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ARGENTINA | 28-07-2018 09:43

July 23rd-28th: What We Learned This Week

Decrees and debates, outrageous HIV claims and economic warning signs...

MACRI USES DECREE TO OPEN ARMED FORCES DEBATE

President Mauricio Macri’s decree 683/18, freeing up the Armed Forces for domestic security tasks (including the fight against terrorism and drug-trafficking) has run into the united opposition of a Congress determined to overturn it. Opinions on the military’s proper role differ widely but all opposition parties agree that this can only be defined by a law in Congress, not a presidential decree. A bill to overturn the “absolutely unconstitutional” decree was presented by Lower House Victory Front caucus leader Agustín Rossi on Wednesday and backed the following day by a large demonstration led by human rights organisations outside the Defence Ministry, headed by Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo leader Estela Barnes de Carlotto and others. Renewal Front caucus leader Graciela Camaño said that her party was not averse to a crime-fighting role for the military and had indeed presented a bill in Congress toward that end last year, but she insisted too that the subject should never be decided by decree. Non-Kirchnerite Peronists expressed similar feelings. Meanwhile, Córdoba Governor Juan Schiaretti, a Peronist, declared that the Coast Guard should be patrolling the nation’s waterways, instead of the upmarket neighbourhood of Puerto Madero.

ECOPARQUE DEATHS

This month of July has seen the deaths of a white rhinoceros (Ruth) and a giraffe (18-year-old Shaki) within 10 days of each other at the EcoParque (former BA City zoo) in Buenos Aires, thus reviving controversy as to whether this alternative sanctuary is an adequate substitute for zoos. According to reports this week, the EcoParque is rat-infested, thus increasing the risk of infection.

A STEEP ECONOMIC DROP

Economic activity in May was 5.8 percent down on the same month last year, the INDEC statistics bureau reported on Tuesday, in an ominous sign. This sharp decline was mostly due to the contrast between this year’s drought and last year’s harvest, since agriculture crashed 35.2 percent yet industry also fell off 1.4 percent. Hopes are now fading of breaking a sequence of negative growth in non-electoral even years going back to 2012 (when the economy grew by less than one percent) although the government is still forecasting a faintly positive outcome. The May job figures announced the next day were more bad news although they remained above the employment levels of the same month last year. There were 0.1 percent less jobs compared to last April – 16,900 less overall (the public and private sectors plus the self-employed) and 5,900 less in the private sector. But there were 148,400 more jobs than in the previous May (including 50,200 in the private sector), the product of previous growth.

INTERNATIONAL OUTLOOK

President Mauricio Macri was attending the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Johannesburg as from Thursday, thus rounding out an international week which began with his hosting the conclave of G20 economy ministers and central bankers last weekend. The trade wars threatened by the protectionism of US President Donald Trump were prime concerns at both events, especially at the BRICS Summit with China as Trump’s main target. But Macri’s main interest in South Africa was boosting commerce with BRICS members, especially India and Russia since trade with China and Mercosur partner Brazil is already developed.

LOCAL BEEF: BIG IN JAPAN?

A new chapter in the history of Argentina’s trademark product was written Monday when 200 kilos of sirloin headed to Japan from the Patagonian meat-packers Fridevi, a first celebrated by Agriculture Minister Luis Miguel Etchevehere in the month of the Rural Society’s farm show in Palermo which will be inaugurated today. With the United States also opening up to Argentine beef, things are looking up for cattle ranching.

HIV CLAIMS SPARK FURORE

The ongoing Senate hearings on the abortion bill took a bizzare turn Wednesday when veteran paediatrician Abel Albino, testifying against the legislation, digressed from the issue of pregnancy following conception to attack contraception, claiming the “porcelain” of condoms was permeable to the HIV-AIDS virus and that they didn’t work 30 percent of the time anyway. Apart from the subject being abortion not contraception, he ignored the fact that condoms are generally made of latex. According to expert Jorge Benetucci, the reliability of condoms against all sexually transmitted diseases is over 95 percent. Albino’s rash remarks caused a general uproar in the Senate, though President Macri said the (not-so-good) doctor would continue his current work with the national government because he was a “very good” doctor with “international” recognition.

DONOR SCANDAL

Further details continue to emerge in the scandal concerning bogus donors to the 2017 midterm election campaign of the ruling coalition in Buenos Aires province, a scandal that broke a month ago. So much so that electoral prosecutor Jorge Di Lello is now looking into possible irregularities in the 2015 campaign as well. According to political sources, there could be as many as 7,000 bogus donors across all parties in the two campaigns. It has now been confirmed that most of the 205 names in the original exposé are or were the recipients of social benefits. A further 18 are teachers recorded as having donated up to 44,000 pesos to the Let’s Change campaign but the presumed donor (a retired Lomas de Zamora teacher) said that she did not much money in the first place and would not donate it to a political party if she did. This is the first such scandal hitting Let’s Change – previous probes tended to investigate Kirchnerism, e.g. the 2007 donations allegedly from illegal ephedrine sales.

JOURNALIST? SPY?

Pink House journalist Juan Manuel Illescas, 49, was arrested by Federal Police last weekend after it was found that he had both national and international arrest warrants against him. Illescas was accredited to the Pink House despite the size of the medium he claimed to represent – Radio Integral of Maciá, a tiny Entre Ríos town of 6,300. In reality, reports say, he is employed by the private security firm Segurarg SRL and gave his address as the same block as the Security Ministry of Patricia Bullrich in Gelly y Obes.

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