THE BUCK DOESN’T STOP HERE
Reactions continued throughout the week to the April 21 announcement by President Alberto Fernández that he would not be seeking re-election – reactions which also took the form of wildly volatile currency markets with the “blue” dollar hovering around 500 pesos at times even if the president said that he had taken his decision to defuse political tensions. While the presidential exit from the electoral race surprised nobody, its timing was unexpected – it took the form of a video recorded a few hours before a Justicialist (Peronist) Party congress, thus heading off the pressures for his withdrawal looming there. A premature “lame duck” presidency was only one of the factors feeding last week’s dollar surge – others were accelerating inflation (as reflected by the March figure) devaluing the new “soy dollar” of 300 pesos and shrinking Central Bank reserves. One of the calmest reactions came from President Fernández himself, who on Monday gave a light-hearted interview to the versatile entertainment personality Mex Urtizberea in which he talked about his siestas, his childish clowning and his preference for Robert De Niro to play him should a film be made about his life, among other topics – vox populi had it that he took a helicopter to the Caballito interview but this was officially denied.
ALLEGED OPPOSITION OBSTRUCTIONISM DENOUNCED
Argentina’s representative at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Sergio Chodos last weekend denounced three opposition economists – former Economy ministers Alfonso Prat Gay and Hernán Lacunza and former Central Bank governor Guido Sandleris – for allegedly arguing against the IMF bringing forward all payments due this year to June, as urged by Economy Minister Sergio Massa.
In midweek Economy Minister Sergio Massa announced that he would be summoning all sectors to reach a 90-day price-wage agreement to stabilise the economic situation and restore certainty. The announcement came at a meeting with trade union and social movement leaders but Massa said that the summons would also extend to businessmen. The minister said that the agreement was essential to head off “inexplicable” price increases due to the surge in the “blue” dollar when all imports were paid at the official exchange rate. Such consensus would seem to be in the air because on the same day ex-senator and ex-minister Esteban Bullrich of the centre-right PRO opposition party called for a “great national agreement” from his sickbed, receiving immediate support from left-wing social movement leader Juan Grabois. On Tuesday Massa announced a new income tax floor of a gross salary of half a million pesos (506,230 to be exact), which he said would benefit around a quarter of a million employees.
CRISTINA & THE COURTS
For contrasting reasons both the defence and the prosecution appealed the six-year prison sentence for fraudulent administration of Santa Cruz highway contracts handed out to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last December. Her defence lawyers demanded her acquittal while federal prosecutor Diego Luciani called for an extra six years for “illicit association.”
Pope Francis last Sunday expressed a wish to visit his native country next year while continuing to give electoral years a wide berth. The pontiff had last planned to visit Argentina in late 2017 as part of a swing including Chile and Peru but the midterms interfered with those plans, among other factors. The Pope also revealed that there were three strong candidates to replace outgoing Buenos Aires Cardinal-Archbishop Mario Poli but considered it unfair to name them.
CAN YOU SMELL THE WAY TO SAN JOSE?
Buenos Aires and its surroundings had to contend with a smoky overhang with a strong smell of burning from the start of this week as a result of fires in neighbouring Uruguay. Such emblematic buildings as the Casa Rosada and the Obelisk monument were hard to spot even from distances of less than 100 metres. “In the coastal zones of the River Plate there is also the presence of smoke as the product of a fire in south-western Uruguay. Be careful driving! Visibility can be less than one kilometre,” warned the Servicio Meteorológico Nacional (Weather Bureau) over the social networks. The fire started last Saturday in fields of the Uruguayan department of San José and the wind blew the smoke towards Buenos Aires, tweeted Argentine meteorologist Cindy Fernández last Sunday.
DENGUE HEALTH ALERT
At the start of the week the Health Ministry revealed that 48 people have already died of dengue fever with 68,850 cases, the worst outbreak in the country’s history. Tucumán (17,578 cases) and Santa Fe (13.647) are the worst-hit provinces while four-digit totals are also reported in Buenos Aires City and Province, Chaco, Córdoba, Jujuy, Salta and Santiago del Estero. Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said that the curve was levelling out but warned against “lowering the guard.” On Wednesday ANMAT (the Argentine equivalent of the Food & Drug Administration in the United States) approved Japan’s TAK-003 vaccine for use against dengue.
The Sistema Interinstitucional de Control de Cárceles, a multidisciplinary team of penitentiary system watchdogs issued a report on Monday denouncing acute overcrowding in City of Buenos Aires jails, calling it “unjustifiable.” Thus Devoto prison designed for 819 prisoners was holding 1,464 persons, it was pointed out. The report did not mention prisons in Buenos Aires Province although it did suggest in passing that conditions in some northern provinces and Mendoza were also unsatisfactory. One reason for prison overcrowding was given as sluggish court procedure since hundreds of prisoners were not actually convicts but awaiting trial, often for three years or more.
The 47th edition Book Fair was opened last Thursday in Palermo with the inaugural speech delivered by author Marcelo Kohan, who sought to steer clear of political polarisation in an election year. The Fair will run until May 15.
ANOTHER PRIZE FOR 1985
Although denied an Oscar last month, the award-winning film Argentina, 1985 picked up the Platinum Prize for the Ibero-American audiovisual industry in Madrid last weekend. The film on the junta trials won four more trophies for the best script, art direction, cinematic values and actor Ricardo Darín, who dedicated his prize “to the incredible humanity of a man called Julio César Strassera (the trial prosecutor).” The Platinum Prizes, which go back to 2014, are awarded in alternative years to Latin American and Spanish productions.
A two-storey house in Floresta collapsed on Wednesday, causing two deaths with three people missing and at least 21 injured. Earlier in the week a fire at the Iron Mountain warehouse in Barracas resulted in the collapse of two of its walls on Monday with the damage limited to five smashed cars. The mishap brought back grim memories of a much bigger and more tragic blaze at Iron Mountain in 2014 when 10 firefighters died.