Tuesday, June 25, 2024

ARGENTINA | 22-08-2020 09:46

What we learned this week: August 15 to 22

Stories that seized our attention and caught our eye over the last seven days in Argentina.



At press time yesterday there was a total of 329,043 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 6,730 deaths, as compared to 282,437 cases and 5,527 deaths the previous Friday. Children’s Day last Sunday also marked the 150th day of quarantine in the metropolis at least. Monday was dominated by the nationwide protest, including quarantine among its targets (see below). If the previous Tuesday had been a black day for the pandemic with the death toll topping 5,000, so was last Tuesday with the deaths already reaching 6,000 while confirmed cases of coronavirus moved past 300,000 to leave Argentina ranking 13th in the world. The next day 282 more deaths were reported, the highest daily figure so far. Thursday in turn saw the highest daily total of confirmed cases (8,225) spread across the entire country save Misiones, with fears of a health system collapse mounting in Jujuy in particular. The latter half of the week was dominated by the scandal over millions of doses of outdated vaccine (see below), revealed by Health Minister Ginés González García, who yesterday announced that the vaccine against Covid-19 developed by China’s Sinopharm would be entering its third phase of local testing.   



Last Monday’s public holiday was the occasion of a nationwide “banderazo” anti-government protest with its epicentre at the downtown Obelisk but also outside Olivos presidential residence. There were no incidents of note. The grievances were manifold – quarantine (which the protest defied in many places), judicial reform, pension shortfalls (with a 7.5 percent September increase announced just three days before the march instead of almost 10 percent under the suspended updating system) and the crime wave among others. Apart from this dispersion, some opposition sectors were less committed to this march than others. 



Faced with the distinct possibility of Senate approval of the government’s judicial reform next week, militant opposition sectors are readying a new protest rally in front of Congress for that day, most likely Wednesday (as indicated by the hashtag "#26ATodosAlCongreso" whereby they appeal to their base in the social networks). On Wednesday the government majority on the Senate Constitutional Affairs Committee approved the final draft of the bill without allowing opposition senators to see the text according to their complaints while in the lower house of Congress there was plenty of advance jockeying for the votes of deputies.



Wearing his new hat as FIFA Foundation chief but also evoking his previous political career with strong support for last Monday’s protest march against judicial reform and quarantine, ex-president Mauricio Macri on Tuesday showed off his FIFA offices in Zurich where he plans to "develop projects dedicated to youth and education." The day after the march Macri described himself as "proud of the thousands of Argentines who came out yesterday to say that they had had enough of fear-mongering and being downtrodden while saying yes to work, respect and liberty.” Back home leading government figures headed by Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero and Interior Minister Eduardo "Wado" de Pedro rejected his armchair criticism as "irresponsible" in the midst of the pandemic. In Europe since late July, Macri is due to return to Argentina on September 8 when he will have to comply with yet another fortnight of quarantine (his third in the last two months) at his San Isidro home. 



Health Minister Ginés González García denounced last Wednesday the discovery of four million doses of outdated vaccines which the Mauricio Macri administration (2015-2019) had failed to distribute to the provinces, estimating their value at 1.4 billion pesos. This adds to a further 12 million doses of anti-flu vaccines found retained in Customs when the Alberto Fernández administration took office. The vaccines correspond to a programme in reaction to the type A flu of 2009, signed in 2010 by then Health Minister (and now Tucumán Governor) Juan Luis Manzur with pharmaceutical tycoon Hugo Sigman, recently entrusted with local production of the vaccine against coronavirus.



An autopsy was still pending at press time yesterday on a skeleton fished out of swampy ground last weekend in the district of Villarino (near Bahía Blanca), the zone where Facundo Astudillo Castro had gone missing 108 days prior to this discovery. His mother found near the spot a trainer in pristine condition which she said to be his, thus deepening the mystery – both the skeleton and the sneaker had been planted by the Buenos Aires provincial police as a “mafia message,” according to Cristina Castro and her lawyers. With his police force the prime suspects, the spotlight fell on Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni but also went all the way up to Governor Axel Kicillof and even President Alberto Fernández as government leaders fought off unwelcome comparisons with the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado in 2017. Berni, meanwhile, posted a video of himself exercising on social networks.



Within the energy sector the week featured YPF hiking petrol prices by 4.5 percent on Tuesday – the first increase under the Alberto Fernández presidency – while yesterday Energy Secretary Sergio Lanziani (long at odds with Productive Development Minister Matías Kulfas) resigned at the government’s request. He will be replaced by Neuquén deputy Darío Martínez (closely linked to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner via Instituto Patria) while the department will pass under the aegis of the Economy Ministry. Laziani was the second senior government official to go in the week, following the resignation of Deputy Education Minister Adriana Puiggrós on Wednesday.



The economy dived 12.9 percent in the first half of this year, according to the estimates of INDEC statistics bureau, which also announced on Thursday that a family needed 44,521 pesos to stay above the poverty line and 18,321 to avoid destitution. 



The official Banco Nación and parallel “blue” exchange rates were 78 and 138 pesos per dollar respectively yesterday as against 77.25 and 132 pesos the previous Friday. There were constant rumours that the Central Bank would be shutting the door on the monthly purchases of US$200 with Productive Development Minister Matías Kulfas becoming the latest government spokesman to deny them yesterday. As the debt bond swap neared with general acceptance, country risk dropped to 2,056 points (exactly its level a fortnight ago) from 2,113 the previous Friday although as low as 2,021 in midweek.  



Health workers at Durand Hospital paid tribute last Tuesday to their colleagues who died from Covid-19 contagion in the line of duty, warning of a possible collapse of the health system. Union delegate Héctor Ortiz told the press that out of 1,800 hospital workers, 300 were down with Covid-19 (two of them already dead) and a further 300 on leave for other illnesses or because they belong to risk groups. Nationwide there are 16,668 infected health employees with 60 dead, their union said. Releasing black balloons into the air, the protesting workers also cut the road.



Identical triplets will be born to teen parents in Mar del Plata in October – something which only happens once in every 200 million births and only the second time in Argentina (the first in Lomas de Zamora).  Giuliana Salvo (18) and Facundo Quinto (19), both born in this century and living together in a downtown flat along with two dogs and a cat since 2016, have already picked the names – Aitana, Amira and Alice in a new and happier Triple A variant. Giuliana (herself the youngest of five sisters) described to the press the seven months of her pregnancy, most of the time during the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, their social network account Instagram @trigemelas.mdp is keeping them busy.



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