On August 27 this year, the Office of the Undersecretary for Consumer Protection of Argentina suspended Asociación de Consumidores Libres (Association of Free Consumers) for expressing its opinions on the price indexes as it had been doing for the last 18 years.
This decision was taken in view of Resolution 47/2012 (which amended Resolution 461/1999), whereby the Office of the Secretary for Trade was authorized to cancel “any associations, as applicable” from the National Register of Consumer Associations.
In June Fundación LED – Libertad de Expresión + Democracia (Freedom of Expression + Democracy) had warned about the impact and the consequences of this rule which increased substantially the discretionality of Government actions.
Yet Another Act of Censorship in Argentina
During June this year, Fundación LED – Libertad de Expresión + Democracia warned about the impact and the consequences of Resolution 47/2012 authorizing the Secretary for Trade, Guillermo Moreno, to make changes in the National Register of Consumer Associations.
Resolution 47/2012, which amended Resolution 461/1999 and by which the Secretary for Trade was authorized to cancel “any associations, as applicable” from the National Register of Consumer Associations without giving any reason and without specifying procedures, and less still any applicable guarantees, opened up a divide, as has been proved, for discretionally removing or leaving associations from and in the Register.
This rule has boosted the discretionality of Government actions and the climate has therefore become less and less tolerant with any free opinions about inflation, price indexes and public expenditure in general, as is happening with several firms engaged in economic consulting which used to publish price indexes that differed from the official indexes and which to date refrain from providing such information afraid, as they are, of being hunted down once again.
The social role of consumer associations should be carefully looked into at the time of restricting their operations and, more so, at the time of stopping them from disclosing their work, which will inevitably include informing on the prices of products which are massively sold and consumed by the overall population.
Today the Office of the Secretary for Trade, through the Office of the Undersecretary for Consumer Protection, with Lucila Colombo serving as Undersecretary, has suspended the Asociación de Consumidores Libres chaired by Mr. Héctor Polino for expressing its opinions about price indexes, just as it has been doing for the last 18 years.
To stop a consumer association from informing consumers is the same as denying its very essence, its raison d’être.
Clearly, the amendment of the above rule, which was denounced by us, has adversely affected the right to a free opinion confronting us with today´s reality. The association was cancelled from the register without any reason at all and without the right of defense. This is just about imposing sanctions for having a different opinion and for publishing a different price list, other than the official list published by the INDEC, Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos (Argentina´s institute for statistics).
This measure, together with the censorship and the fines imposed on private firms rendering economic consulting services, impairs both the right of freedom of speech enshrined in our Constitutional Law and in International Treaties which were embraced by us, and user and consumer rights expressly protected by our National Constitution.
The M. O. of the Office of the Undersecretary for Consumer Protection is disturbing and unlawful. A measure such as this one will immediately create an atmosphere of self-censorship which will lead many other associations for the defense of citizen rights to refrain from giving their opinion or publishing their data when faced with the risk of losing their status and official registration. We truly repudiate such acts and shall keep struggling for freedom of speech, freedom of opinion and free access to information for all citizens.