CORONAVIRUS CRISIS SEIZES ATTENTION
In the course of last week the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Argentina climbed from eight to 54 with at least two deaths. In a nationwide broadcast on Thursday evening President Alberto Fernández declared a national sanitary emergency with a raft of preventive measures including flight restrictions and a ban on public events of all kinds gathering more than 200 people, as well as adding 1.7 billion pesos to the Health Ministry budget (See most of the rest of this newspaper for further details and comment).
Last Thursday deputy Pablo Yedlin (Frente de Todos-Tucumán) swore into the chairmanship of the lower house health committee via video-conference from his north-western home where he was in voluntary quarantine following his return from the United States last Monday. At home he was obliged to avoid all contact with his 87-year-old father, who is in a highly vulnerable age-group. A doctor by training, Yedlin has been provincial health minister in Tucumán.
Despite “dead cat bouncing” technical rebounds both yesterday and Tuesday, the local Bolsa shared the sharply negative week suffered by stock markets worldwide due to coronavirus and slumping oil prices. While the official exchange rate for the dollar closed the week at 64.45 pesos in Banco Nación, there was a range of 85-90 pesos for the various parallel greenbacks. While dipping from its peak of 3,200 points, country risk still closed the week above 3,100.
ABORTION BILL DELAY
Presentation of the government bill to legalise abortion, promised within 10 days by President Alberto Fernández in his state-of-the-nation speech at the start of the month, has been postponed until Monday, it was announced yesterday amid the growing confusion of the coronavirus crisis. The week started with another huge march (on the same scale as February 19) to mark International Women’s Day the previous day although on this occasion abortion reform shared the spotlight with protests against femicide and gender violence. Some feminist groups and leftist parties also organised similar marches on the day itself although last Sunday they were probably outnumbered by pro-life rallies nationwide (whose ranks included among others the former Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno, better known as an extreme representative of “national and popular” ideology).
The farm protest against increased export duties, taking the form of suspending all deliveries between last Monday and Thursday, went ahead as scheduled. Grain deliveries to ports were almost normal due to a backlog of stocks but the inflow of cattle into stockyards slumped from a daily average of around 9,000 head to just 257 last Tuesday. The strike coincided with last week’s Expoagro mega-exhibition in San Nicolás in the Paraná delta, scheduled to run between Tuesday and yesterday although its closure was brought ahead to Thursday in line with the measures against coronavirus.
INFLATION ON WANE?
Last month’s inflation was announced as two percent by INDEC statistics bureau, the lowest figure in the last two years, with annual inflation still above 50 percent (50.3 percent) but down from the 53.8 percent of 2019. But the food and beverages item continues to top the general average at 2.7 percent despite no longer having to absorb the return of IVA value-added taxation to basic foods. This month’s inflation is expected to remain within 2.5 percent, which would keep inflation for the first quarter in single digits. But lower inflation owes much to freezing utility rates and fuel prices and an increasingly precarious exchange rate calm, trends which might not be sustainable throughout the year.
JUJUY DIVIDES OPINION
Mixed messages continued last week over the Kirchnerite initiative to place the Jujuy provincial judiciary under a federal trusteeship with the scarcely hidden agenda of freeing the social activist Milagro Sala. On Tuesday there were tense moments outside Congress as Sala sympathisers and supporters of the Juntos por el Cambio opposition coalition including several deputies demonstrated over this issue within metres of each other, exchanging insults, but a police cordon managed to keep them apart. Last week President Alberto Fernández assured Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales that the initiative had nothing to do with his government but the bill (presented by Jujuy Peronist Senator Guillermo Snopek) nevertheless remains on the Senate agenda, a chamber headed by Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
CRISTOBAL LOPEZ IN HEADLINES AGAIN
AFIP tax bureau documentation providing evidence of multi-billionpeso tax evasion by recently released Kirchnerite tycoon Cristóbal López has mysteriously disappeared, judge Valeria Pérez Casado confirmed on Wednesday. Their absence was first detected in midFebruary.
WE DON’T WANT NO EVALUATION
Deputy Education Minister Adriana Puiggrós stirred up controversy last Tuesday when she criticised the educational evaluations introduced under the Mauricio Macri presidency, charging that they were “meritocratic” and business-driven with the aim of reducing the number of schoolchildren and hence teachers. In related news, while only Chubut teachers were on strike during the first week of classes, they were starting to be joined last week by their Córdoba, Neuquén and Santa Fe colleagues during the second.
BOUDOU THROWS STONES
In a radio interview former vice-president Amado Boudou from his cell in Ezeiza Prison accused the Mauricio Macri administration of being the most corrupt in history, charging that it persecuted opponents such as himself for alleged corruption in order to cover up its own failings.