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July 9th-15th: What We Learned This Week

The summary of the last seven days.

Saturday 14 July, 2018
Periodistas Argentinas as Margaret Atwood's women in
Periodistas Argentinas as Margaret Atwood's women in "The Handmaid's Tale". Foto:PERFIL/MARCELO ESCAYOLA

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INDEPENDENCE DAY DIVISION

President Mauricio Macri opted to mark Independence Day with a quiet ceremony in Tucumán (the northwestern city where independence from Spain was first declared in 1816), thus placing himself at a safe distance from at least two points of tension in the capital – the Te Deum, where the Catholic Church strongly reiterated its anti-abortion stance, and a mass opposition protest against the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) around the Obelisk downtown. In Tucumán Macri defended his economic policies and made a general appeal for dialogue to provincial governors, businessmen and trade unions. With Tucumán Peronist Governor Juan Luis Manzur and almost half his Cabinet at his side, Macri volunteered some cautious self-criticism, including errors of his government as one of the many causes of the “storm” hitting the country alongside external markets and the policies of the previous administration. But he implicitly defended the IMF agreement by highlighting international support. The mass anti-IMF demonstration drew pickets, the more militant trade unions and various entertainment personalities as well as the Kirchnerite opposition.

THE BOND MERRYGO-ROUND

The government is seeking to shift the peso-denominated Lebac Central Bank bonds at high interest rates with their snowballing quasi-fiscal deficit to Lete dollar-linked Treasury bonds but the market response so far has been limited with the calmer dollar of recent days. Despite this temporary calm some economists warn of the dangers of dollarising public debt.

URTUBEY MAKES WAVES WITH COMMENTS IN SPAIN

Juan Manuel Urtubey, 49, a moderate Peronist who has governed Salta since 2007 and a perennial presidential hopeful, joined more extreme opposition politicians this week in questioning the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) although he also expressed his commitment to President Mauricio Macri completing his term. It would be “time for Peronism” next year, he said, overcoming the polarisation between Macri and his predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner which was stalling growth. Calling in the IMF represented a failure of Argentine leadership given the “traumatic history” with the organisation, Urtubey told the Spanish newspaper El País during a Madrid conference on technological innovation. But he did not single out Macri for blame, pointing out that Argentine governments had posted fiscal deficits for 56 of the last 61 years.

STATE JOB FREEZE

President Mauricio Macri has formalised an 18-month freeze on any new government appointments almost throughout the public sector via a decree published Tuesday in the Official Gazette. Nobody may enter state employment until the end of 2019 except in the Armed and Security Forces, the penitentiary service, the AFIP tax bureau and national universities. The government had already committed itself to this move over a month ago as part of the phased fiscal deficit reduction within the US$50-billion stand-by agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Provincial and municipal governments are also invited, politely or not, to share the spirit of this decree.

MILITARY GETS 20% BUMP

The government has agreed to grant the Armed Forces a pay hike of 20 percent, thus easing tensions caused by both this issue and the cancellation of the traditional Independence Day military parade last Monday in the light of the unrest in the ranks. The decision followed a Thursday morning meeting between President Mauricio Macri, Defence Minister Oscar Aguad and military top brass, according to government sources. The previous offer had been a pay increase of eight percent, which had even prompted criticism from deputies of the Trotskyist Workers Party.

THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION...

Former Vice-President Amado Boudou was to have been sentenced this week for the fraudulent purchase of the money-printing company Ciccone while the economy minister of the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration but the verdict was postponed until after the winter court holidays on a legal technicality.

ABORTION STILL SEIZES AGENDA

The Catholic Church stiffened its opposition to abortion last Sunday with a Mass in Luján drawing the faithful from around the country and addressed by the head of the Argentine Synod, San Isidro Bishop Oscar Ojea, who called for “new and creative solutions” instead of the “elimination” of the unborn. The following day Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal, who has previously hinted at her rejection of abortion, literally showed her colours when she donned the light-blue headscarf of the pro-life campaign following the Independence Day Te Deum. On the other side of the debate, pro-abortion campaigners Periodistas Argentinas held an eye-catching protest outside Congress, dressed in oufits that recalled the oppressed women in Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. A bill legalising abortion has already cleared the Lower House and will be voted on in the Senate next month.

ARA SAN JUAN REWARD PULLED

Defence Minister Oscar Aguad has overturned a February resolution offering a reward of 98 million pesos for “information and useful data to locate the precise whereabouts” of the submarine ARA San Juan, missing since mid-November last year along with its crew of 44. According to Resolution 717/2018 published in the Official Gazette on Wednesday, the reward had not achieved its aim and would therefore be dropped. Earlier this month Aguad told relatives of the missing crew that his ministry would be cancelling the tender awarded to a Spanish firm and purchasing the services of another company.

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