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ARGENTINA | 29-02-2020 11:11

Feb 24th-29th: What We Learned This Week

Stories that caught our eye in the last seven days.

ALL EYES ON CONGRESS

President Alberto Fernández will tomorrow make his first annual stateof-the-nation address to open the ordinary sessions of Congress (See preview on Page 4).

 

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH: URUGUAY

Uruguay’s young centre-right leader Luis Lacalle Pou will be inaugurated as president in Montevideo tomorrow.

 

CARRY ON, CARRIÓ

Alberto Fernández will be opening this year’s sessions of Congress tomorrow but veteran maverick Elisa Carrió will not be there to comment acidly on his state-of-the-nation speech. The Civic Coalition leader timed her exit for Thursday but it went unnoticed amid the stormy passage of judicial pension reform. Last elected in a 2017 landslide with a total of over two decades in Congress (starting as a Chaco Radical last century), she called it quits halfway through her term last October, shattered by the presidential defeat of her ally Mauricio Macri and also suffering increasingly frequent health problems.

 

PENSION PRIVILEGE CUT

The government on Thursday passed its bill to downsize judicial and diplomatic pensions by 128 votes with no more resistance than the abstention of two FIT leftist deputies following an opposition walkout to protest the presence of Peronist politician Daniel Scioli, who has been appointed ambassador to Brazil but whose resignation as deputy has yet to be presented formally to the lower house (See story on Page 5).

 

TEACHER PAY TALKS

Classes will start normally in almost the entire country following smooth sailing in Wednesday’s nationwide collective bargaining for teachers (suspended since 2017). Argentina’s five main union confederations (including Ctera grouping around 70 percent of teachers) agreed to a nationwide pay floor of 23,000 pesos as from tomorrow and 25,000 pesos as from midyear, bolstered by monthly incentive payments of 1,210 pesos between March and June – an increase of 23.5 percent overall from the current level of 20,250 pesos. Apart from Mendoza (since last Wednesday), Misiones (March 9) and Chubut (torn by strikes), the whole country thus goes back to school on Monday.

 

GUZMÁN RACKS UP MILES

Economy Minister Martín Guzmán headed home Wednesday from New York after a week that began in Saudi Arabia, reporting advances in his relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but no closer to defining the offer to private bondholders due in midMarch according to the government’s tight timeline. The minister reportedly made more progress in lining up prospective brokers for the restructuring operation. Guzmán was able to follow up the IMF’s admission that Argentina’s debt was “unsustainable” 10 days ago with support from US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and a G20 statement last weekend calling on private creditors to make an “effort.” On Thursday IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said that dialogue was advancing “constructively” but that no negotiations were underway. Next week an IMF mission will be in town to monitor accounts in accordance with Article IV (spurned between 2006 and 2015 but recently accepted by the Fernández administration as of Guzmán’s meeting with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva last weekend). Argentina owes the IMF US$ 44 billion or 43 percent of the total IMF loan portfolio.

 

LA RIOJA NEXT UP

The province of La Rioja is flirting with default, postponing payment of the 9.75 percent interest on a dollar bond worth US$ 14 million while Peronist Governor Ricardo Quintela said that he would call a referendum to “reprofile” the capital. The provincial government said that it would try to pay the interest arrears during a 30-day grace period, which started ticking last Monday, and that it would be consulting the bondholders. The bond was issued to finance provincially owned wind energy parks, thus qualifying as a “green bond.” La Rioja has no further debt payments until August.

 

NO MORE 5-PESO BILL

The five-peso banknote bearing the image of Independence hero José de San Martín goes out of circulation this weekend but can be redeemed in banks throughout March. The 138 million banknotes are to be replaced by 87 million coins of that value.

 

DENIALISM?

President Alberto Fernández found himself accused of “denialism” by Mothers of Plaza leader Nora Cortiñas when he talked of “turning a new page” in the relationship with the Armed Forces while giving a military contingent a cordial send-off to a peace-keeping mission in Cyprus. While insisting that all current servicemen have only known democratic governments, Fernández apologised to Cortiñas Thursday, denied any “denialism” of the atrocities of the 1976-83 military dictatorship and upheld his commitment to human rights. Other leaders of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo (including the fiery Hebe de Bonafini) rallied to his defence.

 

TABLADO OUT OF JAIL

Fabián Tablado, who committed one of the most notoriously brutal murders in Argentine criminal history (stabbing his girl-friend Carolina Aló, 17, no less than 113 times) left prison yesterday 24 years after the femicide, having served his sentence.

 

RIP ‘TEX’ HARRIS

Franklyn Allen “Tex” Harris (1938- 2020), the United States diplomat who used his Embassy posting to chronicle human rights violations during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, died last Monday. Over two metres in height, Tex was larger than life in every sense. (See Pages 8 to 11)

 

BUNGE PASSES AWAY

The eminent philosopher and physicist Mario Bunge died last Tuesday in the Canadian city of Montréal at the age of 100 (See Page 14).

 

TOLEDO REMEMBERED

Youth Olympics javelin-throwing gold medallist Braian Toledo, 26, was killed on Wednesday night in a motorcycle accident in his native Marcos Paz, Buenos Aires Province (less than 50 kilometres west of this capital).

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