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ARGENTINA | 05-12-2020 09:27

What we learned this week: November 28 to December 5

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

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

The lives lost to Covid-19 climbed from 38,216 to 19,512 between the end of last week and press time while the confirmed cases of contagion rose from 1,407,277 to 1,454,631 in the same period with the daily figures of the latter now well below the five-digit levels persisting until late last month. Defining protocols for the upcoming summer holidays (with already a long weekend as from today) occupied much of the coronavirus week. With both Britain and Russia announcing vaccinations already this month, the government felt impelled to advance its own plans with President Alberto Fernández announcing at least 300,000 inoculations with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine before the end of the year.

 

DOCTOR’S STRIKE ENDS IN TRAGEDY

Dr Alejandro Hakim, 59, head of the Obstetrics Department at Ramos Mejía Hospital, died of a heart attack on his own day last Thursday while joining a Doctor’s Day protest march calling for "decent pay." Health workers at 34 City hospitals went on strike that day and marched on City Hall in Parque Patricios, which Hakim had almost reached when he died. Jorge Gilardi, head of the Association of Municipal Doctors, said that the City Hall offer of a 23 percent increase for this year had to be considered "insufficient" when measured both against inflation of at least 35 percent and the extraordinary stresses and strains of a pandemic year. “Essential to confront the coronavirus pandemic but with vaccination just round the corner (City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez) Larreta considers us disposable,” reproached a press communiqué issued by the doctors.

 

UCA: POVERTY AT 44%

On Thursday the UCA Catholic University calculated 44.2 percent of the population as lying below the poverty line as against 41 percent last year with fully 64.1 percent of children growing up in impoverished households.

 

CITY FUNDING SLASHED

The Chamber of Deputies approved by a 129-118 vote a sharp cut in this city’s federal revenue-sharing funding last Tuesday following a marathon 20-hour session and intense debate. City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta promptly denounced the bill as a “political attack” as tension between the national government and City Hall escalated. The bill required amendments in order to gain the crucial support of half a dozen deputies beyond the Frente de Todos caucus, especially the four Córdoba Peronists, and thus returns to the Senate where approval is taken for granted, given the solid Frente de Todos majority.  In 2016 the Mauricio Macri administration had upped the City’s federal revenue-sharing slice from 1.4 to 3.75 percent in order to finance the transfer of the Federal Police into municipal hands (clipped down to 3.5 percent two years later) and this bill now returns the City’s share to its 2015 level with police budget funding to be defined by a bilateral commission over the next two months.

 

BIDEN/BOLSONARO ON BLOWER

Monday was the busiest day of the week on the external front for President Alberto Fernández, featuring telephone dialogues with both United States president-elect Joe Biden and his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro. The 35-minute exchange with Biden centred on requesting his good offices for upcoming negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with both men praising Pope Francis. The cordial chat had an unfortunate sequel with Foreign Minister Felipe Solá in the wars for allegedly inventing presidential comments criticising the US director on the IMF, Mark Rosen – such was the official story but on Tuesday Economy Minister Martín Guzmán had conversed with Rosen who might have taken umbrage, thus leading to the solution of having Solá take the rap by transforming his quotation of the President into a misquote. That there was a conversation at all between Fernández and Bolsonaro (on the occasion of Argentine-Brazilian Friendship Day) was more important than its contents since it was the first communication between these two ideologically opposed presidents in almost a year of both in office – the replacement of Bolsonaro’s pal Donald Trump by Biden as from next month was viewed as a factor in the Brazilian leader’s change of attitude. 

 

THE WEEK IN CORRUPTION

  • The Federal Cassation Court on Monday underwrote the validity of graft trial testimony by whistle-blowers, a ruling which the lawyers of graft trial defendants will be appealing to the Supreme Court who will thus have the legal future of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in its hands. In the Cassation ruling two of the judges, Diego Barroetaveña and Daniel Petrone, considered that the lawyers of the defendants had failed to demonstrate any violation of constitutional rights in a mechanism of plea bargaining with whistleblowers which had been approved by both Houses of Congress (Law 27,304) while in a dissident ruling the third judge Ana María Figueroa deemed it “ethically unacceptable” to receive testimony from a participant in crime. The majority opinion also underlined that the case against the numerous defendants (including several ex-officials and big names from the construction sector, as well as the ex-president) for the corrupt allocation of public works contracts does not exclusively hinge on the whistleblowers but also on wire-tapping and bank accounts, among other evidence.   

