Buenos Aires Times

argentina KEY STORIES FROM THE LAST SEVEN DAYS

March 12 - 18: What we learned this week

From the controversy with inflation to the link between football and Lázaro Báez.

Saturday 17 March, 2018
Cristobal Lopez walks out of Ezeiza Prison in Buenos Aires
Cristobal Lopez walks out of Ezeiza Prison in Buenos Aires Foto:Marcelo Aballay, Perfil

INFLATION DATA LOOKS OMINOUS

The shortest month of the year resulted in one of the highest inflation rates in a long while – the INDEC statistics bureau posted 2.4 percent for February (the highest since the first quarter of 2017 except December’s 3.1 percent). Experts attributed the surge to updating public service charges (virtually frozen for over a decade under previous Kirchnerite administrations) and a volatile dollar. But the most basic ítem of “food and beverages” weighed in at 2.2 percent while core inflation (which excludes regulated prices and seasonal factors) was the highest in 10 months at 2.1 percent, thus increasing doubts as to whether the official 2018 target of 15 percent can be met with inflation already heading for 11 percent by midyear at this rate. Household gas bills are due to rise by 40 percent next month as part of the updating process while taxi fare increases of 17.7 percent have just been announced. With summer not yet over any 2018 inflation forecasts below 20 percent are already few and far between but the government is still shooting for a wage increase cap of 15 percent in collective bargaining.

TEACHERS UNIONS READY FOR MEET

Teachers unions will sit down with María Eugenia Vidal’s government in Buenos Aires province next week to discuss wage increases for teachers in Buenos Aires province, where a stand-off has already slashed several days from the 2018 school calendar. Members of the Teachers Union Front (FUD) — which groups together several teachers unions — will sit down with officials on Wednesday.

ANTARTIC ASSISTANCE

A group of US scientists who were stranded in an ice-bound island off the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula were rescued last Sunday by an Argentine icebreaker. The four scientists and a support staff member, who were conducting research at Joinville Island, were airlifted by helicopter to the Almirante Irizar icebreaker.

SLAP ON THE WRIST FOR ETCHEVEHERE

The Anti-Corruption Office headed by Laura Alonso concluded on Tuesday that Agriculture Minister Luis Miguel Etchevehere’s 500,000-peso bonus from the Rural Society he previously headed (subsequently returned after falling under media criticism) was not in accordance with public ethics, issuing him with a warning.

PEÑA BACKS CAPUTO

In his first monthly report to Congress this year on Wednesday, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña weathered a heavy barrage of opposition criticism, responding with support for Finance Minister Luis Caputo under fire over his tax haven links, an insistence that inflation is trending downwards despite the February figures released the same day and a general defence of gradualism in economic policy. Peña promised that Caputo would be appearing in Congress next week to explain himself. The fiercest criticisms came from Kirchnerite deputy Axel Kicillof, who accused the Mauricio Macri administration of “living in a country club” while real wages fell seven percent, while other opposition deputies accused the government of granting house arrest to almost 100 repressors convicted of crimes against humanity and of releasing 1,700 common criminals to ease prison overcrowding.

EQUAL PAY BILL FULL OF GOOD INTENTIONS, BUT LACKING TEETH

President Mauricio Macri’s strong words in his state-of-the-nation speech regarding his “absolute commitment” to equal pay for women nationwide do not seem to be matched by the text of the somewhat toothless government draft bill toward that end. The bill is a statement of good intentions with no sanctions of any kind for companies which fail to comply. All firms employing more than 200 people are obliged to send a “code of conduct” describing how they propose to “guarantee” gender equality to the Labour Ministry but nothing more. The overwhelmingly male trade union leadership is also urged to remedy the imbalance but again without enforcement.

ICE BRIDGE FALLS – NO-ONE THERE TO WITNESS IT

An ice bridge that was part of the Perito Moreno glacier collapsed last weekend – but in the dead of night, thwarting thousands of tourists who had hoped to watch the spectacle. The natural arch in the Los Glaciares National Park came crashing down overnight on Sunday during a storm while the park was closed, park officials said.

CRISTÓBAL LÓPEZ FREE FROM JAIL

Businessman Cristóbal López was handed a get out of jail free card on Friday, after an appeals court overturned a decision by Federal Judge Julián Ercolini that saw him jailed under pre-trail detention. López, along with partners Fabián de Sousa, had been jailed mid-December under the presumption that he could tamper with evidence or interfere with the investigation. They stand accused of “fraudulent administration” related to firms in their business conglomerate Grupo Indalo.

NEW JUDGE FOR CFK

Embattled former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will have a new judge in the case against her for AMIA bombing cover-up case related to the Memorandum of Understanding. The Supreme Court ruled the Ninth Federal Tribunal didn’t have the proper permits to operate. The same tribunal also had the corruption case involving CFK and Lázaro Báez, related to graft in public works projects.

TEVEZ, HEINZE... AND LÁZARO BÁEZ

Several figures from the football world, including Boca’s Carlos Tevez and Vé- lez Sarsfield’s Gabriel Heinze, have been revealed as making transfers to Swiss bank accounts linked to Lázaro Báez, the Kirchnerite tycoon accused of money-laundering, Tevez paid US$550,000 into an account in the name of Báez’s children and Heinze US$180,000 with other players making smaller payments. It is believed that these payments were made by their agents, not the players, but a probe has been opened.

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