Monday, February 26, 2024

ARGENTINA | 09-02-2024 00:31

Stories that caught our eye: February 2 to 9

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



The government’s omnibus reform bill foundered on Tuesday when it drew uneven support on the article-by-article approval needed for second reading and returned to the square one of committee stage after only half a dozen articles had been considered. Following its success of obtaining first reading with a 144-109 vote the previous Friday, the bill had secured an early triumph with approval of the declaration of an economic emergency and the delegation of parliamentary prerogatives to the executive branch but consensus was thereafter lacking, especially over privatisations. From the distance of Israel President Javier Milei furiously blamed the “caste” in general and provincial governors in particular with the latter replying that the “lack of dialogue” was not their fault. With no further interest in the obstacle-ridden omnibus bill, Milei is now weighing his options between rule by decree and a plebiscite. On Monday the government won another legal battle when La Plata federal judge Alberto Recondo rejected the appeals of Malvinas war veterans against repeal of the law restricting foreign land ownership.



La Libertad Avanza has presented two bills to repeal the legalisation of abortion, an official party initiative signed by caucus chief Oscar Zago and four other deputies (of whom Lilia Lemoine later denied her signature on the grounds that the time was not right) and an individual bill from the deputy Rocio Bonacci who denied any authorisation by President Javier Milei, arguing that she did not need anybody´s permission to defend life. The former bill, submitted on Wednesday night, was immediately sent by Speaker Martín Menem to the five corresponding committees. The president’s office denied having anything to do with it.



Apart from meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who thanked his “firm support” for Israel, and President Isaac Herzog, among other authorities and an emotional presence in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, President Javier Milei´s visit to Israel also took in a kibbutz close to the Gaza Strip and hard-hit by the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks, as well as reading out in Hebrew a text on Moses from the Book of Exodus while comparing his omnibus reform law to the Ten Commandments. Milei, who will be meeting with Pope Francis in Rome on Monday, travelled with an extremely small entourage consisting of his sister Karina, Foreign Minister Diana Mondino and prospective ambassador to Israel Axel Wahnish.



At the start of the week the government increased electricity bills by 60 percent for the third of residential clients in the upper-income segment, as well as for businesses, while on Tuesday the minimum bus and train fares shot up to 270 and 130 pesos respectively, an increase of over 80 percent. On Wednesday City Hall gave last month’s inflation as 21.7 percent at an annual rate of 238.5 percent with the key item of food and beverages weighing in above the monthly average at 25.4 percent while Thursday saw Rosario without buses with drivers on strike.



Flooded streets, traffic delays, power cuts and interrupted subway transport (on all lines and not just D already halted for modernisation) were the upshot of Thursday afternoon's torrential downpour, which was accompanied by yellow alerts for hailstorms in 12 provinces. Among other damage a Caballito building collapsed, leaving one woman dead. Many of those in and around the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area also had troubles charging and registering their SUBE transport cards, coinciding with large hikes of fares and angering users.



President Javier Milei last Monday decreed a trusteeship over state media with the aim of "changing their organic and functional structure," according to the text published in the Official Gazette. The trusteeship will extend over public radio and television and Télam news agency for a year (renewable for a further year), plus the educational portal, the Polo de Producción Audiovisual and Bacua (Banco Audiovisual de Contenidos Universales Argentino). In a previous February 2 decree Milei had already given the Cabinet chief control of the public media "to intervene in the definition of communication strategy and contents." The lawyers designated trustees include Diego Martín Chaher, ex-director of the Grupo América media company (linked to billionaire Eduardo Eurnekian, Milei’s former employer). The trustees have full powers to administer funds and budgets, as well as to hire and fire. But when explaining the February 2 decree, presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said that it had yet to be defined whether or not the government would advance in the privatisation of these media. Regarding job security, Adorni said: "All those who work in good faith and add value have nothing to worry about."



Before joining President Javier Milei on his trip to Israel, Foreign Minister Diana Mondino was taking care of the relationship with the libertarian administration’s other top-priority ally, receiving Brian Nichols, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, with the objective of "deepening, broadening and diversifying the bilateral relationship yet further" in its 201st year. Mondino spoke of a "strategic alliance revolving around the promotion of economic development and of democracy in the region and in the world," as well as highlighting the United States as a fundamental investment partner which would hopefully be attracted by the new government’s state reform programme. Nichols, who was accompanied by US Ambassador Marc Stanley, said that the United States looked forward to working jointly with Argentina at both bilateral and multilateral level.



On the first day of the trial for the sexual abuse of his niece last Monday, former Tucumán governor and senator José Alperovich said that he would not be speaking until the end of proceedings on the advice of his lawyers before going on to say: “I’m 68 with 11 grandchildren and four children. I want the truth because this has been killing me. With all the respect I have for the judiciary as a law-abiding citizen, I want the truth. I ask you to pay attention to the evidence.” Alperovich later presented himself as a “businessman … with a car dealership, a real estate firm and a cattle-breeding enterprise” earning around five million pesos monthly.



The Federal Cassation Court on Monday ordered federal judge Sebastián Casanello to continue the trial of former two-term president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the money-laundering case known locally as “Ruta del dinero K.” Kirchnerite tycoon Lázaro Báez, among others, has already been convicted in this case but the court is not satisfied that the responsibility ends there.



The government on Wednesday partially renewed a contract with 16 opinion pollsters inherited from the Alberto Fernández Presidency, extending it for the next six months instead of the full year originally stipulated and against a payment of almost 50 million pesos.



Rosario-born Carlos Pascual, 83, much better known as ‘Tula,’ the eternal Peronist bombo drummer who represented Argentina’s 2022 Qatar World Cup fans at the FIFA The Best awards, died last Wednesday after a prolonged period in an induced coma. 



Cecilia Gentili, the Argentine-born trans activist and author known for leading the fight for transgender and sex worker rights in New York, has died at the age of 52. Born in the town of Gálvez, Santa Fe Province, where between the ages of six and 10 she was sexually abused by a neighbour, first discovering her transgender identity at university in Rosario. Gentili moved to New York at the age of 26, arriving there after spells in Brazil and Miami, eventually co-founding the organisation DecrimNY, which succeeded in decriminalising sex work, and working on AIDS prevention.  

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