The TOF(Tribunal Oral Federal)2 court last Tuesday sentenced Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to a six-year prison term for corruption, half the sentence requested by prosecutor Diego Luciani, and a perpetual ban from public office (to which she responded by saying that she would not be running “for anything” next year while lambasting the legitimacy of the trial). She was convicted for defrauding the state but acquitted of running an illicit association. Her imprisonment will not be immediate (if at all) due to her vice-presidential privileges and rights of appeal. Lázaro Báez, as the beneficiary of the fraudulent Santa Cruz highway contracts, was also sentenced to six years while seven co-defendants received prison terms ranging from 39 months to six years and four were acquitted, including former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido. The Juntos por el Cambio opposition celebrated the verdict as “another chapter in the end to impunity showing that nobody is above the law in Argentina … with all the institutional rights of the accused respected” but PRO chair Patricia Bullrich took it a step further, commenting: “Justice will not be done until CFK returns ALL the money she stole and goes to prison for her crimes.”
HIDDEN IN LAGO ESCONDIDO
On the eve of Tuesday’s verdict of the trial against his Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President Alberto Fernández abruptly delivered a nationwide broadcast to denounce a meeting last October of judges, Clarín Group executives and City Hall Security Minister Marcelo D’Alessandro at the Patagonian Lago Escondido ranch belonging to British billionaire Joe Lewis. The next day Bariloche federal prosecutor María Cándida Etchepare followed up the presidential initiative by demanding the indictment of the 10 participants in the meeting on charges entitled: "Ercolini, Julián and others for malfeasance and acceptance of handouts,” also questioning the invoicing of the trip. Senator Oscar Parrilli (Frente de Todos-Neuquén) calls the case “Argentina’s Watergate” and on Tuesday the chief presidential advisor Julián Leunda was obliged to resign after chats implicated him in covering up the trip.
In a day dominated by the verdict in the Santa Cruz corruption trial, Tuesday also saw President Alberto Fernández heading to Montevideo for a tense Mercosur summit featuring clashes with his colleague across the River Plate estuary, Uruguay’s Luis Lacalle Pou. Fernández, who assumed the pro-tempore presidency of the trade bloc, accused Uruguay of breaking Mercosur rules by “unilaterally” seeking agreements with countries beyond the bloc. Instead he urged the Mercosur partners to concentrate on creating a common Central Bank.
US TAX AGREEMENT
Economy Minister Sergio Massa signed with United States Ambassador Marc Stanley an agreement to exchange tax information between the two countries as a step towards tapping the estimated US$100 billion of Argentine money in US accounts (around a quarter of total capital outside the system) by detecting evaders. Washington’s Internal Revenue Service will be supplying data next September 30 and annually on that date thereafter. The full scope and fine print of the agreement were not immediately clear. A whitewash bill permitting US account-holders to come clean before the axe falls in September will need to be sent to Congress this month.
MR MAYOR GOES TO WASHINGTON
Seeking to give an international angle to his presidential bid, City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta headed out in midweek for an official tour to Washington where he will be meeting up with White House officials, senators, businessmen, think tanks and Georgetown University students. Sustainable food production and climate change will reportedly top his agenda while he will also be received by State Department authorities for a dialogue on democracy in the region, cooperation against terrorism and the opportunities offered by Argentina in food, energy and lithium.
INTO MORE FUNDS
By last weekend the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had completed its third review of its agreement with Argentina earlier this month, thus permitting the release of US$6 billion in the course of this month for the relief of faltering Central Bank reserves. The team of Economy Ministry officials headed by chief advisor Leonardo Madcur returned to Buenos Aires "satisfied" with the IMF report concluding: “The prudent macroeconomic management and the efforts to mobilise external financing are supporting macroeconomic stability, re-establishing fiscal order, moderating inflation, improving the balance of trade and strengthening the coverage of reserves” while retaining the programme objectives for the rest of this year and the next but also warning that the scenario continues to be "fragile." While the IMF continues to set the target for reserve accumulation for US$9.8 billion by the end of next year, this year’s requirement has been scaled down from US$5.8 to US$5 billion with the remaining 4.8 billion left for next year, thus skipping the need to request a waiver.
Prolonged drought has prompted Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof to declare a state of emergency in 33 of the province’s 135 districts, extending tax exemptions or rebates and credit lines to affected farmers. Almost 23 million hectares are undergoing severe drought out of a nationwide total of over 163 million, chiefly in five provinces.
Argentina’s government has conceded diplomatic asylum to Ecuador’s former Public Works minister María de los Ángeles Duarte, who has been taking refuge at the Argentine Embassy in Quito since August, 2020, it was confirmed by government sources on the eve of last weekend. Duarte, who has a son fathered by an Argentine, was the Public Works minister of the leftist Rafael Correa administration and was subsequently sentenced to an eight-year prison term for corruption (the same sentence as received by Correa himself, who is now living in exile in Belgium). Her claim that she is the victim of political persecution and lawfare is accepted by the Argentine government.
MACRI’S QATAR MODEL
Ex-president Mauricio Macri has drawn some controversial conclusions from his month in Doha following the World Cup as the head of the FIFA Foundation, saying: “In Qatar they have built a society out of nothing while the only thing we have done is to increase poverty up to 50 percent.” His Persian Gulf hosts now had the best schools, universities, labour conditions and infrastructure, he continued, showing the need for Argentina to make “a profound change” in that direction since “in the last three years we have fallen off the map.” Meanwhile Macri continues to dodge defining any bid to return to the presidency next year.
XMAS CHEER COMES DEAR
December has begun with the prices of typical Christmas products rising well beyond inflation, averaging 129 percent with pan dulce (154 percent) and sparkling pineapple wine (152 percent) leading the way while Christmas trees (131 percent) are closer to the average. The government’s new Precios Justos price control programme covers Christmas products but is vulnerable to stocks and demand, which will be fed by various seasonal wage and pension bonuses. Imported items are especially expensive.
THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
At the start of the week the health authorities reported a fourfold increase in cases of Covid-19 contagion with the new total of 12,609 cases entering into five digits for the first time since early September (there will be an updated Health Ministry report this weekend). The total number of people testing positive for Covid since the arrival of the pandemic in March, 2020 rose to 9,739.856 with the death toll rising by nine to 130,034 while 247 patients are currently in intensive care wards. While Health Minister Carla Vizzotti attributed this low mortality rate to vaccination, recommending an intensified booster campaign, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that a deadlier variant of coronavirus could be on the loose while adding: "90 percent of the world population now has some level of immunity to Covid, whether from previous infection or vaccination."
At the end of last week Nicolás Pachelo, José Ortiz and Norberto Glennon were acquitted of the 2002 murder of María Marta García Belsunce but Pachelo was sentenced to 114 months in prison for robbing at least six gated community houses between 2017 and 2018, to which the accused had admitted his guilt. The García Belsunce case has now been through three trials without clarifying the crime with her widower Carlos Carrascosa initially convicted for homicide but later acquitted and released after seven years upon appeal.