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ARGENTINA | 19-04-2024 17:59

Stories that caught our eye: April 12 to 19

A selection of stories that caught our eye over the last seven days in Argentina.

 

PREPAID ROLLBACK

The government announced last Wednesday that the major prepaid medicine schemes accounting  for three-quarters of the market will roll back their charges to the levels of the end of last year, recalculating them with the increases limited to the official monthly inflation data in the first half of the year and returning to their clients the sums collected in excess of inflation. The increases so far this year had averaged 150 percent, becoming a major middle-class grievance. The announcement was made by Presidential Spokesman Manuel Adorni (promoted to secretary of state that same day without any change in function) in his daily press conference where he detailed that the move responded to a resolution by the Economy Ministry’s Trade Secretariat and a court injunction lodged by the National Commission for the Defence of Competition (CNDC in its Spanish acronym). This move was preceded on Monday by the resignation of Claudio Belocopitt, the owner of Swiss Medical and a pet target of government criticism, from the helm of the UAS (Unión Argentina de Salud) chamber of the sector.

 

SUPREME COURT NOMINATIONS

The government formalised the proposals of federal judge Ariel Lijo and constitutional lawyer Manuel García-Mansilla to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court by publishing their names in the Official Gazette last Monday. The proposal of Lijo in particular has been strongly criticised by politicians, academics and bar associations for his complacent handling of corruption cases ever since it was first aired over a month ago. The candidates will require the approval of a two-thirds majority in the Senate in order to become Supreme Court justices. On Tuesday the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government when they turned down two lawsuits filed against the deregulatory emergency mega-decree 70/2023 by La Rioja Peronist Governor Ricardo Quintela and former Bar Association president Jorge Rizzo.

 

MILEI FLIES SOUTH …

President Javier Milei abruptly cut short his United States visit last weekend, heading home upon hearing of the Iranian drone attack on Israel and arriving on Sunday afternoon to address security concerns. Almost the only achievement of his curtailed trip was to meet tycoon Elon Musk, the world’s second-richest billionaire, at his Tesla factory in Texas just before the weekend with Milei harbouring hopes that their shared economic philosophy might result in future investments.

 

… AND CAPUTO NORTH

Economy Minister Luis Caputo flew to Washington DC last week to participate in the Spring Meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) between Wednesday and yesterday with a view to exploring an agreement which would permit more dollars to exit capital controls. The IMF staff report is currently forecasting negative growth of minus 2.8 percent and 150 percent inflation for this year. While in Washington Caputo was to seek bilateral meetings with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva (recently confirmed for a second five-year stint at the helm) and United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

 

LANATA VERSUS LION

Journalist Jorge Lanata said on Monday that he would be suing President Javier Milei after the latter had called him a “liar” while implying that he was on the take for criticising the presence of Israeli Ambassador Eyal Sela at a Cabinet meeting (the official photo of the meeting shows Sela sitting next to Vice-President Victoria Villarruel, although the government subsequently explained that the envoy had limited his intervention to an advance briefing). Security Minister Patricia Bullrich later pleaded with Lanata to drop the case but the veteran journalist isn’t backing down and has filed suit.

 

SELF-SERVING SENATE APPROVES ENVOYS

The Senate on Thursday afternoon voted itself by a show of hands without debate a controversial pay increase from 1.7 to four million pesos while approving six ambassadorial nominations by President Javier Milei, including rabbi Axel Wahnish for Israel. The others, all approved unanimously by the 67 senators present, were Gerardo Werthein (for the United States), Guillermo Nielsen (Paraguay), Mariano Caucino (India), Ian Sielecki (France) and Sonia Cavallo (for the Organisation of American States).

 

SKANSKA TRIAL STARTS

The trial of former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido, former Public Works secretary José López and 29 other defendants for bribery and fraud in the allocation of contracts for the construction of gas pipelines to the Swedish company Skanska in 2005 began last Monday, 19 years after the first major corruption case of the Kirchner presidencies. Bribes to the tune of 13 million pesos (over US$4 million at that time) were paid out, mostly to De Vido, according to the financial irregularities which have been traced. The case had previously been shelved by judges such as the late Norberto Oyarbide before the Supreme Court finally took it up.

 

DRIVING LICENCES HACKED

A hacker has robbed the data of over 5.7 million driving licences and put them up for sale on the dark web of the Internet for US$3,700, it was revealed in Britain on Tuesday, but not before leaving a message implying that cybersecurity is another victim of the Javier Milei government’s spending cuts. The hacked licences included those of President Milei and ministers Patricia Bullrich (Security) and Luis Petri (Defence), as well as numerous local celebrities.

 

OUR MAN TO GENEVA

The government last Tuesday named former Foreign deputy minister Carlos Foradori to represent Argentina before the international agencies based in Geneva via Decree 317/2024. Two years ago Foradori was at the centre of an alleged “drunken with Duncan” scandal when his 2016 agreement with then-UK Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan opening new air links for the Malvinas was accused of being unduly lubricated in favour of Britain as a result of the copious bottles of Merlot in previous British Ambassador Mark Kent’s wine cellar with extracts from Duncan’s then newly published memoirs pointing in that direction. He denies the claim. The Alberto Fernández administration scrapped the Foradori-Duncan agreement in March, 2023.

 

FEMICIDE CONVICTED

Nearly 10 years after the femicide, a Uruguayan court last Wednesday convicted Leonardo Sena, the killer of Argentine teenager Lola Chomnalez, to a prison sentence of 27 and a half years. The girl was murdered during a beach stroll on Boxing Day of 2014.

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

The provincial government of Tierra del Fuego, whose official title also includes the Antarctic and the South Atlantic islands, on Monday presented a bill for renaming the South Georgias and the South Sandwich Islands as the Islas San Pedro and the Islas Esquivel. The former islands were originally named Islas San Pedro by Spain in 1756 but Captain James Cook renamed them in 1775 in honour of the then reigning British monarch George III.

 

MALAYSIA TRULY ASIA

The Eid Mubarak post-Ramadan festivities were celebrated in style at the Malaysian Embassy last Thursday with such tasty dishes as rendang in abundant supply. After thanking his diplomatic and media guests, Petronas (eagerly awaiting the omnibus law before moving ahead with its investments in the energy sector) and his “dream team” at the Embassy, Malaysian Ambassador Nur Azman Rahim highlighted that Foreign Minister Diana Mondino had made Malaysia her very first Asian destination for a highly successful visit. 

 

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