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ARGENTINA | 09-03-2019 02:19

What we learned this week

What has happened the last seven days?

CFK CANCELLATION

The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously confirmed that ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner should be tried and remanded in custody regarding Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio’s trial of the 2013 memorandum of understanding with Iran as allegedly covering up the 1994 terrorist bomb destruction of the AMIA Jewish community centre. Despite this confirmation her arrest remains a dead letter due to her senatorial immunity. But the previous day Senator Fernández de Kirchner gained a respite when judge Jorge Tassara, one of the magistrates trying her for public works corruption, died while undergoing heart surgery, thus further delaying a trial scheduled to start on February 26 but since postponed to May 21.

#8M

On the eve of yesterday’s march to honour International Women’s Day, the abortion issue resurfaced in a new form when Protestant churches in combination with pro-life deputies announced an agreement with the Social Development Ministry to set up a new 0800 telephone number as from April 11 to help women with unwanted pregnancies, thus triggering a controversy.

A TALE OF TWO NUMBER 10s

Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, were both in the news last week for different reasons – Messi for his return to the national squad and Maradona for the exposé that he has three children in Cuba to add to the five recognised until now, thus prompting the “hand of God” star’s daughter to joke that he only needed another trio to have a complete team.

HOW MANY MORE YEARS WILL WE HAVE TO GOOGLE THE SPELLING OF WERETILNECK?

The Río Negro provincial supreme court on Wednesday cleared incumbent Governor Alberto Weretilneck’s bid for a third term in the April 7 local elections. His candidacy – jointly challenged by the Kirchnerite Victory Front and the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition backing President Mauricio Macri in extremely rare agreement – faced the obstacle of a provincial constitutional ban on two consecutive terms but the court ruled in his favour by arguing that his first term did not count since he was elected as lieutenant-governor in 2011, replacing Peronist Carlos Soria (shot dead by his wife during their New Year’s Eve party) only three weeks after the inauguration. The vote was unanimous with one abstention.

DOLLAR HEADS ABOVE $43

The dollar paused for breath yesterday, closing a three-day week on 42.12 pesos after surging to a record 43.50 on Thursday (almost two pesos up from the previous day). In reaction the Central Bank scrambled to sell futures in a bid to control this revival of currency volatility, as well as auctioning more Leliq bonds to absorb liquidity. Experts were divided as to whether the causes of Thursday’s advance were local or international – whether it responded to a renewed “flight to quality” (towards China as well as the United States) on the part of emerging markets worldwide with Argentina one of the most vulnerable of these (as underlined yesterday by Trevor Alleyne, the International Monetary Fund’s man in town) or whether it reflected such local factors as persistent inflation and the continuous uncertainties of this electoral year (with Neuquén province housing Vaca Muerta shale voting tomorrow). Some analysts believe that recent interest rate reductions aimed at taming recession have backfired. In just over two months the 2019 inflation forecasts have risen from an average of 28 percent at the start of the year to 31.9 percent. Country risk closed the week on 783 points.

MANUFACTURING SLUMP

Last year’s sharp decline of manufacturing industry is continuing into 2019, the INDEC statistics bureau confirmed on Wednesday, plunging by 10.8 percent in January for the ninth negative month running. The free fall verged on collapse in some sectors with transport equipment down 58.8 percent on the previous January, domestic appliances 56 percent, machine tools 42.8 percent and textiles 27.9 percent. Agricultural machinery was the most disastrous figure of all at -90.3 percent due to overstocking last summer for what turned out to be the worst drought in decades. Meanwhile construction registered an even steeper plunge, falling 15.7 percent by comparison with the first month of 2018 for the fifth negative month running. Yet optimists in government ranks were still able to detect a silver lining amid all these black clouds since January’s double-digit plunge from the first month of 2018 was also a 4.6 percent improvement on its last month, thus sustaining an upward trend since October. By the same token construction (up 4.4 percent between the end of 2018 and the start of 2019) has been recovering since August.

MORE SPY-GATE

Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli was technically in contempt of court on Thursday when he failed to heed the summons of Federal Judge Alejo Ramos Padilla to testify in Dolores on the presumed extortion bid of Marcelo D’Alessio to which his name has been linked. Instead Alejandro Fantino and Romina Manguel, panellists on the television programme Animales Sueltos, testified for three hours. Stornelli justified his defiance of the summons on the grounds that the previous day he had challenged Ramos Padilla as “biased,” calling for the case to be tried elsewhere. The prosecutor’s post protects him from arrest but investigative journalist Daniel Santoro, under fire in the same case, does not enjoy the same privilege. The charges against Stornelli acquire central importance since he is the prosecutor in the main corruption trials against ex-president Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The judge yesterday confirmed that he would be substantiating the case against Stornelli in a Congress appearance before the Lower House Freedom of Expression Committee next Wednesday.

TEACHERS STRIKE

Buenos Aires province teachers went through with their three-day strike last week, marching on Plaza de Mayo on its first day on Wednesday. Union leader Roberto Baradel denounced the intimidation of strikers. According to his union, adherence was 90 percent but the provincial government estimated 38 percent to be shunning classes. Among teacher demands is the return of collective bargaining at national level to resolve pay disputes.

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