Wednesday, February 21, 2024

ARGENTINA | 14-01-2023 07:08

Stories that caught our eye: January 7 to 14

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



Followers of Brazilian ex-president Jair Bolsonaro denying his election defeat assaulted all three branches of government (Congress, the presidential residence and the Supreme Court building) in Brasilia last Sunday with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in São Paulo at the time (and Bolsonaro in Florida) and scant police presence in the national capital during a summer weekend. Lula ordered the rightist state government of Brasilia to be placed under federal trusteeship on suspicions of complicity and after much destruction the attack was brought under control with some 1,500 arrests. The attack on democracy prompted global condemnation, including the entire political spectrum in Argentina (even libertarían deputy Javier Milei) although some opposition politicians also accused the Frente de Todos government of institutional damage of its own.



Within four days of returning to office, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced his country’s return to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC, in its Spanish acronym), which Brazil left early in 2020 on the orders of then-president Jair Bolsonaro, who considered the grouping a bunch of leftists. But since then the left has returned to power in Chile, Colombia and now Brazil under Lula. The 33-member CELAC, which groups all American countries from Mexico downwards, was created in 2010 with Lula as one of its co-founders. Last Tuesday Lula confirmed that he would be coming here on January 23 to hold a bilateral meeting with President Alberto Fernández and attending the CELAC summit the following day, last weekend’s upheavals in Brasilia notwithstanding.



Last month’s inflation was reported as 5.1 percent nationwide by INDEC national statistics bureau on Thursday and 5.8 percent locally by City Hall on Monday with respective total annual rates for 2022 of 94.8 and 93.4 percent. The figure of 5.1 percent, slightly up from November’s 4.9 percent, is the first time inflation has not fallen with Sergio Massa heading the Economy Ministry and makes last year's inflation the highest in 32 years when Argentina was still emerging from hyperinflation. Restaurants and hotels (7.2 percent nationally and nine percent locally), alcoholic beverages and tobacco (7.4 and 7.1 percent), domestic appliances (5.9 and 6.7 percent), transport (5.8 percent) and health (5.7 and 6.3 percent) were leading culprits while the key item of food and beverages rose 4.7 percent at both national and local level although closing the year with three-digit annual inflation at 101.6 percent. Core inflation was 5.3 percent with regulated prices rising 5.1 percent and seasonal prices 4.6 percent (7.1 percent locally). City Hall statisticians also reported last week that a four-person household needed monthly earnings of 152,963 pesos to stay above the poverty line.



Details of this year’s segmented gas billing were given by the Energy Department last Tuesday. All invoices have four main components – the gas itself (40 percent), the transportation (11 percent), the distribution (24 percent) and national, provincial and municipal taxation (25 percent). Upper-income and middle-income segments will start losing subsidies on all three first components but 3.5 million low-income users will only be subject to the increased costs of transport and distribution. In the first week of the year Energy Secretary Flavia Royón had anticipated a 28.3 percent increase in the gas billing of upper-income and middle-income consumers. Upper-income households are defined as all with monthly earnings exceeding 510,818 pesos while all others not qualifying for the “social tariff” are in the middle segment. Meanwhile distribution companies have put in for increases of 273 percent after years of frozen billing while gas transport companies are claiming 163 percent as from the start of February.



The World Bank is forecasting two percent growth for Argentina this year, ahead of the regional average of 1.3 percent which is sharply down from last year’s 3.6 percent, boosted by the high commodity prices resultant from the war in Ukraine but expected to fall over the next two years, except for some fossil fuels. The forecast for next year splits the difference between the two years at 2.4 percent. Investment is expected to dip amid uncertainty with prices outstripping wages in much of the region. Within South America Paraguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Peru are all forecast by the World Bank to have higher growth rates than Argentina this year but Brazil will only grow a sluggish 0.8 percent.



The trial of eight rugby players from the Delta town of Zárate accused of bashing to death Fernando Báez Sosa (an 18-year-old law student of Paraguayan parentage) outside a nightclub in the Atlantic resort of Villa Gesell three years ago next Wednesday continued in Dolores last week with often searing eyewitness and forensic testimony. Traces of the victim’s blood were found on the clothing of half the accused, the court learned. On Thursday, defendant Luciano Pertossi broke the silence maintained by the octet throughout the trial to deny his presence at the scene of the crime. 



President Alberto Fernández received Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in the Casa Rosada on Tuesday in his first diplomatic activity of the year, looking at the possibility of expanding bilateral ties into a “strategic global association” as the two men marked 125 years of diplomatic relations between both countries. The government highlighted its interest in “promoting two-way trade and developing investment projects, especially in the sectors of lithium, fertilisers, hydrogen, biotechnology and start-ups.” Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero also underlined Japan’s pivotal membership in the Paris Club.



On Tuesday morning President Alberto Fernández confirmed Greta Pena, previously Diversity Policies Undersecretary at the Women, Gender and Diversity Ministry, as the new trustee of the INADI anti-discrimination institute after Victoria Donda resigned on a stormy note at the end of last year (amid differences of opinion as to whether she quit or was fired). Pena’s appointment was confirmed the same day when Decree 15/2023 was published in the Official Gazette.



The French photographer and Resistance hero Adolfo Kaminsky (1925-2023), of Argentine Jewish birth, died last Monday at the age of 97, his daughter Sarah informed AFP news agency. His work for the French Resistance took the form of forging identity papers, a service he extended to anti-colonial movements for three decades after World War II, especially in Algeria. He also helped Jewish Holocaust survivors to sneak into Palestine in the immediate post-war years prior to the creation of Israel. His forgeries, which he started at the age of 17, are said to have saved thousands of lives.



Human Rights Watch issued a warning this week that the national government’s move against the Supreme Court could “undermine the independence” of the justice system, expressing specific concern over the bid to expand the nation’s highest tribunal to 15 justices. "In Argentina, hostile rhetoric towards judges by the authorities, delays in the appointment of judges and other high-level authorities and corruption, also present in the Judiciary, have progressively undermined the rule of law," said the NGO. "The government of [Alberto] Fernández and his allies introduced several reforms to the justice system that could undermine the independence of the courts and prosecutors.”


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