative candidates be women. In December 2019, President Fernández created the Ministry of Women, Genders, and Diversity, with a focus on promoting equality and combating gender-based violence. In practice, however, top government, judicial, and political positions at the national level continue to be dominated by men, especially from the city and province of Buenos Aires.
LGBT+ people are also reasonably well represented in Argentina. Robust legal protections for LGBT+ people are codified in the law, and Argentina in 2010 became the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Argentina’s elected officials are duly installed in office without interference. However, the political system is characterized by a powerful executive, with the president having authority to implement some policies by decree, thereby bypassing the legislative branch. Provincial governors are also powerful and tend to influence lawmakers representing their provinces.
In December 2019, Congress granted President Fernández broad emergency powers for one year. This package weakened oversight mechanisms and allowed Fernández to impose new taxes, determine wage and pension increases by decree, and renegotiate foreign debt, among other measures. In March 2020, the president used this authority to respond to the incipient COVID-19 pandemic by decreeing a one-year health emergency that authorized the government to circumvent existing regulations and make direct purchases of health equipment without public bidding.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is arguably the most influential vice president in the country’s history: she is the driving force behind the electoral coalition that brought Alberto Fernández to power, and handpicked him as the presidential candidate.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption scandals are common, and several prominent members of the political class, including former presidents, have been charged with or found guilty of malfeasance in recent years. However, weak anticorruption bodies and the politicization of the judicial system hamper institutional safeguards against corruption. For instance, the country’s main anticorruption office is part of the Justice Ministry and is headed by a presidential appointee, leaving it vulnerable to improper influence by the executive. Further, many politicians hold immunity in connection with their elected posts, and are thus shielded from legal consequences for corrupt behavior.
Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner faces numerous investigations for alleged corruption during her time as president, from 2007 to 2015, and has been indicted on several occasions. Judges have requested her pretrial arrest, but she was protected through legislative immunity as a senator between 2017 and 2019, and as vice president thereafter. The government has attacked the Supreme Court and the judiciary for processing corruption cases involving the vice president and other kirchnerista officials. Several prominent kirchneristas, including Amado Boudou, who served as Fernández de Kirchner’s vice president before being convicted in 2018 on corruption charges, were controversially granted conditional, coronavirus-related humanitarian releases from prison in 2020.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
In recent years the government has taken steps to improve transparency at the national level, including by presenting periodic action plans as part of its membership in the Open Government Partnership. Authorities have digitized state records and procedural documents and have published more information online, including on public procurement and contracting bids, as part of an effort to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
In 2017, Argentina enacted an access to information law that established a Public Information Agency, through which citizens may request information from state agencies and other state-funded institutions. The implementation of the law has been uneven, and the agency is located within the office of the Chief of Cabinet of Ministers, who is appointed by the president. Adherence to and enforcement of public-asset disclosure regulations is inconsistent. Further, there has been limited progress to promote transparency at the provincial and municipal levels, and in the judiciary.
The health emergency declared in March 2020 relaxed procurement regulations, reducing transparency in government purchases.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Argentine law guarantees freedom of expression, and Congress decriminalized libel and slander in 2009. While media ownership is concentrated among large conglomerates that frequently favor a political grouping, Argentineans nevertheless enjoy a robust and lively media environment, and there is no official censorship. In October 2020, the governmental Ombudsman’s Office announced the creation of a media observatory intended to monitor instances of fake news and symbolic violence such as hate speech; press freedom advocates expressed concern about the project’s ambiguous mission and alleged ideological bias.
