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ARGENTINA | 02-06-2018 08:28

May 28th - Jun 3rd: What we learned this week

From tariff veto, to rivalry with CFK and the menace of a general strike...Macri had another hot week.

PRESIDENT VETOES UTILITY HIKES BILL

The Senate passed a Peronist opposition bill to roll back utility prices to last year by a 35-30 vote in the small hours of Thursday and it was promptly vetoed as “irresponsible” by President Mauricio Macri that same morning (via a decree reportedly already written on Wednesday). Both moves were inevitable in the current political context – the opposition could not resist the temptation to ride public dismay over the steep increases in household gas and electricity bills while Macri feels that he cannot afford to relinquish 115 billion pesos worth of subsidy savings when in the middle of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Although the bill to cancel all utility billing hikes since last November was drafted and approved by all strands of Peronism (including ex-presidents Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Carlos Menem, both now senators), the first criticisms of the steep increases came from Macri’s Civic Coalition and Radical allies, worried about the impact on the middle-class constituency of the ruling Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition (since most poorer sectors are protected by the “social tariff”).

MACRI INVOKES HIS FAVOURITE ENEMY

The Senate bill to roll back utility bills was preceded earlier in the week by frantic government efforts to head off its passage and thus the political costs of the inevitable veto. These efforts included President Mauricio Macri appealing to “responsible and reliable Peronist senators not to be carried away by the madness of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.” This personalised jab prompted as much feminist as political backlash with Macri’s predecessor at the receiving-end of this remark calling him a “machirulo” (a term previously used for men who sought to disguise their homosexuality with exaggerated machismo but now more commonly applied to any excesses of testerone).

SPECTRE OF A STRIKE

The CGT umbrella labour grouping continues to moot calling a general strike against higher gas and electricity bills in particular and the economic policies of the Mauricio Macri administration in general but opinions are divided over the issue, just as they were over joining the May 25 protest march against going to the International Monetary Fund. But at the same time the CGT helm will be depleted these days by the annual conference of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva between May 28 and June 8, the destination of several leading trade unionists, some of whom will be joining the 47-strong official delegation headed by Labour Minister Jorge Triaca and others travelling on their own behalf. At the level of individual unions various pay disputes remained unresolved with public employees rejecting a 12-percent pay increase and Buenos Aires province teachers refusing all offers. Their Neuquén colleagues finally ended a six-week strike, however.

NISMAN ASSASINATED AS ‘DIRECT CONSEQUENCE’ OF CLAIMS AGAINST CFK

Late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman was murdered in response to his accusations against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and several members of her Cabinet, Argentina’s top Appellate’s Court ruled yesterday. Coinciding with Federal Judge Julián Ercolini and Prosecutor Eduardo Taiano, the court agreed with a September report prepared by the Gendarmerie (Border Guard) that indicated Nisman’s death was indeed a homicide, thus confirming the prosecution of four police officers involved, accused of covering up the crime and failing to perform their duties as public servants. Diego Lagomarsino, the IT assistant who admitted to giving Nisman the gun with which he finally was killed, is still considered a necessary participant in the crime, yet his lawyers hadn’t appealed at this instance. Sara Garfunkel, mother of the demised, had asked the court to consider a case of “magnicide,” meaning the crime should carry heavier punishment, yet the court didn’t oblige. “It can’t be ignored that the murder of Dr. Nisman occurred four days after having to officialise his complaint and hours before heading to Congress explain it, circumstances which logically forces the investigation toward the probable understanding that the Prosecutor’s death occurred as a direct consequence [of his investigation],” read the court’s ruling.

ARMY DAY

Army Day last Tuesday was celebrated in the context of government moves to empower the Armed Forces to intervene in the defence of domestic security, something expressly forbidden by a 2006 decree by then-president Néstor Kirchner interpreting the National Defence Law as strictly limiting them to external threats from a foreign state.

CHRIST CAKE FURORE

Buenos Aires City Culture Minister,Enrique Avogadro was forced to apologise after being photographed eating an arm of Jesus Christ as represented by a life-sized “Jesus cake” at the FACA Argentine Contemporary Art Fair this week. His Facebook apology followed protests by hundreds of outraged Catholics over what they perceived as irreverence. Some demanded his resignation. City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta also apologised in a letter to Cardinal Mario Poli, adding “as a true believer, Avogadro’s attitude hurts, annoys and surprises me.” But the minister’s apology also included a defence of the freedom of expression, adding that it was often the function of art to disturb people. The “Jesus cake” creators had already stirred controversy last year by presenting Barbie dolls as religious ícons. (There’s a sentence we never expected to type.)

THERE’S A WORLD CUP COMING UP QUITE SOON...

The home leg of the national football team’s World Cup preparations concluded this week with a public training session at Huracán stadium on Sunday, attended by a large, enthusiastic and often very young crowd, and a 4-0 defeat of Haiti in a Tuesday friendly – complete with a Lionel Messi hat-trick – at La Bombonera (though the performance left a lot to be desired). The following day, the Albiceleste squad flew to Barcelona’s El Prat Airport prior to the final warm-up against Israel in Jerusalem. Argentina’s first match is on June 16 against Iceland.

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