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ARGENTINA | 07-03-2020 09:40

Mar 1st-7th: What We Learned This Week

Stories that caught our eyes in the last seven days in Argentina

ALBERTO’S SPEECH

Last Sunday President Alberto Fernández duly opened the ordinary sessions of Congress with a state-ofthe-nation speech lasting 80 minutes. Its highlights were the announcement that a bill to legalise abortion would be submitted to Congress within 10 days, a judicial reform to decentralise federal justice and a crackdown on state intelligence. He also promised progress in the control of inflation and foreign debt negotiations, further announcing three bills related to Malvinas sovereignty.

 

ALBERTO SPARKS AGRO

On Thursday Argentina’s four main farming organisations announced a four-day strike for next week, halting the deliveries of all grain and farm produce between Monday and Thursday. The move was to protest the three percentage point hike in soy export duties, which was published in the Official Gazette on Wednesday.

 

DEBT AGENTS CHOSEN

The Argentine government has defined the group of banks and financial agents to act as intermediaries with creditors in rescheduling the foreign debt, the Economy Ministry announced on Wednesday. Bank of America and HSBC are entrusted with placing the debt while Lazard merchant bankers will be the financial advisors with Morrow Sodali in charge of providing information. New terms or deadlines are sought for some US$ 195 billion (equivalent to 57 percent of Gross Domestic Product), including US$ 44 billion owed to the International Monetary Fund, whose monitoring mission arrived here on Monday. Argentina is due to present its offer to creditors by mid-March but most analysts consider the Ministry deadlines too tight.

 

PENSION CHALLENGE

Judge Silvia Saino last Tuesday dismissed a class action against the government’s new formula for updating pensions to inflation. The lawsuit had been signed by 7,000 pensioners and sponsored by the City ombudsman for the elderly (defensor de la Tercera Edad) Eugenio Semino. Judge Saino ruled that the plaintiffs could only sue as individuals. Their lawyer said that they would appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court. Invoking emergency legislation, the government replaced the 11.5 percent increase according to the current pension law with 2.3 percent plus 1,500 pesos, a change negatively affecting around 15 percent of pensions.

 

MARKETS SLUMP

Argentine dollar bonds yesterday suffered their heaviest fall since the immediate aftermath of the PASO primary upset last August with Argentine shares falling eight percent on average on global markets generally stricken by the coronavirus scare. Meanwhile country risk yesterday reached 2,512 points, close to last August’s peak of 2,533.

 

CORONAVIRUS ARRIVES

The number of Argentina’s confirmed cases of coronavirus jumped up to eight yesterday after the first two were reported on Tuesday and Thursday, both male and recent arrivals from Italy. Yesterday’s cases included the first outside the metropolitan area (in Córdoba) and all were recent arrivals from Europe.

 

WOMEN’S DAY MARCH

Tomorrow there will be two rival marches, one to mark International Women’s Day and the other organised by pro-life groupings with Church support to protest the abortion reform announced by President Alberto Fernández in Congress the previous Sunday.

 

BRUTAL FEMICIDE

There was an especially brutal femicide in Catamarca last weekend when Brenda Gordillo, 24, was smothered by her boy-friend Naim Vera, 19, who then dismembered her corpse, burning some of her limbs on a barbecue before scattering the rest around the neighbourhood. The youth soon afterwards confessed the cold-blooded murder to a friend but he was not immediately believed. Monday saw hundreds of citizens marching to demand justice.

 

UNWANTED DISCOVERY

Decomposed human remains turned up last Tuesday in the Punta del Este mansion of Marcelo Balcedo where he has been under house arrest since early 2018 on charges of contraband, gunrunning and money-laundering to the tune of US$ 7.5 million.

 

ABUSE OF AUTHORITY

Former AFSCA media watchdog Martín Sabbatella last Tuesday received a suspended sentence of six months in prison for “abuse of authority” at the expense of the Clarín Group. Federal Judge Ariel Lijo, who inherited the case from the late Claudio Bonadio, further banned Sabbatella from holding public office for the next 12 months but Sabbatella may continue his new job at the helm of the agency to clean up the Riachuelo while the sentence is under appeal.

 

CORREO-GATE

Commercial judge Marta Cirulli has placed the Correo Argentino (Post Office) under federal trusteeship, removing all its current administration which had been appointed by the Socma (Sociedad Macri) company. This decision responded to a writ filed by Treasury Prosecutor Carlos Zannini in a case originally lodged by Commercial Appeals Court prosecutor Gabriela Boquín, who accused Socma of “asset-stripping” during its period of ownership (1997-2003). In February, 2017, the Macri administration interrupted interest payments on Post Office debt to the tune of over 4.65 billion pesos which would cost the state over 70 billion pesos by the time the payment plan ends in 2033, according to Boquín.

 

SHELL-GATE RETURNS

Federal Judge Luis Rodríguez has ordered an investigation of the telephone calls of ex-officials Juan José Aranguren (former Energy minister) and Laura Alonso (former Anti-Corruption Office head). While quashing the trials of both Aranguren and Alonso for conflict of interest and negligence respectively last February 20, the Federal Appeals Court had recommended a further investigation of both ex-officials. DE VIDO OUT Ex-Planning minister Julio De Vido was released from custody on Thursday on the grounds that his pre-trial detention has now exceeded two years. (See Page 7 for more.)

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