THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
At press time yesterday there was a total of 535,705 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 11,148 deaths, as compared to 461,882 cases and 9,623 deaths the previous Friday. The week started on a sad note with the death toll breaking into five digits on Monday (Catamarca is the only province yet to report a fatality). Tandil town hall defied Buenos Aires provincial government pandemic protocols to set up its own. Another barrier was breached the next day when the confirmed cases of coronavirus reached half a million, whereby Argentina joined a club of just 10 countries (almost all with larger populations). The “Made in Argentina” vaccine announced so proudly by President Alberto Fernández on August 12 suffered a setback on Tuesday when the AstraZeneca lab and the University of Oxford developing the vaccine halted testing for a week following the semi-paralysis of a volunteer. On Wednesday Salta’s health minister was bounced as confirmed cases topped 5,000 in that province.
PROVINCIAL POLICE MUTINY
President Alberto Fernández came up with a drastic solution to a serious problem, announcing on Wednesday a decree to transfer one percentage point of federal revenue-sharing (equivalent to 35 billion pesos) from the City to the Province of Buenos Aires after three days of widespread provincial police protests (especially in Greater Buenos Aires and other urban areas, also surrounding Olivos presidential residence). The next day Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof raised the net basic police wage to 44,000 pesos. For his part the reaction of an “annoyed” City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta is to contest the transfer in the Supreme Court as “unconstitutional.” See following pages.
BÁEZ OUT OF JAIL
Kirchnerite tycoon Lázaro Báez could finally avail himself of the house arrest granted him two months ago when the courts lifted the previous bail requirements on the grounds that 53 months remanded in custody far exceeded the statutory limits for pre-trial detention but his first prison exit on Monday was short-lived. Taken to his country house in the Ayres de Pilar gated community, he ran into an impenetrable barrage of stones, eggs and insults from his indignant neighbours, including a smashed windscreen for the Penitentiary Service van conveying him, and he had to turn back to spend Monday night in Ezeiza prison. But on Wednesday he made a more discreet exit to an undisclosed address (reportedly in another gated community).
CONGRESS ROW DEFUSED
While conflicts developed on other fronts, the confrontation in Congress was defused when the Frente de Todos and Juntos por el Cambio caucuses agreed on Tuesday on the conditions for the next month of sessions (remote unless 10 or more deputies request the pre-pandemic format for controversial legislation).
The week started with Argentina officially ending 108 days of default when Standard & Poor’s risk assessment agency upgraded the country’s rating from selective default to CCC+ following 99 percent acceptance of Argentina’s bond swap offer on some US$107 billion worth of debt (almost two-thirds of it under foreign jurisdiction) although negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over a further US$44 billion owed still lie ahead. Once the bond swap is transacted, the markets respond favourably with a dramatic four-digit plunge in country risk, falling from 2,183 to 1,104 points on Thursday alone. While the parallel “blue” dollar stayed at 131 pesos virtually all week after closing the first week of September at 132 pesos, the official Banco Nación rate inched up from 78.25 to 78.75 pesos.
On Tuesday the courts ordered the eviction of squatters from the Guernica area in southern Greater Buenos Aires but they dug in and were still there at press time yesterday as the authorities hesitated to implement the ruling with the provincial police more interested in protesting their pay and other grievances than in enforcing the law during most of the week.
CORRUPTION & THE COURTS
Within the context of scrapping public-private partnerships, the government is preparing to denounce the preceding Mauricio Macri administration for irregularities concerning 1.3 billion pesos earmarked for upgrading national highways to reduce accidents, launched during the 2017 midterm campaign but never translating into works. Records show 850 million pesos of this allocation being paid to companies in three provinces but these correspond to other roadworks contracts according to an investigation. The main defendants would be former Transport Minister Guillermo Dietrich, former Highway Board (DNV) head Javier Iguacel and the former executive director of the National Agency for Road Safety (ANSV) Carlos Pérez. Dietrich and Iguacel have already been sent to trial over highway contracts by Rodolfo Canicoba Corral just before he retired as a federal judge last July.
Youtuber and Libertarian Eduardo “El Presto” Miguel Prestofelippo was arrested on Córdoba city on Thursday for issuing death threats against Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, telling her “You won’t come out of the social outburst alive, you’ll be the first, along with your political creatures, to pay for all the harm you’ve caused” and “Your time is running out.” The ex-president’s lawyer Gregorio Dalbón denounced these expressions as a cybercrime but the youtuber denied any wrongdoing, saying that he had already explained in the social networks that he was speaking of a “political death.”
The government acknowledged on Thursday that presumed hackers had published confidential Immigrant Department data on the deep web after the
Interior Ministry had refused to yield to blackmail requests for US$ four million. The cyberattack via Netwalker malware occurred on August 27, causing the system at all border crossings to collapse nationwide for three hours, but the damage to the movement of persons was minimal, given the coronavirus pandemic, and the government denied the escape of any sensitive information.
The Inspector General of Justice’s office on Tuesday ordered the dissolution of the Argentine branch of Remax real estate franchise on the grounds that they operated with real estate agents not registered at the local college for the profession. Remax disputed the decision with the argument that they only provided supporting services for house-hunters rather than making direct sales.
Last Sunday was the 90th anniversary of the 1930 military coup, Monday was the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Montoneros guerrilla movement and Thursday the 30th anniversary of the María Soledad Morales murder, which ended four decades of political domination by the Saadi dynasty in Catamarca.