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ARGENTINA | 13-02-2021 10:32

What we learned this week: February 6 to 13

Our pick of the stories from the last seven days in Argentina.

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

After breaking the barrier of two million confirmed cases of coronavirus in midweek (topped by only a dozen other countries in the world), there were 2,008,345 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 50,029 deaths at press time yesterday, as against 1,970,009 cases and 48,985 deaths the previous Friday. With little new on the vaccination front, the main pandemic issue last week was the resumption of classes. On Thursday the Covid-19 patients released from hospital included Paraguayan Casilda Gallegos, who will turn 114 in April. 

INFLATION: NO SIGN OF SLOWING

INDEC statistics bureau on Thursday posted four percent inflation for the first month of 2021, spearheaded by the key “food and beverages” item at 4.8 percent while core inflation was 3.9 percent.

HORROR IN ROJAS

Úrsula Bahillo, 19, was stabbed to death on Monday with her former boy-friend, Buenos Aires provincial policeman Matías Ezequiel Martínez, 25, the main suspect, thus prompting an outcry for justice (with 37 femicides in the first month of the year) and a new wave of indignation against a force again embarking on a period of unrest after Buenos Aires Province Security Minister suspended at least 550 policemen for their role in last September’s pay protest. The reaction of the dead girl’s mother Patricia Nassutti was to call for Berni’s removal. The crime shocked the girl’s home town of Rojas in the north of Buenos Aires Province and sparked violent demonstrations on Monday night with stones and bricks hurled at the local police precinct which responded with tear gas and rubber bullets while a patrol car was torched.

SCHOOLS SET TO RESTART

The week started with an important breakthrough towards the resumption of City school classes next Wednesday, previously threatened by a potential deadlock between City Hall and a national government sympathetically inclined towards reluctant teacher unions. National Education Minister Nicolás Trotta sat down with City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and his Education Minister Soledad Acuña with the trio reaching full agreement on the return of classroom education. During the week there was massive swabbing of City teachers with only 0.5 percent testing positive. In a separate development, Labour Minister Claudio Moroni on Thursday modified a ministerial resolution to extend automatic parental leave from work to at least one of the parents of children whose schooling takes virtual form or not attending class for other reasons.

SOCIO-ECONOMIC PACT?

The first round of sectorial talks proceeded smoothly last week with President Alberto Fernández meeting farmers and trade unionists on Wednesday and business leaders on Thursday, Farmers were appeased with the presidential promise that export duties on their produce would not be increased while the trade unions were soothed with the pledge that their pay hikes this year would stay a few percent ahead of inflation, following three years of real wage decline. On Thursday the business world seemed to be one of the few sectors which saw rising inflation as a point in the government’s favour since in their eyes it pointed to more flexible controls.

YPF DODGES DEFAULT

YPF state oil company succeeded on Wednesday in restructuring its entire debt of US$6.2 billion, thus dodging default, with the approval of 65 percent of creditors for its improved offer.

MARKET WATCH

The parallel “blue” dollar, which has been falling all year, continued its downward path last week, closing two pesos below last Friday at 149 pesos. The official exchange rate thus moved further ahead (if its 65 percent surcharges are added), going up from 93.60 to 94.10 pesos according to Banco Nación, or 152.76 pesos with the surcharges. Among the unofficial but legal exchange rates the CCL (contado con liquidación) also stayed above the “blue” dollar although down from 153.80 to 151.61 pesos since last Friday but the MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) was well below at 146.88 pesos as against 150.90 pesos a week ago. Country risk inched up yesterday to 1,462 points from 1,457 points the previous Friday.

CONGRESS BACK IN BUSINESS

The Chamber of Deputies on Thursday approved extraordinary compensation to the families of the 44 crew members of the lost submarine ARA San Juan, consisting of an optional seven million pesos tax-free on condition of waiving all legal action against the state. The bill was unanimously approved by the 223 deputies present at the time. On the same day the lower house passed almost unanimously a law making parliamentary approval mandatory before signing any debt agreements, including with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the votes of 233 of the 257 deputies from all parties except the two FIT leftist deputies with a further two deputies abstaining. Meanwhile Speaker Sergio Massa has submitted a bill raising the tax floor to 150,000 and 152,280 pesos (i.e. the equivalent of eight minimum pensions) for employees and pensioners respectively, thus offering tax relief to some 1.267 million people.

IMPUNITY IN THE WORKS?

Kirchnerite senators on Tuesday activated six articles of the Criminal Code as amended in 2014 which would submit prison sentences to review even if upheld by the Supreme Court should a conflicting ruling arise (especially if stemming from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights).

FORMOSA ROW RUMBLES ON

Local Qom indigenous chieftain Félix Díaz on Wednesday denounced Human Rights Secretary Horacio Pietragalla in court for abuse of authority and malfeasance over the latter’s benevolent view of the quarantine restrictions imposed by Formosa Governor Gildo Insfrán. The next day the six-term Peronist governor was called a “dictator” in a question of privilege lodged by Mónica Frade (Civic Coalition-Buenos Aires Province), one of the three opposition deputies going to the province earlier this month to investigate human rights violations. Frada also denounced Pietragalla “who should resign now for infamously covering up.”

CITY CLOSURES

At least 13,500 City shops have closed during the pandemic and a recent 15 percent increase in vacancies could take the total over 15,000, the sector’s chamber and the CUCICBA real estate association report. Many of the premises falling vacant are being put up for sale via Internet since the more traditional methods no longer apply.

SALA SENTENCE UPHELD

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a two-year prison sentence against Tupac Amaru social activist Milagro Sala for threatening Jujuy provincial policemen, unanimously turning down the appeals of Sala’s defence lawyers.

BITCOIN USES MORE ELECTRICITY THAN ARGENTINA

As of this month, Bitcoin has risen to using more electricity annually than the whole of Argentina, analysis by Cambridge University suggests. The cryptocurrency is power-hungry, involving heavy computer calculations to verify transactions and avoid fraud. Cambridge researchers say it consumes around 121.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year as against Argentina’s 121 TWh, thus undermining its environmental image. The currency's value hit a record US$48,000 this week. following Tesla's announcement that it had bought about US$1.5b billion in bitcoin and planned to accept it as payment in future. If Bitcoin were a country, it would be among the top 30 energy consumers worldwide. “It’s very bad that all this energy is being literally wasted in a lottery,” commented critic David Gerard, suggesting a carbon tax on the cryptocurrency.

PRIZE-WINNING MATHEMATICIAN

Last Thursday Argentine mathematician Alicia Dickenstein, whose research has helped the understanding of molecular behaviour, was one of the five winners of the prize annually awarded to female scientists in Paris by L'Óreal Foundation and UNESCO, the only Latin Aerican among the quintet. The event organisers specifically praised the Buenos Aires University (UBA) profesor for "operating on the frontier between pure and applied maths, making important links between physics and chemistry and permitting biologists to obtain profound structural understanding of biochemical reactions and (metabolic) enzyme networks."

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