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ARGENTINA | 03-05-2024 17:58

Stories that caught our eye: April 26 to May 3

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

 

FIRST STOP FOR OMNIBUS

President Javier Milei’s ambitious omnibus bill with over 230 clauses was given first reading by the Chamber of Deputies on Monday by a 142-106 vote and second reading on Tuesday with a 125-106 vote after a 30-hour debate, enjoying strong third-party support. But in the process clause-by-clause discussion in the second reading saw several changes in a bill which had already been more than halved from its original version. During the session Coalición Cívica founder Elisa Carrió announced that her party would be leaving the Hacemos Coalición Federal caucus headed by dissident Peronist deputy Miguel Angel Pichetto because she disapproved of its general tendency to vote for “the annihilation of the middle class and for poverty.” On Wednesday Milei vowed that he would be going ahead with everything omitted from the omnibus after winning next year’s midterms. Meanwhile passage of the bill has only led the CGT umbrella labour grouping to reaffirm its plan to stage a general strike next Thursday.

 

PUBLIC SERVICE HIKES DELAYED

A few hours before May began, the Economy Ministry decided via a decree published in the Official Gazette to postpone the increases in gas and electricity billing due to kick in this month while also deferring the updating of fuel taxation, both moves aimed at keeping a lid on inflation. The hikes had been designed to compensate the companies which transport and distribute gas and electricity for the freezes in previous years. Economy Minister Luis Caputo on Thursday justified the postponement of the tax update with the arguments that “we are fiscally comfortable, we give priority to lowering inflation and we don’t want to burden the middle class with more expenses at the moment.” But petrol and diesel will still be going up four percent this month.

 

MILEI BACKS OUT OF BOOK FAIR

President Javier Milei on Wednesday cancelled next weekend’s Book Fair launch of his book Capitalismo, socialism y la trampa neoclásica, switching the time and place to Luna Park 10 days later on May 22. Milei grounded the change on the strong possibility of “Kirchnerite sabotage” with “great hostility to my person.” His decision was likely influenced by the strongly anti-government tone of the speeches to open the Book Fair on April 25, especially by Fundación El Libro head Alejandro Vaccaro, who openly questioned the President’s decision to show up in Palermo.

 

CRISTINA LETS LOOSE

The weekend before Congress was due to approve the government’s omnibus bill, ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner addressed a rally in Quilmes with fierce criticism of a “dogmatic” President Javier Milei, accusing him of lacking “a plan of stabilisation.” She further argued that Milei celebrated a fiscal surplus in the first quarter but owed everything to everybody. Addressing some 10,000 people, she proposed submitting a wide range of taxation to federal revenue-sharing with the provinces, something which she had never contemplated when herself in power.

 

NO MORE AIR MILES 

Until now President Javier Milei has shunned the fleet of presidential aircraft in favour of commercial airlines but the Iranian drone attack on Israel in mid-April has changed his mind on the recommendation of his Security Minister Patricia Bullrich – this weekend he will be using ARG01, the presidential jet purchased by his predecessor Alberto Fernández for US$25 million during his last months in power, to fly to Los Angeles for the forum of the Milken Institute between May 5 and 8 where he will be the main speaker addressing bankers and investment funds. Next month he will be using the ARG01 again to fly to Italy to join the G7 summit at the special invitation of its hostess, far right Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni. Last Tuesday Milei, his sister Karina and Bullrich all donned Coast Guard uniforms to welcome the United States Coast Guard cutter USCGC James, sailing in from Charleston, South Carolina as a US donation to help patrol South Atlantic waters against illegal trawlers.

 

CECILIA TRIAL STARTS

The trial into the murder of Cecilia Strzyzowski, 28 at the time of her disappearance in mid-2023, is imminent. While the case remains a murder without a body, the three prosecutors insisted that this “does not prevent César Sena (the victim’s husband from being indicted for homicide). This conclusion is based on other elements of solid proof present in the file, which support that a crime was committed,” while adding that “Cecilia’s death could not have occurred without the indispensable collaboration of his parents, Emerenciano Sena and Marcela Acuña.” Nevertheless, only César Sena stands accused of homicide doubly aggravated by the marital bond and by the context of gender violence while his parents are implicated as necessary participants. Until mid-2023 Emerenciano Sena was the most powerful picket leader in Chaco but this case sent him to prison, followed last September by the election defeat of three-term Peronist governor Jorge Capitanich, his mentor, effectively destroying his empire.

 

FOX IN CHARGE OF CHICKEN COOP

The government has picked former Monsanto CEO and former Buenos Aires provincial government minister Leonardo Sarquis to head the Conservation Department of the National Parks Administration, a move which ecologists compare to placing a fox in charge of the chicken coop. His track record at Monsanto is linked to the introduction of glyphosate, a herbicide weed-killer suspected of being carcinogenic, into this country while his stint heading the Agriculture Ministry during the 2015-19 administration of Buenos Aires Province PRO Governor Maria Eugenia Vidal saw a permissive approach to fertilisers.

 

DENGUE EPIDEMIC PERSISTS

The number of dengue cases in Argentina is closing in on the 400,000 mark after 379,341 cases were reported at the start of this week by Health Ministry authorities with 280 deaths so far (an average age of 49). The virulence of the outbreak thus more than trebles the same period last year, affecting this City and 19 of the 23 provinces. This epidemic has helped to motívate a scathing article on the health policies of the Javier Milei administration published in the British Medical Journal, the organ of the British Medical Association, describing the current situation as “the worst outbreak of dengue in the history of the country.” The article dismissed the passive Health Ministry under cardiologist Mario Russo as “zombie” and complained of hundreds of cancer patients being left without treatment as the result of "dramatic" spending cuts. Milei himself is described as an ex-economist, television panellist and tantric sex trainer who has "reiterated his objective to eliminate universal medical coverage."

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