BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — President Cristina Fernandez opened congress Friday with a marathon, 3 1/2-hour speech describing her government's "victorious decade" in power and defending her management at a time of falling confidence in Argentina's economy.
She also announced a major effort to reform Argentina's sclerotic judiciary — a plan that deeply worries her opponents. With congress firmly controlled by her party and allies, and many executive branch initiatives simply announced through presidential decree, her opponents have long used court injunctions as a brake on her power.
On other topics, Fernandez defended the joint Argentine-Iranian "truth commission" that she hopes will solve Argentina's worst terrorist attack, the bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. The diplomatic effort deeply concerns Jewish leaders.
"This has been a decade won by the Argentines," she declared, providing rosy numbers on many aspects of Argentine society. "This is a decade won, not in terms of elections or party politics, but in the social recuperation, economic development and equality of the 40 million Argentines."
Some recent economic indicators suggest those gains are increasingly fragile. Argentine stocks fell sharply and the risk of investing in Argentina jumped nearly 13 percent on J.P. Morgan's index after the country's lawyers told a New York appellate court Wednesday that the government will refuse to pay, even at the risk of triggering a debt default, if it loses a closely watched case over unpaid bonds.
Capital flight is increasing, with more than $1 billion in foreign currency flowing out of Argentina in the last month. The government is aiming to devalue the currency by 20 percent this year, but Argentines are increasingly taking a 55 percent loss to trade their inflationary pesos for safer dollars on the black market. Many Argentines have received double-digit pay raises only to see their gains wiped out by ever-higher inflation.
While Argentina's economy grew at an average of 7.2 percent a year from 2003 to 2011, private analysts say it slowed to 1.4 percent last year, according to a bleak summary of the country's investment climate published this week by the U.S. State Department.
Fernandez called on lawmakers to put forth an "enormous effort to avoid falling back into the hell" that Argentina climbed out of after its 2002 economic collapse.
"I am not going to climb down that ladder to hell again. We deserve to live in a better fatherland, a better country," she said.