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ARGENTINA | 21-11-2020 10:44

What we learned this week: November 14 to 21

The most important stories from the last seven days in Argentina.

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

The lives lost to coronavirus climbed from 35,045 to 36,790 between the end of last week and press time while the confirmed cases of contagion rose from 1,359,042 to 1,349,434 in the same period. On Monday City doctors went on strike to reject a 23 percent pay increase offer including eight percent from last year’s arrears, working only skeleton shifts. On the same day Moderna announced that their vaccine against coronavirus was 94.5 percent effective. On Wednesday President Alberto Fernández clarified that vaccinations would begin in January after having named December, January and March as the initial month in previous interviews. On Thursday the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trumped its rivals with the announcement that it was 99 percent effective in its second phase. On the same day the Supreme Court ruled against Formosa’s total closure of its frontiers, ordering it to allow 7,500 stranded citizens back into their province.

 

CONGRESS

Frente de Todos lower house caucus chief Máximo Kirchner turned Peronist Militant Day last Tuesday into very much of a personal festivity by pushing not one but two bills of his authorship through Congress, both approved in the small hours of the following day after acrid debate – the controversial wealth tax (by a 133-115 vote) and another to ban the exploitation of fire-stricken land for real estate, agricultural or other purposes (by a 132-96 vote). 

 

ABORTION BILL SENT

President Alberto Fernández on Tuesday sent an abortion bill to Congress permitting the interruption of pregnancies up to their 14th week. This initiative was accompanied by another bill entitled “Programme of 1,000 Days” to help vulnerable mothers going through with their pregnancies during that period. 

 

IMF/MARKET UPDATE

 

Last Sunday the Frente de Todos Senate caucus delivered a stiff letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), telling it “to abstain from demanding or conditioning Argentina’s economic policies,” as well as making proposals stretching out both the interest and capital payments on the US$44 billion Argentina owes the IMF beyond the terms under negotiation. But in any case the IMF team’s work here last week was hampered by Luis Cubeddu, its mission chief for Argentina, being diagnosed with Covid-19. This paralysis also made for a quieter week on exchange markets with the “blue” parallel dollar, which had closed last month at 195 pesos, continuing its slide to close the week at 161 pesos, 11 pesos below the previous Friday’s 172 pesos. However, the indirect but legal alternative exchange rates CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (medio electrónico de pagos), both around the 145-peso mark a week ago, rose to close at 151.11 pesos and 148.21 pesos respectively. The official exchange rate at Banco Nación closed a peso up at 86 pesos or 141.75 pesos with its 65 percent surcharges. Finally, country risk rose from 1,345 to 1,378 points. 

 

CLASS-BASED CRITICISMS

City Education Minister Soledad Acuña ran into a fierce counterattack from Frente de Todos politicians and teacher union leaders such as Hugo Yasky and Eduardo López when her acid criticisms of the teaching profession in a social network chat were divulged at the start of the week. Acuña accused the highly unionised teachers of replacing education with ideological indoctrination, asking parents to denounce “militant” teachers. She also charged that the teaching profession had increasingly degenerated into a rare job opportunity for people from “the lowest socio-economic sectors” without any university education who had failed in other lines of work. Yasky accused Acuña of holding teachers responsible for the flaws of the educational system with "class-biased and misogynistic" rhetoric. 

 

PENSIONS HIKE

All pensions will be hiked five percent next month, Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero and ANSES social security administration head Fernanda Raverta announced on Wednesday. The announcement comes in the context of a new method of updating pensions as from next March (now up before Congress), based on increases in wage levels and ANSES revenues without reference to inflation, following a year of decreed increases undershooting the previous system – both moves which the government hopes will make a significant dent in the fiscal deficit. 

 

LAYOFF BAN

The ban on dismissals and layoffs will be extended until next January 29, it was confirmed on Monday with the publication of Decree 891/2020 in the Official Gazette. The public sector is not covered by this decree, which described the ban as "transitory … with the objective of preserving social peace," blaming the coronavirus pandemic and the "economic crisis" inherited from the previous Mauricio Macri administration for the situation. 

