Monday, April 15, 2024

ARGENTINA | 24-10-2020 08:30

What we learned this week: October 17 to 24

Headlines and stories that caught our eye over the last seven days in Argentina.



At press time yesterday there was a total of 1,069,368 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 28,338 deaths, as compared to 965,609 cases and 25,723 deaths the previous Friday. Shopping centres re-opened on Mother’s Day last Sunday with the number of shoppers close to quarantine protocol limits. The week began with Argentina’s total of confirmed cases entering seven digits (preceded by only five other countries) while at the same time word spread that Argentina has been topping the world for deaths per million since mid-September (in 13th place overall for the year) – later in the week Argentina ran into trouble with international statistical websites for its inordinately high positive testing figures of up to 80 percent (due to the omission of negative results). Children in the last grade of primary school in this city returned to classrooms on Monday for the first time in seven months. The same day, Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof announced in Mar del Plata the launch of the summer holiday season as from December 1 while excluding casinos and theatres (with the latter granted limited clearance on Thursday. The number of cases reached a new daily record of 18,326 cases on Wednesday when hundreds of nurses and surgical assistants defied persistent rainfall to march for pay increases, professional recognition and improved working conditions. On Thursday morning the resumption of domestic flights was confirmed with the departure of a Jujuy-bound Aerolíneas Argentinas aircraft from Ezeiza airport at 5.40am with further flights to Mendoza, Tucumán and Tierra del Fuego following the same day. On Friday, President Alberto Fernández tersely announced from Misiones the extension of quarantine (without using that word) for another fortnight with almost no change in conditions.



The main parallel exchange rate, the “blue” dollar, just kept on climbing throughout the week, closing yesterday at 195 pesos as against 178 pesos the previous Friday as confidence in the government continued to languish. The week saw the official exchange rate at the Banco Nación move up from 82.50 to 83.25 pesos ahead of the 65 percent surcharges. But the government had more joy with the new stars in exchange rates, the CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) based on bond and share transactions, both encouraged in order to provide non-official alternatives to the blue – the CCL fell almost seven percent yesterday to 168.83 pesos and the MEP almost five percent to 155.17 pesos. Nevertheless, country risk keeps rising, closing the week at 1,430 points from 1,397 the previous Friday. The financial week started with Economy Minister Martín Guzmán announcing new measures to ease the pressure on the peso, reducing the “parking” ahead of currency exchange on the CCL  and MEP to three days for residents (previously five) and non-residents (previously 15) alike, thus reversing capital controls imposed by the Central Bank the previous month, as well as issuing a new dollar bond for US$750 million. These measures failed to bite immediately with alternative exchange rates continuing to rise in the next few days, setting new records.



The economy shrank 11.6 percent in August compared with the same month last year although 1.1 percent up on July levels. Hotels and restaurants were the hardest-hit sector (down 56 percent).   



The Anti-Corruption Office (OA, in its Spanish acronym) will be withdrawing as a plaintiff from a total of 32 corruption cases (28 of them involving the three Kirchner presidencies between 2003 and 2015), OA chief Félix Crous announced on Tuesday, pleading overlap with other prosecutors and a lack of staff. Both previous OA chief Laura Alonso and Juntos por el Cambio opposition deputy Graciela Ocaña, among others, denounced “impunity” with Alonso attributing the lack of staff to Crous having fired all graft investigators. The OA in turn promptly hit back at Alonso, saying that she had dropped 44 cases and never advanced against any officials of the Mauricio Macri administration during which she served, also leaving over 100 cases of conflict of interest unresolved and the OA with 30 percent less staff.



Political pundits remained hanging all week on how the Supreme Court would rule on transferring three judges involved in the corruption trials of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner back to their original benches but the five justices had yet to decide at press time yesterday evening.



After joining a United Nations Human Rights Council condemnation of Venezuelan human rights violations in Geneva on October 6, Argentina backed away from any further crackdown on the Nicolás Maduro regime on Wednesday, joining Mexico and seven small Caribbean countries in abstaining from the 21-4 vote in favour of an Organisation of American States (OAS) resolution rejecting the legitimacy of the legislative elections called for December 6.



As from Tuesday Entre Ríos farmers started protests against the squatter invasion a few days previously of land belonging to the family of former Agriculture Minister Luis Miguel Etchevehere. But social organisations leader Juan Grabois allegedly behind the squatters claimed that they had a perfect legal right to the land since it had been relinquished to them by the ex-minister’s sister Dolores, at odds with the rest of the family, as part of her inheritance. The provincial government has so far stayed quiet on the issue. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires Province, the name of Grabois was also linked to town hall invasions in Olavarría and Junín on Tuesday.



Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou announced on Thursday that his country would be keeping its frontiers closed throughout the summer holiday season, expressing concern about rising coronavirus contagion (by Uruguayan standards, reaching 2,701 confirmed cases and 53 deaths for the entire pandemic on that day). This effectively closes the door for Argentine tourists but not so much businessmen – on the same day soy pool tycoon Gustavo Grobocopatel confirmed his move across the River Plate to Colonia, resigning the presidency of his company. 



Celebrations of last Saturday’s 75th anniversary of Peronist Loyalty Day were centred on the headquarters of the CGT trade union umbrella grouping where Peronist President Alberto Fernández appealed for Peronist and national unity “without hatred” to “heal” the country. Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was the grand absentee – in order not to upstage the President, according to some, out of distaste for the trade unionists and provincial governors offering Fernández the Justicialist Party chairmanship (an offer which remained pending), according to others – although her son Máximo put in a brief appearance. The website covering the event quickly crashed, due to popular demand, according to some, and overseas sabotage, according to others. Teamster trucks and cars driven by Peronist militants clogged downtown streets at various points of the day, despite quarantine restrictions.



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