What has happened the last seven days?
BUDGET CLEARS LOWER HOUSE
The 2019 Budget obtained Lower House passage by a 138-103 vote just before 9am on Thursday following a 21-hour debate interrupted by violent clashes both inside and outside Congress. There were 27 arrests (including four foreigners) with opinions divided as to whether extremists seeking to block parliamentary debate or agents provocateurs infiltrated by the government were to blame. Among the detainees was the editor of the leftist magazine La Garganta Poderosa, Ignacio Levy, as well as shipyard workers whose unions are currently engaged in strike activity with the government over lay-offs in that sector. Meanwhile, lawmakers didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory inside the chamber, angrily arguing and prompting the session to be suspended. The budget now moves to the Senate as from November 14. (see more on Page 4)
PICHETTO LENDS CONGRESS AN AIR OF HIS TRADEMARK XENOPHOBIA
Senator Miguel Angel Pichetto (Federal Peronist-Río Negro), who heads the non-Kirchnerite Peronists in the Upper House, on Thursday joined Ministers Patricia Bullrich (Security) and Rogelio Frigerio (Interior) in calling for the expulsion of the four foreigners (two Venezuelans, a Paraguayan and a Turk) among the demonstrators arrested near Congress on Wednesday. “As would happen in a normal country,” he commented, deploring the “pre-insurrectional” protest against the 2019 Budget and the “inadmissible” clashes in the Lower House. Pichetto has a long track record of xenophobic statements – last year he said it was necessary “to reinforce the frontiers because many criminals enter Argentina.”
IMF BOARD GIVES APPROVAL TO LOAN PACKAGE
At a meeting of its board of directors in Washington, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) yesterday approved the new stand-by agreement negotiated with Argentina on September 24, setting its total at US$56.3 billion (of which almost US$15 billion has already been paid since the original agreement in June) and clearing US$5.7 billion, just over 10 percent, for immediate disbursement. Lower House passage of the 2019 budget earlier this week was a key condition for this approval. The effect on markets was minimal – the Merval stock exchange index, which had already anticipated the news with a 4.5-percent surge on Thursday, rose one percent while the dollar inched down from the day’s peak of 37.02 pesos to close at 36.83 (see Page 5).
THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION
Deputy Máximo Kirchner presented only written testimony in a 40-minute court appearance on Tuesday in the cuadernos (“notebooks”) graft case, accusing judge Claudio Bonadio of a vendetta against the opposition and arguing that whistleblower José López had never accused him of bribery. On the same day, Carolina Pochetti – the widow of Daniel Muñoz (the private secretary to Néstor and Cristina Kirchner when presidents), – turned herself in on Tuesday and remained under arrest during the week, being required to explain to explain her inheritance of 16 properties in Miami worth over US$70 million (to which she pleaded total ignorance of her husband’s activities). Earlier in the week, Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio indicted five former secretaries of ex-presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner – Raúl Copetti, Roberto Sosa, Ricardo Barreiro, Daniel Alvarez and Fabián Gutiérrez – on charges of bribery and money-laundering. All five had been previously remanded in custody although Gutiérrez has already since turned whistleblower.
NAVY TELLS FIRM TO RESTART SEARCH FOR ARA SAN JUAN
Almost a year after the submarine ARA San Juan went missing, the families of the missing crew were submitted yesterday to a day of demoralising uncertainty with stop-go messages regarding continuation of the search. After relatives were informed in the morning by the Ocean Infinity company that they would be suspending activities until February, the Navy gave assurances that the search would continue throughout summer, following which Ocean Infinity confirmed that they would be suspending the suspension (see Page 5).
MACRI FOR THE FREEDOM OF PRESS, END OF CENSORSHIP
President Mauricio Macri urged respect for the freedom of the press and an end to censorship in the continent when closing the InterAmerican Press Association (IAPA) assembly, held in Salta on Monday. “A country is a giant choir of different voices,” the president said in an address. The 74th IAPA Assembly concluded with a statement against “regulating digital expressions of public interest” as “prior censorship.” The assembly also condemned the violence which has claimed the lives of 29 journalists in the Americas so far this year.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS
Good news and bad news on the economic front last week, often in the same item. Argentina is on track to meet this year’s fiscal targets, Economy Minister Nicolás Dujovne said on Monday, after posting a fiscal deficit of 22.9 billion pesos in September, 31 percent below the same month last year. Further good news followed the next day when the first trade surplus in 20 months was posted (US$314 million for September) – even if the accumulated deficit for the year is still almost US$6.5 billion and even if the surplus was the result of devaluation and recession discouraging imports (down 21.2 percent) rather than any boom for exports (also down but only 4.8 percent). But bad news followed on Thursday – economic activity was 1.6 percent down for August on a yearon-year basis (although 1.3 percent up on the previous month) while industrial output slumped 8.1 percent.
Next year’s electoral timetable was confirmed by the National Electoral Board last Monday. The PASO nationwide primaries will be held on August 11, the general elections on October 27 and the presidential run-off vote (if necessary) on November 24, with the electoral campaign limited to five weeks – at least in theory. The announcement ended speculation that the PASOs would be scrapped on the grounds that they would force the Peronist opposition into a unity which it could not otherwise achieve.
The City Legislature on Thursday unanimously approved the extension of paternity leave for municipal employees to 45 days.