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ARGENTINA | 02-01-2021 08:48

What we learned this week: December 26 to January 2

Our pick of the stories that caught our eye over the last seven days in Argentina.

 

HISTORIC: ABORTION LEGAL

Following a 12-hour debate, the Senate voted 38-29 in the small hours of Wednesday to legalise abortion in Argentina, a slightly wider margin than its rejection in 2018. President Alberto Fernández celebrated the success of his personal initiative, saying that pregnancies could now be interrupted free of charge in public hospitals. 

THE WEEK (AND YEAR) IN CORONAVIRUS

As of December 30, 2020, Argentina had registered 1,613,928 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 43,163 deaths. On Tuesday the government’s vaccination campaign began with the first of the 300,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine inoculated. Health workers were first in line but Governors Axel Kicillof (Buenos Aires), Sergio Ziliotto (La Pampa) and Gustavo Valdés (Corrientes) were all vaccinated too – the next day a colleague of theirs, Alicia Kirchner of Santa Cruz, tested positive for coronavirus (followed on New Year’s Eve by another well-known figure, teachers’ union leader Roberto Baradel). But the start of vaccination was accompanied by a surge in cases, returning to five digits daily with over 11,500 two days running. On Wednesday ANMAT (Argentina’s equivalent of the Food & Drug Administration in the United States) approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine almost simultaneously with the British health authorities.

LOWER HOUSE VOTE ON PENSIONS

The Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday night approved by a 132-119 vote a new mechanism for updating pensions which eliminates index-linking for inflation. Half the quarterly increase will stem from wage trends and half from ANSeS social security administration revenues. The new system will govern the earnings of almost 18 million people between pensioners and family benefit recipients. 

EDENOR SELL-OFF

Edenor, Argentina’s leading electricity distribution company, was sold on Monday to a consortium headed by the businessmen José Luis Manzano and Daniel Vila, which bought up the entire 51.8 percent share package in the hands of Marcelo Mindlin’s Pampa Energía. There were conflicting reports as to the price paid with a down payment ranging from US$60 to 95 million and a final total between US$100 and 200 million (which Mindlin plans to re-invest into power plants and natural gas). Even if electricity billing has been frozen since 2019, the purchasers consider that the situation "will have to start normalising" soon because "energy has a price and it must be paid although we know the increases are going to be gradual and respecting the purchasing-power of the population." The other shares are in the hands of the ANSES social security administration (26.8 percent) and the Stock Exchange (21.4 percent). Edenor services around three million households and over 350,000 firms in (as its name suggests) the northern half of this City and northern Greater Buenos Aires.

AGRO TENSIONS

Argentina’s soy-crushing companies signed a contract with the trade unions of the sector’s workers late on Tuesday, ending a 20-day strike over wages which had paralysed exports from the world’s top supplier of soymeal livestock feed. The deal, following more than 10 hours of negotiations with active Labour Ministry participation, includes a two-part 25 percent pay rise increase in salaries from January to August with increases for the rest of the year to be determined by the inflation rate. Not only were Argentina’s ports and agro-industrial export trade disrupted by the stoppage, which delayed loading 162 ships with almost US$I.5 billion worth of exports, but Chicago Board of Trade soybean futures had been affected with current prices reaching six-year highs. The workers argued that not only inflation but also the risk of working during the Covid-19 pandemic justified their pay claims. But the day after this obstacle was surmounted agricultural exports were hit with a new problem – the government banned maize exports, arguing the need to secure animal feed supplies in order to keep meat prices under control. 

BACK TO SCHOOL?

Primary school classes in Buenos Aires Province are set to begin on March 1, secondary school classes the following Monday and university the Monday after that, the 15th, concluding on December 17 (December 10 for secondary schools), always in accordance with health restrictions. Only in four provinces will classrooms be used. Winter holidays will run from July 19 to 30 and there will be two new holidays – to commemorate the submarine ARA San Juan (November 15) and to repudiate femicide (June 3).

MÁXIMO’S PJ-BA BANDWAGON

During the week various Greater Buenos Aires Peronist mayors headed by Lomas de Zamora’s Martín Insaurralde launched a bandwagon to have Frente de Todos lower house caucus chief Máximo Kirchner proclaimed as chairman of the Buenos Aires provincial branch of the Justicialist Party (PJ in its Spanish acronym) with President Alberto Fernández heading the PJ nationwide in order "face the enormous challenges ahead." But some mayors, such as Esteban Echeverría’s Fernando Gray who was due to take up the rotating provincial chairmanship, are less convinced.

ALBERTO’S SECRET FAMILY

President Alberto Fernández has a family preceding his birth, Noticias has revealed to him, according to a scoop published in last Sunday’s edition of the magazine as its cover story. That family was formed by his biological father, Alberto Fernández Senior or Alberto Oscar Pío Fernández (as opposed to Alberto Ángel, the president’s first names). President Fernández already had an elder sister but now he has another – Marta Sara Fernández, who discovered her true identity last April during the first month of quarantine and who had voted for the Frente de Todos presidential candidate six months previously without realising that he was her brother. Marta Sara was born on October 2, 1952, but was abandoned by her father when only 20 months old. Sara Valentina (1955) and Alberto Junior (1959) were then born to Celia Pérez but Alberto Fernández Senior left her too after nine years, returning to Marta Sara and her mother Basilia Rodríguez until his death in 1980. Curiously enough, First Lady Fabiola Yáñez did not know her father until she was 23.

BOUDOU BACK BEHIND BARS

Judge Daniel Obligado on Wednesday revoked the house arrest of former vice-president Amado Boudou, ordering him back to prison in keeping with the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding his conviction. Boudou, sentenced to 70 months in 2018 for the irregular purchase of a majority share package of the money-printing firm Ciccone in exchange for abusing his previous position of economy minister to wipe out tax arrears, was granted house arrest last April.

CFK DOUBLES UP

Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has recovered her right to a double privileged pension (as an ex-president and as an ex-president’s widow) thanks to a ruling by judge Ezequiel Pérez Nami. She now stands to pick up a monthly two million pesos plus arrears of 100 million pesos for wrongfully deprived earnings. 

ALPEROVICH ABUSE ALLEGATIONS

Prosecutors Santiago Vismara and Mariela Labozzetta (the latter specialising in violence against women at the UFEM unit) last Tuesday urged the summons of Senator José Alperovich (a conspicuous absentee from that day’s historic abortion debate for legal reasons) on charges of sexual abuse first lodged over a year ago. There is also a parallel case in Alperovich’s native Tucumán with the venue of jurisdiction to be defined by the Supreme Court. The prosecutors underlined the complexity of such cases due to the lack of witnesses with only the victim’s word while adding that their file contained “more than enough proof” against Alperovich. 

 

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