Journalists face occasional harassment and violence. In addition, those covering discrimination against LGBT+ people report frequent threats on social media. Some journalists have faced corruption or other charges in connection with their investigative work. An audit of Argentina’s intelligence service led to a June 2020 announcement that the government had amassed dossiers on hundreds of journalists during the Macri administration, including classifications of reporters’ perceived political leanings.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Argentina’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion. While the population is largely Roman Catholic, public education is secular, and religious minorities express their faiths freely. The government has formally acknowledged more than 5,300 non-Catholic organizations, granting them tax-exempt status and other benefits.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is guaranteed by law and largely observed in practice.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Private discussion is vibrant and unrestricted. However, in April 2020 the minister of security announced the creation of “cyberpatrols” to monitor social media and punish those who spread false information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, a campaign that resulted in the initiation of several criminal cases.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is generally respected, and citizens frequently organize protests to make their voices heard. Peaceful antigovernment demonstrations were common in Buenos Aires and other cities throughout 2020, despite lockdown restrictions.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate without restrictions. Civic organizations, especially those focused on human rights and abuses committed under the 1976–83 dictatorship, are robust and play a major role in society, although some fall victim to Argentina’s pervasive corruption.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Organized labor remains dominated by Peronist unions, and union influence remains significant, although it has decreased in recent years. Most labor unions have been controlled by the same individuals or groups since the 1980s, and internal opposition to union leadership has been limited by fraud and intimidation.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
Inefficiencies and delays plague the judicial system, which is susceptible to political manipulation, particularly at lower levels. Some federal judges are known to maintain close ties with political actors, and to engage in corrupt practices. Judicial cases tend to follow political trends: several former officials and businessmen involved in corruption allegations during the previous government of Fernández de Kirchner were imprisoned during Macri’s presidency, but many were released soon before or after Alberto Fernández’s electoral win.
Since taking office in December 2019, the president and vice president have attacked the judiciary for its alleged politicization and launched initiatives that, if enacted, could diminish judicial independence. In June 2020, the government presented a broad judicial reform to expand the number of federal courts in Buenos Aires from 12 to 46, which would allow President Fernández and the Peronist-controlled Senate to appoint many new judges. The president also appointed a commission of experts that proposed other changes to the judiciary, including the creation of new tribunals that would reduce the influence of the Supreme Court. Critics questioned the commission’s composition: among the members was the vice president’s personal lawyer. In addition, the Senate voted to change the rules on the appointment of the attorney general, reducing the confirmation requirement from two-thirds to a simple majority. As of year’s end, neither the judicial nor the prosecutorial reforms had been approved by the Chamber of Deputies, where the government’s majority is fragile.
In September 2020, the Senate acted to remove three judges from a federal court tasked with key decisions in corruption cases involving the vice president, her family, and close associates. In a display of its relative independence, the Supreme Court ruled that the judges must remain in their posts until Senate-confirmed replacements are appointed following an open competition, which could take years. Overall, the Supreme Court has pushed back against executive overreach during the Kirchner, Macri, and Fernández administrations. In December, the vice president issued a polemical public letter in which she directly accused Supreme Court members of protecting Macri and engaging in “lawfare” against her.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
Due process rights are protected by the constitution and are generally upheld. However, the justice system and security forces, especially at the provincial level, have long stood accused of using excessive violence and having ties with drug-trafficking operations.
The UN Special Rapporteur on torture issued a report in 2019 stating that six out of ten people held in Argentine prisons had yet to reach the final stage in their trial, and were thus being held despite having not been convicted of any crime. The report also highlighted prison overcrowding and excessive violence against inmates and people under interrogation by police forces, among other forms of ill-treatment.
Court cases dating from the mid-2000s have allowed the prosecution of crimes against humanity committed during the brutal 1976–83 dictatorship. Hundreds of military and police officers have been convicted of torture, murder, and forced disappearance and sentenced to long prison terms, helping to combat a culture of impunity. Many victims of state-sponsored terrorism, including kidnapped children, have never been found.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Drug-related violence remained a serious issue in 2020 as international criminal organizations used the country as both an operational base and a transit route; the northern and central regions are particularly affected. Rosario—the country’s third largest city and an important port in Santa Fe province—has been at the center of a spike in drug-related violence and unrest that has featured armed attacks against courts and intimidation of public officials.
Police misconduct, including torture and brutality against suspects in custody, is endemic. Prisons are overcrowded, and conditions remain substandard throughout the country. Arbitrary arrests and abuses by police are rarely punished in the courts, and police collusion with drug traffickers is common.
