What has happened the last seven days?
Faced with the prospect of Congress blocking the 2019 budget, the government backtracked on the retroactive surcharge for 2019 and 2020 gas bills which had been announced five days previously, triggering both public and political backlash. The move was criticised not only by the opposition but also openly by the ruling Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition’s Radical allies while other government members were more privately apprehensive about the adverse electoral impact. The government initially proposed a surcharge averaging a monthly 90 pesos on the gas bills of the next two years in order to help compensate the utilities for their losses since the privatisation of gas in 1992 – losses largely stemming from the utility rate freezes during the 12 years of Kirchnerite presidency but greatly aggravated in recent months by a devaluation doubling the cost of imports. Instead of the politically risky move of having consumers foot the bill, the state will now compensate the gas companies for their devaluation losses of the last six months – estimated at some 20 billion pesos – in 30 quotas with the utilities having to absorb any remainder. The mechanism of payment has yet to be defined but is expected to be bonds.
TENSION IN COURT
Tension mounted behind the scenes last week in the Supreme Court when the new Chief Justice Carlos Rosenkrantz signed a resolution accusing his predecessor Ricardo Lorenzetti of paralysing the tribunal’s CIJ website. Lorenzetti responded with a fiery letter accusing Rosenkrantz of aspiring to privatise the CIJ and moving the court away from “protecting women.”
OLYMPIC SPIRIT IN CAPITAL
The ongoing Youth Olympic Games seems to have been a resounding success so far, with Argentina having bagged at least two gold, four silver and three bronze medals at press time. There was, however, a minor furore over the tight outfits worn by Las Kamikazes, as Argentina’s women’s beach handball squad is known, which contrast sharply with the loose-fitting kit the nation’s male players are required to wear. The squad responded via Twitter, telling critics to take it easy. “We chose the uniform ourselves for comfort and the name on our bums is according to regulations,” they said.
DE VIDO SENTENCED IN ONCE TRAIN TRAGEDY CASE
Former federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido was sentenced on Wednesday to a 68-month prison term for his role in the 52-death Once rail tragedy in the summer of 2012. He was convicted on a count of “administrative fraud” but acquitted on charges of “criminal neglect endangering public safety.” De Vido has spent the past year in jail facing other corruption charges after being expelled from the Lower House last spring but the Once trial was his first conviction.
No stranger to controversy, the maverick government deputy Elisa Carrió made her own U-turn this week. After warning the government she would bring down the coalition unless Justice Minister Germán Garavano was impeached or forced to resign, she later told everyone it was “just a joke.”
The CGT umbrella labour grouping returned to the warpath this week with increasing talk of a general strike – mostly “meditated” for next month but the date of October 24 when CTERA teachers will be shunning classes nationwide was also proposed. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires province collective bargaining with teachers is set to resume for the first time since June on the basis of a common percentage of 30 percent but with a significant difference – the final offer for the province and the first step to a desired 47 percent for the teachers.
THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION (I)
Prosecutor Germán Moldes on Thursday called for the “immediate arrest” of ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the “cuadernos (notebook)” Kirchnerite corruption case being tried by Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio, while recognising that this would not happen until the Citizens’ Unity senator had been stripped of her parliamentary immunity. For her part the ex-president asked for Perfil fouder Jorge Fontevecchia to be summoned as a witness after he told a television programme on Monday that “Bonadio’s only objective is to send Cristina to prison.” Meanwhile the judge has summoned her son Máximo Kirchner for October 23 in the same case.
THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION (II)
Former PRO party treasurer Fernanda Inza was indicted last Tuesday by La Plata Federal Judge Ernesto Kreplak on money-laundering charges concerning hundreds of bogus Buenos Aires province campaign contributions in 2017. Although the official scapegoat for this scandal, Inza has recently been seen in the company of Buenos Aires province Governor María Eugenia Vidal, of whom she was previously a close confidant. Meanwhile, similar charges concerning bogus campaign contributions in this city have come before Federal Judge Sebastián Casanello’s courtroom but prosecutor Carlos Stornelli feels that the case belongs more properly to the electoral courts. To the north, mounting corruption charges were apparently too much for government backbencher Aída Ayala (Cambiemos-Chaco), who was hospitalised with low blood pressure on Wednesday in her hometown of Resistancia, the Chaco provincial capital which the Radical politician governed for three mayoral terms (2003- 15). Last July she was indicted on Monday on fraud, moneylaundering and malfeasance charges related to Resistencia municipal funds (especially via the Pimp SA garbage collection company) but she has yet to be remanded in custody, as requested by the judge, since she retains parliamentary immunity.
The government has made a formal protest with the British Embassy to reject upcoming military exercises in and around the disputed Malvinas (Falkland) Islands on October 15 to 29, Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.