  • A previous vice-president, Amado Boudou, stands to spend Christmas in prison after the Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously upheld his 70-month sentence for irregularities in the sale of the Ciccone money-printing firm. Boudou had been granted house arrest last April after having served 20 months of his sentence in prison.

 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL

Under cover of the mourning for Diego Maradona, the Senate cleared the bill to name the attorney-general by a simple rather than two-thirds majority with a 42-27 vote just before last weekend but the lack of a clear lower house majority has obliged the government to postpone this legislation until next year. 

IMF/MARKET UPDATE

On the same day IMF spokesman Gerry Rice described the negotiations with Argentina as “very fluid and constructive,” also reporting that the recent IMF staff mission to Buenos Aires, had made “good progress” towards economic reforms and a longer-term Extended Fund Facility but that there was no timeline yet for a potential agreement. Meanwhile Exchange markets stayed calm last week with the “blue” parallel dollar, which had closed last month at 195 pesos, continuing its slide to close on a round figure of 150 pesos, as against the previous Friday’s 156 pesos. The indirect but legal alternative exchange rates CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (medio electrónico de pagos) continued to retreat, the CCL from 148.92 to 144.93 pesos and the MEP from 145.45 to 141.49 pesos since the previous Friday with the Economy Ministry’s bond sales driving them down. The official exchange rate at Banco Nación moved up from 86.25 to 86.75 pesos or 143.83 pesos with the 65 percent surcharges for savers. But country risk abroad moved in the opposite direction to local money markets, up from 1,378 to 1,424 points during the week. 

CRISIS FOR CARNE

Annual per capita beef consumption is at its lowest level in a decade at 50.2 kilos as against a 2013 peak of 61.8 kilos but this does not prevent price increases of 10-20 percent of being around the corner, the sector’s chamber CICCRA has disclosed on the basis of last month’s figures. This is not a problem of supply – up to this month 12.8 million head of cattle has gone to the slaughterhouse so far this year, 1.2 percent up on the same period in 2019, while meat-packing has grown 3.1 percent with the domestic market representing 71.9 percent of demand. Beef prices are running well ahead of inflation, having risen 55 percent in the last 12 months, with chicken (whose annual per capita consumption is now also around 50 kilos) a cheaper option. 

VICENTIN

Reconquista (Santa Fe) judge Fabián Lorenzini on Thursday placed Vicentin soy-crushing firm under trusteeship for 90 days (which may be extended a further three months), barring it from any asset transactions during that period. Andrés Shocron was named trustee in Lorenzini’s 55-page ruling.

NEW AMBASSADOR IN TOWN

Mrs Kirsty Hayes, whose most recent posting was as British Ambassador to Portugal, will be replacing Mark Kent as Her Majesty’s envoy here next September, the British Embassy informed us yesterday.

ELECTION WIN

In one of the few votes in a non-electoral year, Río Cuarto Peronist Mayor Juan Manuel Llamosas was re-elected last Sunday by a margin of around six percent over Radical Gabriel Abrile in a low turnout of only half the voters.

ABORTION

Committee hearings on the government’s abortion bill commenced in Congress last week following massive pro-life demonstrations last weekend.

RUGBY RACISM ROW

The Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) on Monday stripped Pablo Matera of the Pumas captaincy and suspended two other players for today’s match against Australia after various racist and xenophobic messages posted on the social networks several years ago came to light but in the face of player threats not to show up for that match, the UAR backtracked on Wednesday, lifting all sanctions. 

MARADONA FALLOUT

The legal and medical fallout from Diego Maradona’s death continued throughout the week with the courts contemplating possible involuntary homicide charges against his personal doctor Leopoldo Luque for overlooking the football idol’s heart condition, as well as also probing his psychiatrist Agustina Cosachov. 

DIGITAL GENDER VIOLENCE TRIAL

A man has been placed on trial for digital gender violence after harassing and threatening an ex-partner repeatedly via the social networks, planting fake Facebook profiles of the woman and downloading intimate material without her consent during three months of 2017 in a bid to make her meet him again and answer her telephone. A lien of 26,500 pesos was slapped on his assets.

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Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.

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