THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
There were 1,970,009 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 48,985 deaths at press time yesterday, as against 1,915,362 cases and 47,775 deaths the previous Friday. One death last weekend was not caused by Covid-19 but was a high-profile episode within the quarantine saga – Abigail Jiménez, 12, the terminal cancer patient who in mid-November last year had to be carried across the Santiago del Estero border by her father because the provincial police would not let their car through due to sanitary restrictions, died in the last hours of January. Her plight was the talk of the country until the death of Diego Maradona a week later abruptly changed the agenda. On Monday the government extended the closure of frontiers throughout this month. Delays in vaccine deliveries, a worldwide problem, were a hot topic throughout the week with the new ambassador to Moscow Eduardo Zuain announcing on Monday that negotiations had opened with Russia to produce Sputnik V in Argentina. There was good news on that front the next day when the prestigious medical journal The Lancet published results showing Sputnik V to be 91.6 percent effective. Later in the week it transpired that vaccine talks with China were stalled because Beijing was offering a bulk purchase of 30 million doses apparently beyond the government’s means whereas the government was seeking a preliminary million doses for this month.
FORMOSA STAYS IN THE NEWS
A three-strong parliamentary opposition delegation, headed by PRO deputy Waldo Wolff, arrived in Formosa in midweek to probe their charges of human rights violations at provincial health centres, accusing Governor Gildo Insfrán of cosmetically disguising virtual concentration camps ahead of the inspection of Human Rights Secretary Horacio Pietragalla. Radical lawmaker Sebastián Salvador, making up the delegation along with the other deputy Mónica Frade, accused Pietragalla of rubberstamping Insfrán. Juntos por el Cambio caucus chief Mario Negri (Radical-Córdoba) said that he did not understand how Pietragalla could remain in office after his visit to Formosa but Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero said that nobody could lecture a Frente de Todos administration on human rights as one of its main banners, denying any secret detention centres. Frade said that people testing negative for coronavirus were also being held at the centres. The group started in Clorinda where they were joined by their local Radical colleagues Ricardo Buryaile y Mario Arce, also meeting with dissident Peronist municipal councillor Gabriela Neme whose arrest last month put the spotlight on Formosa. One centre inmate told the deputies that they were fed rotten chicken. On Thursday, PRO centre-right party submitted its report to United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, formally denouncing violations in Formosa in the name of enforcing Covid-19 restrictions. On the same day Senate Majority Leader José Mayans (Frente de Todos-Formosa) sprang to Insfrán’s defence, calling him “the (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel of Argentina” since both have been elected for five terms, although in fact Merkel is ending her fourth term while Insfrán is in his sixth.
ISABELITA TURNS 90
Ex-president Isabel Perón (the name by which Juan Perón’s widow María Estela Martínez generally goes) turned 90 years last Thursday with generally subdued celebrations at the Madrid residence where she has lived an isolated existence for the last four decades but including a brief congratulatory surprise telephone call from Pope Francis. At least two Argentine bishops also called. Only the ex-president’s niece Norma Estela Ferreiro, her chauffeur and housekeeper were present in the chalet on the day of her birthday.
BOUDOU’S SENTENCE SHAVED
At the start of the week federal judge Daniel Obligado chopped 10 months off former vice-president Amado Boudou’s 70-month prison sentence by virtue of the intramural courses undertaken by the convicted politician, thus potentially clearing him for temporary outings from house arrest (granted him by Obligado). These courses included philosophy and the “organisation of social events.” Boudou was convicted in 2018 for acquiring a majority share package in Ciccone Calcográfica money-printing company by abusing his then position of Economy minister to grant tax breaks. The Supreme Court upheld that conviction two months ago, ordering a return to prison defied by Boudou while appealing to the Criminal Cassation Court. Boudou had requested the maximum 20-month reduction while the prosecution argued that he was entitled to no more than six months.
CRISTINA DOCKED A PENSION
The double privileged pension of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (as an ex-president and a presidential widow, totalling a monthly two million pesos plus 100 million in arrears) was suspended by judge Ezequiel Pérez Nami on Thursday following appeals by opposition politicians and the ANSES social security administration.
FARCUH DIES SUDDENLY
Businessmen Patricio Farcuh, 43, the last owner of the private courier company OCA, died of a heart attack last weekend at his home in the Campos de Roca I gated community near Brandsen. The courts immediately ordered an autopsy although no grounds for suspecting foul play have yet been found. Farcuh was widely believed to have been a dummy owner of OCA between 2013 and 2019 on behalf of teamster Hugo Moyano although the two men have since been estranged.
In an extremely rare twist on the money markets, the parallel “blue” dollar finished the week below the official exchange rate if the latter’s 65 percent surcharges are added – 151 pesos as against an official exchange rate of 93.60 pesos according to Banco Nación, which reaches 152.44 pesos if the surcharges are added. Among the unofficial but legal exchange rates the CCL (contado con liquidación) also topped the “blue” dollar at 153.80 pesos but the MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) was 150.90 pesos. Country risk closed yesterday at 1,457 points, up from 1,441 points the previous Friday.
PETROL PRICES RISE FOR THIRD TIME THIS YEAR
YPF started the month by inching up its petrol prices one to two percent with other oil companies following suit – not a dramatic increase but two previous hikes last month mean that petrol has already gone up 7.5 percent and diesel 8.5 percent early in the year. Local prices still lag international by around 10 percent.
The IMF is working towards reaching agreement on a new loan deal with Argentina and the next round of meetings will focus on the details, the multilateral lender’s chief Kristalina Georgieva said at press time. "'It takes two to tango' so both sides need to do our part and find the pathway to an agreement, and we are not yet at that point," Georgieva told reporters. "But what I can tell you is that we are working in a very constructive way to reach an agreement."
ABORTION PILL CLEARED FOR PRODUCTION
ANMAT (the Argentine equivalent of the Food & Drug administration in the United States) has authorised the production of misoprostol, the pill interrupting pregnancies, at the public lab LIF in Rosario to be supplied nationwide. Since last July the lab has produced in anticipation 300,000 pills which now may be distributed with a further 100,000 on the way.
EYE ON UPCOMING ELECTIONS
Misiones on Monday became the second province to advance its provincial elections, calling them for June 6. Last month Salta set a July 4 date. Meanwhile most provincial governors continue to press for the elimination of this year’s PASO primaries or at least a postponement of the entire electoral process, which later in the week was considered by the Frente de Todos national helm.