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ARGENTINA | 02-05-2020 09:44

May 2-May 9: What we learned this week

Key stories from the last seven days in Argentina that caught our eyes

Stories that caught our eyes from the last seven days...

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

At press time yesterday there was a total of 4,532 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 225 deaths, as compared to 3,607 cases and 176 deaths the previous Friday. On Saturday night (nearly 30 hours later than originally scheduled) President Alberto Fernández extended quarantine until May 10, as widely expected – more surprising was his announcement that daily outings of an hour within 500 metres of the home would be permitted for all ages. This was nixed the next day by City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta (who forecast that quarantine would last into June) teaming up with the governors of Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Santa Fe, thus causing considerable public confusion and irritation, but the contradiction was more apparent than real – President Fernández had stated quite clearly that the previous restrictions would continue in all cities with over half a million people or more with the rest of the country up to the governors, always subject to national approval. Nevertheless, the President offered a mea culpa on Monday. The Rural Society on Tuesday postponed its traditional Palermo farm exhibition by three months from winter to October. As from midweek the protests against letting convicts out of prison and the change of ANSeS social security administration helm (see below) tended to drive the pandemic into the inside pages of newspapers. 

EVEN A PANDEMIC CAN'T STOP PROTESTS

A week of growing criticism over hundreds of convicts being granted house arrest or early release from their overcrowded prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic reached a crescendo on Thursday evening with a cacerolazo saucepan-bashing protest in many City neighbourhoods. Elsewhere, Polo Obrero members took to the streets in very few numbers for a unique social distanced protest on International Workers' Day.

VANOLI GIVEN BOOT

President Alberto Fernández on Wednesday fired ANSeS social security administration chief Alejandro Vanoli, naming the next day as his successor Buenos Aires Province minister and ex-deputy María Fernanda Raverta, a social worker and La Cámpora militant who was an unsuccessful mayoral candidate in Mar del Plata last October. Vanoli had been under fire for the absurd congestion of pensioners at banks a month ago, exposing them to risk during coronavirus quarantine, when he paid out retirement benefits and the IFE emergency family income on the same day but his fate was reportedly sealed by his failure to name state directors to the boards of 50 private companies where ANSeS holds shares.

MERCOSUR PULLOUT

At the start of the week Foreign Minister Felipe Solá denied that the government’s April 24 decision to pull out of all Mercosur negotiations towards free trade agreements other than with the European Union meant that Argentina was leaving the regional trade bloc, upholding his denial in a Congress committee videoconference session on Wednesday, but the move continued to be questioned. But the walkout did not lead to anything more than tension within the bloc during the week since all Mercosur governments have other problems. 

NO FLIGHTS TIL SEPTEMBER

Over the weekend the government banned ticket sales for both domestic and international flights until September 1 on the grounds of protecting consumers from purchasing a seat for a journey they would then be unable to board owing to lockdown. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) immediately criticised the resolution as violating bilateral agreements while the move led to speculation as to how many airlines other than Aerolíneas Argentinas would still be operational after a four-month freeze.

CRISTINA & CONGRESS

Fortified by last week’s Supreme Court ruling that the judicial branch has no role in defining the procedure of the legislative, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Tuesday presented a protocol for the future modus operandi with herself as the only person in the chamber orchestrating the senators via videoconference. The ex-president uses the Supreme Court green light to maintain that the protocol does not constitute a change of rules and thus does not need a two-thirds majority. But the Juntos por el Cambio opposition, which argues that up to 15 of the 72 senators can be present in the chamber without violating the social distance imposed by quarantine, is unconvinced and unwilling to assent. 

CGT TALKS

As Labour Day yesterday approached, the CGT umbrella grouping began negotiations with the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA in its Spanish acronym) to set a 20 percent floor to any wage reductions during lockdown although some airlines have already halved salaries while some major trade unions such as those representing car, metal, oil and shop workers have agreed to 25-30 percent pay cuts in return for no dismissals. Meanwhile the trade unions of health workers expressed concern about 14 percent of all confirmed cases of coronavirus coming from their ranks, well above the international average.

POVERTY TRAP

A four-member household needed to earn 41,994 pesos in order to stay above the poverty line in March and 17,353.25 pesos not to fall into destitution, three percent and 3.4 percent respectively more than February, INDEC statistics bureau reported on Tuesday.

GREAT, PROBLEM SOLVED

Local footballing legend Diego Maradona has asked the “Hand of God” to deliver the world from the coronavirus pandemic and allow normal life to resume. The World Cup winner referred to his hand-assisted goal in the 1986 World Cup after the Argentine Football Association voted to end the current season as well as suspend relegation – saving Maradona-managed bottom club Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata from the drop. “Today this happened to us and many people say it is a new Hand of God,” said Maradona, alluding to his infamous goal against England. “But today I’m asking for that hand to end this pandemic so people can go back to living their lives, healthy and happy.” Ah.

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