In 2020, enforcement of the coronavirus-induced lockdown led to a rise in cases of excessive force, especially against the poor. In August, Amnesty International reported more than 30 cases of police brutality during the enforcement of the national lockdown. A case that drew significant attention was the April disappearance of 22-year old Facundo Astudillo Castro, who went missing after being detained by Buenos Aires province police for violating the lockdown. His body was found in August, with drowning ruled as the cause of death; an enforced disappearance investigation remained open as of December, and no suspects had been detained.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
Argentina has robust antidiscrimination laws, but enforcement is uneven outside well-off urban areas. Argentina’s Indigenous peoples, who comprise approximately 2.4 percent of the population, are largely neglected by the government and suffer disproportionately from extreme poverty and poor access to public services. Only 11 of Argentina’s 23 provinces have constitutions recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples. Displays of xenophobia against migrants and race-based discrimination are common. Women enjoy legal equality, but continue to face economic discrimination and gender-based wage gaps.
Argentina’s LGBT+ population enjoys full legal rights, including marriage, adoption, and the right to serve in the military. However, LGBT+ people face some degree of societal discrimination, and occasionally, serious violence. LGBT+ people were at times subjected to excessive force by the police in the context of lockdown enforcement.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
The government generally respects citizens’ constitutional right to free travel both inside and outside of Argentina. People are free to change their place of education or employment.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Argentina implemented one of the strictest and most prolonged lockdowns in the world. All domestic flights were cancelled and almost all international travel was banned from March to October 2020. Many provinces erected de facto internal borders with vague regulations that were sometimes implemented in an arbitrary way, ignoring legally sanctioned exceptions to national restrictions and at times imposing unnecessary hardship on families suffering medical emergencies. The province of San Luis banned even the entry of ambulances from neighboring areas in Córdoba and prevented people from seeking medical treatment. There were further reports of security agents enforcing lockdown measures with disproportionate force, including with tear gas and rubber bullets. Human rights groups criticized the measures as excessive and unclear, and in September the Supreme Court ordered provincial governments to enact the restrictions in accordance with human rights norms, international treaty obligations, and exceptions provided by official regulations. In November, the Court ordered the province of Formosa to allow the entry of 7,500 provincial residents who had not been able to return to their homes for months.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 due to harsh COVID-19 movement restrictions that were often arbitrarily implemented, with reports of disproportionate force used by law enforcement agents assigned to enforce the lockdown.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
Citizens generally enjoy the right to own property and establish private businesses. However, cumbersome regulations, bureaucratic abuses, and corruption continue to affect the private sector at all levels.
Approximately 70 percent of the country’s rural Indigenous communities lack titles to their lands, and forced evictions, while technically illegal, still occur. Indigenous communities continue to struggle to defend their land rights against oil and gas prospectors, and to reclaim traditional lands.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
Argentineans enjoy broad freedom regarding marriage and divorce. Same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples has been legal nationwide since 2010. A 2012 gender identity law allows people to legally change their gender.
Violence against women remains a serious problem. Activists continue to hold highly visible protests and events aimed at drawing attention to the issue. According to official data, lockdown measures enacted in response to the coronavirus pandemic led to a sharp rise in violence against women, with a two-thirds year-on-year increase in calls to a domestic violence hotline in April 2020.
Following years of civil society mobilization and an unsuccessful legislative effort in 2018, in December 2020 Congress legalized abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy, a development with few precedents in Latin America. President Fernández and top government officials had strongly backed the bill and were key to its approval in the Senate.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Some industries like garment and brick production profit from the forced labor of men, women, and children from Argentina as well as from neighboring countries; forced labor is also present in the agriculture sector and among domestic workers and street vendors. Exploitation is made easier by the prevalence of informal work: nearly half of all Argentine workers operate in the informal sector, without proper benefits or formal legal protections. Workers in the informal economy were severely affected by pandemic lockdown measures, deepening social inequalities.
Men, women, and children are subject to sex trafficking. The government maintained the use of a hotline to facilitate investigations and has worked to identify more victims, deliver antitrafficking trainings, and prosecute officials involved in trafficking, according to the US State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report.
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Global Freedom Score84 100 free
Internet Freedom Score71 100 free