THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
Argentina’s Covid-19 death toll had risen to 44,122 as of Thursday evening, with 1,690,006 cases in total. In the last totals reported for 2020, those figures stood at 43,163 deaths and 1,613,928 confirmed cases. The week started with the northern Santa Fe town of Tostado (with just 14,000 inhabitants) self-imposing the strictest phase of ASPO lockdown ahead of any national or provincial initiative. Around the same time a vaccination scandal erupted in the southern Buenos Aires Province town of Olavarría when 400 of its 450 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine had to be discarded after it was discovered that the freezer storing them in the local hospital had interrupted refrigeration over the weekend with theories of the causes divided between sabotage and technical problems along with a crossfire of charges as to the former between the Buenos Aires provincial government and the local town hall (on opposite sides of the political fence). As from Tuesday the daily total of confirmed cases returns to five digits, topping 13,000 every day with Mar del Plata and Rosario as the leading hotspots, a rise widely blamed on the laxity accompanying the summer holidays among the young and causing growing alarm among the authorities. On Wednesday the 13,441 people contracting Covid-19 included the most important political figure so far – City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta tested positive. For most government officials and regional leaders, however, most of the week seemed to have been spent discussing, leaking and then U-turning on the coronavirus nighttime curfew that is now, apparently, not a curfew. Details are set to be revealed this weekend, with provincial leaders allowed to decide what measures to enforce and for how long, but one thing’s for sure: most Argentines will be spending between 11pm and 5am indoors for at the coming weeks until the infection rate slows.
Three of the four main farming organisations called a strike on Tuesday for the first three days of next week to protest the suspension of maize exports, the same day soy prices topped US$500 per ton in Chicago.
DONDA’S DOMESTIC DISPUTE
Victoria Donda, who heads INADI (the government’s anti-discrimination agency) became the centre of controversy last week when accused of not only irregularly employing a maid for several years but also seeking to escape the legal consequences by offering the Bolivian woman a social plan or a state job as a legal platform for seeking a pension and thus evading severance. Nevertheless, there was no immediate pressure on Donda from the government to resign.
The storm over Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s double pension plus retroactive arrears and tax exemption continued last week. Her future earnings were originally reported as two million pesos per month plus arrears of 100 million but Eugenio Semino, ombudsman for the elderly, has calculated them as more like a monthly million – her presidential pension (based on the salary of a Supreme Court justice) would be around 420,000 pesos, a further 280,000 as a presidential widow and her vice-presidential salary of 315,000 pesos plus certain extras. This downscaling did not prevent Semino from calling the double pension “a pornographic demonstration of power” when a handicapped person only collects 14,000 pesos. Meanwhile pension specialist Federico Despoulis Netri argued that these earnings could be bumped up an extra 40 percent due to her Patagonian address in El Calafate, officially an unfavourable zone. At the same time the experts agreed that the round sum of 100 million pesos would be about right for the arrears. Finally, Frente de Todos deputy Fernanda Vallejos denied that this double pension implied any “ethical conflict.”
The first full week of the year closed with the parallel “blue” dollar at 162 pesos as against an official exchange rate of 90 pesos (plus a 65 percent surcharge for purchases by savers), according to Banco Nación. Country risk was slightly down to close the first full week of 2021 at 1,375 points.
WHERE’S THE BEEF?
"How come an Argentine pays as much for a kilo of beef as in China, France or Germany?" President Alberto Fernández wondered aloud amid his government’s escalating confrontation with the farming sector but some media were quick to quote figures from the meatpacking industry to correct him. The average kilo of beef costs 15 euros in Germany or around 1,570 pesos while a quality cut here would cost 700 pesos (including 29 percent taxation) – “the best in the world,” according to Daniel Urcía, president of the Argentine Federation of Regional Meatpacking Industries.
ENTRE RÍOS SKIPS DEBT PAYMENT
Entre Ríos has been sued in a Manhattan court for US$11.9 million by a group of creditors after missing interest payments of that sum on a provincial bond series worth half a billion dollars. The lawsuit marks the first legal action against an Argentine province even though Entre Ríos had already defaulted last September after it failed to meet a payment of US$22 million due in August. The two sides have engaged in conversations since then but with no rollover agreement reached.
After almost a year of maintaining international relations via Zoom, President Alberto Fernández on Thursday hosted Argentina’s first official visit in person during the pandemic – Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who is touring the Latin American region. The postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics as from July 23 formed part of a mostly economic agenda during their talks.
NO URUGUAYAN VACATIONS
Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou on Wednesday announced that he would be extending the closure of his country’s borders beyond tomorrow for almost the rest of the month, until January 30, with tighter entry requirements while easing lockdown on some activities such as longer opening hours for bars and restaurants, as well as permitting entertainment shows within protocols and sports events (without spectators). Not even Uruguayan citizens or residents may now enter in a new bid to halt the exponential spread of coronavirus. On the day of the announcement Uruguay totalled 23,048 confirmed cases and 221 deaths since March but almost 1,000 cases (a local record) and four deaths from the previous day.
The DAIA umbrella of Jewish associations has repudiated as anti-Semitic the statements of right-wing Peronist national deputy Pablo Ansaloni, who said in a Zoom exchange with trade unionists that rural workers “are like Jews who have no homeland of their own.” DAIA asked the authorities to “punish and separate those whose discrimination and intolerance foment divisions within Argentine society." Ansaloni, elected on a Juntos por el Cambio list in 2019 but bolting almost immediately to join the Unidad y Equidad Federal caucus close to Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa, apologised on Wednesday but said that he had only been trying to make an analogy with migrant farm hands, to whose Uatre union he belongs, not run down the Jewish people, merely pointing to the fact that they lacked a homeland for millennia before the creation of the state of Israel. But Uatre also issue a communiqué disowning his statements as "showing a total contempt for the Jewish community."
Buenos Aires provincial assembly legislator Carolina Píparo, representing the Juntos por el Cambio opposition, was in the wars again last week after she and her husband were mugged in the first hours of 2021 by a gang of motorcyclists, after which they pursued one of the motorcycles in their car and ran both riders over, although the injured motorcyclists insist on a case of mistaken identity and have filed charges of attempted murder. Píparo owes her seat to springing to fame on the crime front in 2010 when she was robbed outside a La Plata bank while heavily pregnant by criminals who shot her in the belly – her son Isidro was nevertheless born but died the same week.