IGUACEL WALKS; LOPETEGUI BACK
In what could be described as a chronicle of a death foretold, Energy Secretary Javier Iguacel resigned Friday afternoon, paving the way for the return of former deputy Cabinet Chief Gustavo Lopetegui’s to the frontline of the Mauricio Macri administration. Iguacel’s exit comes in the context of another announcement of increases in gas and electricity bills, as the economy continues its downward trajectory and with inflation expected to close off 2019 around 50 percent. Iguacel, who held an off-the-record meeting with reporters on Thursday to explain these and other coming measures, had a longstanding disagreement with Economy Minister Nicolás Dujovne, who became his superior in September when the Energy Ministry was downgraded to a government office in September’s political rejig. Rumours of Iguacel’s exit began circulating in October when the Energy department announced an additional increase in gas bills in order to “compensate” energy producers. Iguacel had fought to cut consumer subsidies, which the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition considers part of the “legacy” left by the previous Kirchnerite governments.
TRANSPORT TO RISE
Public transport fares across the capital and Greater Buenos Aires will rise dramatically in the first quarter of 2019, after the national Transport Secretariat on Thursday announced further reductions in subsidies. Standard public bus fares will rise from 13 pesos (US$0.34) to 18 pesos (US$ 0.47) in the first quarter, following a 117-percent average price increase during 2018. Metropolitan train services will rise by up to 3.5 pesos per fare in the first quarter.
MILAGRO SALA MURDER ACQUITTAL
Controversial social leder and activist Milagro Sala was acquitted on Thursday of charges of attempted murder. She described the decision by Jujuy Province’s Criminal Court No. 2 as “a small glimpse of hope that justice is being served despite the political persecution that many of our comrades are suffering.” Sala, who remains under house arrest on other charges, said the ruling was “a huge surprise.” The leader of the Túpac Amaru Neighbourhood Organisation was accused of ordering the failed assassination in 2007 of an alleged political enemy, Alberto Cardozo and prosecutors had demanded the court sentence Sala to 12 years behind bars. However, the court voted unanimously in her favour. The activist’s lawyer, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, described the charges against her client as “a shameful set-up.” Sala’s alleged associate, Fabián Avila was sentenced to six years and six months in prison, for being the mastermind of the plan to kill Cardozo. Sala faces several other charges still, with prosecutors seeking 22 years behind bars for the alleged of embezzlement of US$1.5 million (60 million pesos) in national funds for housing projects. She also faces a potential three-year prison sentence for a demonstration she led against Governor Gerardo Morales. Groups such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Amnesty International and the United Nations have called for her to be released from house arrest.
THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION...
Businessman Paolo Rocca should remain out of prison for now, said a federal prosecutor who this week, rejecting calls for authorities to lock him up under preventative arrest. The Techint CEO is under investigation in the so-called ‘notebooks’ corruption case because of alleged kickbacks his company paid from lucrative public works contracts to ex-officials of the Néstor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administrations. Germán Moldes rejected his fellow prosecutors Carlos Rívolo and Carlos Storelli’s request to override ruling Judge Claudio Bonadío’s decision to lay charges against Rocca, but without a corresponding preventative arrest order. Moldes also refused to budge on Bonadío’s decision to spare former Cabinet chief to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Juan Abal Medina, from preventative arrest. In his presentation before the court, Moldes argued that Rocca and Abal Medina did no present any “procedural risks” that would justify placing them under pre-trial arrest. He made similar arguments about Abal Medina’s former secretary Martín Larraburu and businessman Alberto Padoan and Rubén Aranda. Judges Pablo Bertuzzi and Leopoldo Bruglia will make a decision on the matter shortly.
POLLS TO PONDER FOR MACRI
The start of an election year is just around the corner and already pollsters are testing out possible scenarios for the presidential race. President Mauricio Macri faces an uphill battle in his fight for re-election, one poll suggested this week, particularly against a former contender in the 2015 race, Sergio Massa. The president would lose to the dissident Peronist leader in a run-off vote, an Isonomía surgey found. Its phone survey with voters gave Massa a four-point lead over Macri (43 percent to 39). The president would also lose a run-off vote against Governor of Salta province Juan Manual Urtubey and former Buenos Aires governor Felipe Solá. His only chance to win, according to the poll, would be against former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, with 47 percent of survey participants preferring Macri over 39 percent who would vote CFK.
OCTOBER SLUMP CONFIRMED
Economic activity fell by four percent in October, compared to the same month the previous year, the INDEC national statistics bureau reported this week. That marked the seventh straight month of economic decline registered by the bureau. In total, economic activity has contracted by 1.7 percent this year, Noticias Argentinas reported, against the same 10 months of the previous year.
MESSI IS ONE OF THOSE PARENTS...
Yes, it seems being a wealthy and insanely talented footballer doesn’t automatically mean you have good taste. Who would’ve thought it, eh? Leo Messi and Antonella Roccuzzo delighted Instagram this week with this ultra-cute (and ultra-embarassing for their children when they are teenagers) family snap.