THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
The lives lost to Covid-19 crossed the 40,000 threshold on Tuesday, climbing from 39,512 to 40,431 between the end of last week and yesterday while the confirmed cases of contagion rose from 1,454,631 to 1,482,216 in the same period. Coronavirus debate tended to focus on the upcoming summer holidays ahead of Thursday, when President Alberto Fernández announced that the government had signed an agreement with Russia for sufficient doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to permit the vaccination of 10 million people between next month and February. The President rubbished doubts about the vaccine’s quality, saying that its makers included several Nobel Prize winners.
BUSY WEEK IN CONGRESS
The highlight of the parliamentary week was obviously the passage of an amended abortion bill by a 131-117 vote in the Chamber of Deputies in the small hours of yesterday morning, thus progressing to the Senate where a tighter outcome is expected, but Congress had a busy week in general. Just before last weekend the Senate approved the wealth tax and the legislation against forest fires while on Thursday it was the turn of the cuts in the City’s federal revenue-sharing funding and the new mechanism for updating pensions.
CRISTINA ATTACKS ‘LAWFARE’
Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s message for the first anniversary of Alberto Fernández (whom she managed not to mention) tended to upstage that milestone with a ferocious attack on the Supreme Court, whom she accused of “lawfare,” extortion and sabotage of government economic policies. The next day the president (who said that he “shared much of what Cristina said”) and the vice-president teamed up to honour human rights on International Human Rights Day with little else to mark the anniversary apart from the vaccination announcements.
Last weekend elsewhere in the region saw the death of two-term Uruguayan ex-president Tabaré Vázquez and Sunday’s controversial parliamentary elections, condemned as “fraudulent” and “neither free nor fair” by the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Wednesday in a 21-2 vote from which Argentina abstained while most countries around the world dismissed the vote due to its extraordinarily low turnout. See stories inside.
With Economy Minister Martín Guzmán reporting “steady progress” in the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund but scant specific news, the money markets stretched the recent calm into a sixth week since the “blue” parallel dollar hit 195 pesos at the end of October with all exchange rates for the dollar beating a retreat, given increased seasonal demand for pesos to pay Christmas bonuses and other end-of-the-year expenses. The “blue” edged down to close the week at 148 pesos (146 on Thursday) from the previous Friday’s 150 pesos. The indirect but legal alternative exchange rates CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (medio electrónico de pagos) continued to drop, the CCL from 144.93 to 141.76 pesos and the MEP from 141.49 to 139.10 pesos since the previous Friday. The official exchange rate at Banco Nación moved up from 86.75 to 87.50 pesos or 144.95 pesos with the 65 percent surcharges for savers. Central Bank reserves even picked up US$33 million yesterday. Country risk slid from 1,424 to 1,396 points during the week through to Thursday but picked up again to 1,401 points yesterday.
INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION DOWN
Industrial production fell 9.9 percent in the first 10 months of this year, eight of them with the coronavirus pandemic as a strongly negative factor, INDEC statistics bureau reported on Wednesday. But in September and October the slump was less dramatic, 2.5 percent and 2.9 percent down respectively on the corresponding months of 2019.
CARNE PARA TODOS
The government agreed in midweek with meatpacking plants nationwide to sell three popular cuts of beef at more accessible prices of 349-479 pesos per kilo as from December 19, a discount of 25-30 percent on current market prices. The meat-packing plants have thus committed themselves to supplying 1,300 tons of beef of export quality to Argentine households. Domestic Trade Secretary Paula Español, whose department has also organised a Christmas hamper for a price of 250 pesos, is looking ahead to stabilising meat prices throughout 2021.
Pursuant to the UCA Catholic University poverty data published in last Saturday’s newspaper, further details reveal that over two million of the impoverished total of 8.5 million aged under 17 (64.1 percent of their age-group) suffer hunger or are severely malnourished at times. This would seem to contradict the boast of President Alberto Fernández earlier this month that no Argentine suffered hunger during this year’s economic slump.
An Armenian immigrant was fatally wounded on Tuesday morning outside Retiro railway station by a 15-year-old seeking to rob his bicycle, which was abandoned at the scene of the crime. Shot in the face and neck when assailed by a gang of three, Dimitri Amiryan, 37, died on the way to Fernández Hospital about half an hour afterwards. His presumed killer was apprehended re-entering Barrio 31 shantytown with what is believed to be the fatal firearm in his possession. Opposition politicians and Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni promptly called for the age of criminal responsibility to be lowered, a call further fuelled on Thursday when a 14-year-old gunned down a resident of the same shantytown.
The Supreme Court has confirmed the acquittal of Carlos Carrascosa for the 2002 murder of his wife María Marta García Belsunce, thus upholding the 2016 verdict of the Buenos Aires provincial Criminal Cassation Court acquitting the widower, who had at one stage been sentenced to life imprisonment as a co-author of the femicide. The acquittal was approved by the Supreme Court’s four male justices, Ricardo Lorenzetti, Juan Carlos Maqueda, Carlos Rosenkrantz and Horacio Rosatti, while Elena Highton de Nolasco abstained. Attorney-General Eduardo Casal had already ruled in Carrascosa’s favour. The main suspicion now falls on gated community neighbour Nicolás Pacheco and two security staff who are awaiting trial.
The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday delivered this year’s edition of the Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize to Haiti’s Devoir de Mémoire foundation in a virtual ceremony due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Founded in 2013, this foundation has pioneered the publication of historic testimony of previous human rights violations in the Caribbean island republic. The prize, awarded since 2007 in recognition of outstanding work abroad to defend human rights, is named after the late Professor Emilio Fermín Mignone, lawyer and founder of CELS (Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales) human rights organisation.
The sports world mourned the loss of 2014 World Cup final coach Alejandro Sabella, 66, on Tuesday (followed just a day later by Italy’s 1982 World Cup hero Paolo Rossi at 64) while the entertainment world yesterday lost actor Carlos Andrés Calvo, 64.