Monday, June 24, 2024

ARGENTINA | 05-09-2020 10:06

What we learned this week: August 29 to September 5

Stories that caught our eye over the last seven days in Argentina.



At press time yesterday there was a total of 461,882 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 9,623 deaths, as compared to 392,009 cases and 8,271 deaths the previous Friday. The week made a bad start statistically with Argentina moving into the top 10 of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide on Monday, overtaking Chile. But the reopening of bars and restaurants for open-air street service in the Federal Capital on that same day (although later restricted to those with prior qualification) as part of the “new normality” generally went down well with the citizenry even if Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof was critical of this “premature” move at such a “fragile” stage. Tuesday saw the Santa Cruz health minister resign with restrictions tightened in Mendoza as a result of Covid-19 while medical associations issued statements complaining about the extreme strains placed on health workers. The next day Argentina’s Covid-19 death toll topped 9,000 while in Santa Cruz a dozen more officials join the health minister in the exit door after partying to celebrate the award of a power grid contract. Kicillof balances being a killjoy over bars and restaurants by saying that seaside holidays must be possible one way or another this upcoming summer by designing appropriate protocols. On Thursday the daily total of confirmed coronavirus cases already into double digits sets a new record of over 12,000 as fears of a collapse of the health system grow.



Bahía Blanca federal judge María Gabriela Marrón on Wednesday confirmed on the basis of forensic examination that the remains found on August 15 in swampy ground near the port city do in fact belong to Facundo Astudillo Castro, missing since April 30. The remains were given an emotional funeral in the youth’s home town of Pedro Luro the next day. The case has become a national controversy over the last four months because Facundo’s family holds the Buenos Aires provincial police responsible for his disappearance, prompting fiery reactions from Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni.  



The Alberto Fernández administration notched up perhaps its most important success last Monday when it could announce the direct adhesion of 93.5 percent of external creditors for its bond swap offer for some US$66 billion, a result extending to 99 percent if class action clauses are taken into account. Economy Minister Martín Guzmán calculated the relief at some US$37.7 billion, basically thanks to reduced interest rates and extended deadlines. The same conditions agreed with external creditors will now apply to the debt issued under national legislation, around US$41.7 billion. The next step is now to negotiate the US$44 billion owed the International Monetary Fund. Monday’s announcement was accompanied by the revelation that the 2021 budget would shoot for lowering the fiscal deficit to 4.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product. The week’s developments had a favourable effect on exchange markets with the gap between official and parallel exchange rates falling to just over 50 percent as the “blue” dollar dipped from 136 to 132 pesos per greenback in the course of the week while the Banco Nación rate inched up from 78 to 78.25 pesos. But the agencies evaluating country risk seemed less impressed with the sustainability of this restructuring, with the index moving up from under 2,100 points the previous Friday to 2,156 points yesterday.  



After starting the week by denying that the land seizures in Greater Buenos and Patagonian Villa Mascardi were a security problem, Security Minister Sabina Frederic told a Thursday press conference that they were "illegal," leaving it up to the courts to order the eviction of the squatters where warranted. Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof made a similar U-turn in the course of the week under pressure from Greater Buenos Aires Peronist mayors. The issue remained prominent in public debate throughout the week with tension in the affected areas.



Dialogue between the government and the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies broke down last week when Frente de Todos with the help of some third parties imposed by a majority vote the unrestricted continuation of virtual sessions, including such controversial issues as judicial and pension reform as well as the 2021 budget. Unanimously rejecting this initiative, the Juntos por el Cambio opposition said that they would challenge the legitimacy of the session approving the extension.



Ex-president Mauricio Macri returned home yesterday following a five-week European swing centred on his new FIFA Foundation duties and featuring a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron towards its end last Monday in which the two men discussed the French strategy of “balanced quarantine.” Macri returned the day after ex-minister Patricia Bullrich now chairing his PRO centre-right party was sidelined by coronavirus.     



President Alberto Fernández marked Industry Day on Wednesday by announcing a raft of measures to aid the manufacturing sector, including 1.4 billion pesos for investment in strategic areas, 2.4 billion pesos of incentives for industries to adopt 4.0 technology and over three billion pesos for industrial parks, as well as soft credit lines of almost half a billion pesos, all helped by a loan of US$500 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB or BID, in its Spanish acronym). 



Of the hundreds of coronavirus deaths last week none was more dramatic than that of UADE business university political science professor Paola de Simone, 46, stricken by Covid-19 for almost a month who died last Tuesday afternoon while giving a virtual class to her students after being overcome by breathing difficulties.



The Argentine police have broken up an international child pornography ring with more than 2,000 Internet users throughout the Americas and in a total of 46 countries, the Security Ministry announced on Friday. The local connection of the ring extended to at least six provinces, totalling 406 of the 2,121 participants worldwide. The Federal Police investigation began with the denunciation of a WhatsApp group three years ago. 




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