BUENOS AIRES – Argentine university students, scientists and professors gathered Thursday before Congress to protest proposed cutbacks in funding allocated to science and technology in the 2017 budget bill submitted by President Mauricio Macri’s government, sources told EFE.
The demonstration was called by student and instructor organizations to protest the projected 32 percent reduction in the government’s budget for the Science and Technology Ministry and timed to coincide with a budget committee session in the lower house of Congress that should give the green light to the bill before it moves to a parliamentary vote.
“It’s a 32 percent net cut compared with last year, without taking inflation into account. It’s the lowest (funding) in relation to the GDP since the ministry was created in 2008,” Adrian Lutvak, president of the University Federation of Buenos Aires, or FUBA, told EFE.
In practice, such a funding cut will lead to the freezing “or even reduction of researchers on the payroll” in Argentina, a situation in a country with a big “technological deficit” compared to the “great powers ... means more dependence,” Lutvak added.
During the protest, which drew about 1,000 people and was replicated in other cities around the country, a document reflecting the consensus among student organizations and professors’ and researchers’ federations was read.
Previously, a petition rejecting the cuts had been sent to Congress bearing more than 30,000 signatures.
“We have a country that has been recovering a certain level of scientific production in recent years. During the 1990s, the most neoliberal period, there had been a significant brain drain and in recent years that had improved a bit. Now, there’s ... a cutback,” Lutvak said.
Protest organizers also criticize the fact that the reduction goes against Macri’s presidential campaign promises committing himself to doubling the budget for science and technology if he were elected last November.
The 2017 budget would reduce from 0.7 percent to 0.59 percent the share of the GDP devoted to science and tech.
“Three billion pesos (some $200 million) more than projected would be needed to maintain a level similar to last year, taking inflation into account,” said Lutvak.
It is expected that the legislative commission reviewing the 2017 budget proposal, the first to be submitted by the Macri administration, on Thursday will issue a ruling on the matter, a needed step for sending the bill to the Chamber of Deputies where it will be voted upon.
Later, it must be evaluated by the Senate, where the government will need the support of the opposition to transform it into law, just as it will require in the lower chamber.