 

SUMMER HOLIDAYS

Mixed messages regarding summer holidays. On Wednesday the Buenos Aires provincial government’s Official Gazette authorised tourist activities in all departments governed by DISPO social distancing (which excludes the main Atlantic resort of Mar del Plata currently under ASPO quarantine) from December 1 to April 4, while insisting on “strict compliance with the protocols," including a compulsory Certificado Único Habilitante para Circulación - Emergencia COVID- 19 travel permit. But the same day Tourism and Sports Minister Matías Lammens met up with Buenos Aires Governor Axel Kiillof and eight of his provincial colleagues (of Córdoba, Entre Ríos, Jujuy, Mendoza, Neuquén, Río Negro, Salta and Tierra del Fuego, combining almost all Argentina’s main tourist attractions between them), securing their agreement to release summer tourists from PCR coronavirus testing, quarantine and travel insurance. Nevertheless, it remained unclear whether this was a national policy whose adoption by provincial governments was optional.

 

JUDICIAL REFORM COUNCIL

The consulting council on judicial reform created by President Alberto Fernández duly delivered its report on its November 18 deadline last Wednesday, voting 6-5 to reduce the requirement for appointing a new attorney-general from a two-thirds to a simple majority (a change especially sought by Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) but without favouring an expansion of the Supreme Court and inconclusive over most other issues.

 

SUBWAY FARES TO RISE

 

Subway fares will rise from 19 to 21 pesos as from next Wednesday while a 55 increase for highway tolls as from the start of next year has been proposed, subject to approval in a public hearing, it was announced at the start of the week. City Hall argued that the old fares (unchanged since the first half of 2019) were in any case outdated as running "way behind operating costs" but also blamed the pandemic and the recent cuts in the City’s federal revenue-sharing percentages. In other transport news, there are new protocols for queuing approved by the national Health Ministry allowing for standing in buses and trains, always respecting social distancing, but only during rush hours (7-10am and 5-8pm).

 

MACRI FACES ARA SAN JUAN PROBE

The Comodoro Rivadavia Appeals Court on Thursday ordered an investigation of then president Mauricio Macri, then Defence minister Oscar Aguad and then Navy chief-of-staff Vice-Admiral (Retired) Marcelo Srur for their “criminal responsibility” for the sinking of the submarine ARA San Juan three Novembers ago with the loss of all 44 lives aboard, including defence spending cuts. The investigation had been requested by the families of the dead crew, who also accused Macri of spying on them.

 

ESTRANGED, BUT DEFENDED

Ex-president Mauricio Macri on Thursday came out in support of his estranged coalition ally Elisa Carrió, accusing Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of "persecuting opponents" after the latter’s lawyers urged a summons for the Civic Coalition leader in the illegal espionage trial against Macri administration officials. Macri defended "Lilita, who bravely dares to denounce corruption and whom I accompany and support." Carrió has recently run afoul of Kirchnerism for urging opposition support for federal judge Daniel Rafecas, the government’s current nominee for the post of attorney-general, as a "lesser evil" to somebody closer to the vice-president. Last weekend Carrió confided to Clarín that she had cut short a telephone conversation with Macri saying that she would never speak to him again after he told her: “Your only use is to denounce; that’s all you’re good for.” In late October Carrió had consigned Macri to the past.

 

GOOGLE

First lady Fabiola Yañez, 39, on Wednesday went to court to request the Internet giant Google to probe a search engine entry which describes her in a “misogynistic, malicious and libellous” fashion according to the lawsuit, asking for "clear and precise" details as to the origin of the publication. Last August it was Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s turn to take on Google over a job description as "thief of the Argentine nation," presumably inserted by hackers and it was reportedly the ex-president who alerted the presidential couple to this new aberration.
 

CHOCOLATE

City Hall has accepted a donation of seven million pesos worth of chocolates from the airport duty-free business Interbaires SA for distribution to public hospital staff battling the coronavirus pandemic. The gift totals 16,144 chocolate bars and other items all representing quality brands.

 

RUGBY PLAYERS

Prosecutor Verónica Zamboni has asked that eight rugby players aged between 19 and 21 be sent to trial for the murder of 18-year-old Fernando Báez Sosa in the Atlantic resort of Villa Gesell 10 months ago while requesting that two others be acquitted. Defence lawyers are expected to request trial by jury with their clients facing prison sentences topping 15 years. The youth’s fatal injuries after being kicked in the head and body were recorded in the mobile telephones of onlookers with the suspects being arrested shortly afterwards only a few blocks away from the scene of the crime.

 

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