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ARGENTINA | 15-07-2022 15:00

Stories that caught our eye: July 8 to 15

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

 

INFLATION DOOM

Last month’s inflation was 5.3 percent, fractionally up on May’s 5.1 percent and making for an annual inflation of 64 percent, the INDEC national statistics bureau announced on Thursday. Prices have thus risen 36.2 percent in the first half of the year. The main culprit among items was health with a 7.4 percent increase in costs, followed by public services and fuels with 6.8 percent. The most sensitive item, food and beverages, weighed in below average at 4.6 percent. Core inflation (excluding seasonal and regulated prices) was 5.1 percent.  

 

BATAKIS’ DEBUT

One week after taking office, Economy Minister Silvina Batakis made her first major policy announcements last Monday. They included a freeze on state employment as part of a general reduction of public spending, the segmentation of public service billing starting yesterday, pegging interest rates ahead of inflation to encourage saving, the revaluation of property assessment for tax purposes and the creation of a single account for state companies under the umbrella of the Economy Ministry. She also upheld the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the objectives of its programme, despite which market reactions during the week were generally negative.

 

FARM STRIKE

The agricultural sector’s farm strike against government policies was duly held last Wednesday with the Entre Ríos city of Gualeguaychú as its epicentre. The nine points of protest presented by the four organisations launching this farm produce marketing stoppage – the Rural Society, the Confederación Rural Argentina (CRA), the FAA grouping small farmers and Coninagro for cooperatives - not only included agricultural grievances but also complaints about the planned expansion of the Supreme Court, runaway spending and even the “unprecedented political vacuum” of the Frente de Todos government. But the main complaints were the lack of diesel fuel, macroeconomic uncertainty and the tax burden. Agriculture Minister Julián Domínguez accused the strike of bearing no relation to reality, either globally or in Argentina, with peak productive capacity in the sector and the second-highest level of fertiliser imports in history.

 

PICKET PROTEST

On the eve of Thursday’s mass picket protest President Alberto Fernández met up with the leaders of the pro-government social organisations in the Casa Rosada.  The meeting came just after such groupings as the Trotskyist Polo Obrero and the MTE of Juan Grabois had announced a massive nationwide protest for this coming Wednesday.The groupings whose leaders attended last Wednesday’s meeting included Movimiento Evita, Barrios de Pie, Corriente Clasista y Combativa and Tupac Amaru, all forming part of the ruling Frente de Todos coalition. The leaders informed the President of municipal and provincial crackdowns on their soup kitchens and picket homes in the past week, to which President Fernández responded by "expressing his solidarity.” On a more critical note the picket leaders told President Fernández that last Monday’s announcements by the new Economy Minister Silvina Batakis did not help to improve their situation, urging dialogue.

 

GRABOIS DISAPPOINTED

Calling Alberto Fernández “a bad president badly picked by Cristina,” Juan Grabois, the leader of the Movement of Excluded Workers (MTE in its Spanish acronym) on Wednesday said: “I’m about to leave (the Frente de Todos), I don’t know what I’m doing there,” describing it as “a tremendous disappointment.” Grabois also blasted presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti for ruling out the implementation of a universal basic salary (taking the form of a monthly 14,000 pesos for some nine million people in vulnerable social sectors) on the grounds that the budget numbers did not permit it, accusing her of never venturing beyond Palermo Hollywood. The picket leader further described the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the root of all problems and defended the integrity of Vice-President Cristina Kirchner (“Cristina is honest, she never robbed”). Grabois also had harsh words for both the new and previous Economy ministers – in his eyes Martín Guzmán showed the mistake of recruiting “blond, tall and blue-eyed men from the establishment” while Silvina Batakis was “a reaffirmation of orthodoxy ... and subordination to the IMF.” On the eve of Thursday’s downtown picket protest Grabois met up with Trotskyist Polo Obrero leader Eduardo Belliboni.

 

MAYORAL BACKLASH

In reaction to and in anticipation of downtown picket disruption (repeated on Thursday), Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta last Tuesday challenged the social movements to form their own party and run in the elections (something contemplated by Movimiento Evita at least, which has already announced plans to form a party to compete in the PASO primaries). Should they win, the City Mayor reasoned, the social plans would then pass into state hands but “what isn’t right is that the state delegates (social welfare) to organisations for which nobody voted.” Rodríguez Larreta also described the economic situation as “more serious now as we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow ... with no plan..., we don’t know what the model for growth or job creation in Argentina is or how we are going to increase exports, which is the key. All our problems with dollars are because so little is exported.”

 

THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION

The Unidad de Información Financiera (UIF) monitoring money-laundering on Monday called for the acquittal of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the tycoon Lázaro Báez and the other defendants in the public works graft trial, arguing that it would be “irresponsible” to press charges if there was no evidence of overpricing, which they called “an essential element” of the accusations.

 

JAIR NO SHOW

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced on Thursday that he would not be attending next week’s Mercosur summit in Asunción without explaining his reasons or naming a replacement. He did specify that the motives for his absence had nothing to do with his host: "I like Marito (Paraguayan president Mario Abdo) a lot, we have much in common." The summit starting next Thursday will be the first face-to-face occasion in over two years.

 

LIBERTARIAN DIVORCE?

Libertarian deputy José Luis Espert held a summit for the leaders and militants of his party Avanza Libertad and its allies in San Vicente last weekend which implicitly parted ways with Javier Milei’s La Libertad Avanza in the Federal Capital by not including them. Espert, whose party finished in third place in Buenos Aires Province in the 2021 midterms with some 700,00 votes, used the occasion to blast the Frente de Todos government’s economic policies, centring on runaway inflation. Espert told NA news agency in an interview that one difference between the two libertarians was that whereas he took the electoral plunge in 2019, Milei did not and told him that he wanted to go it alone when he did, withholding any further comment on his differences with his fellow-libertarian.

 

PAYMENT TAKE-UP

A majority of Argentines pay their services and taxes online, a digital transformation spurred in the last two years by the Covid-19 pandemic, a report by the Pagomiscuentas reveals. Those aged under 20 have risen 83 percent and those under 60 30 percent for an overall average of 51 percent of Argentines.

 

MONEY-LAUNDERING CHARGE

A Swiss and an Argentine were charged in Miami last Tuesday with helping to launder part of the US$1.2 billion taken from Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA in a long-running corruption and bribery investigation. Ralph Steinmann, 48, and Luis Fernando Vuteff, 51, both formerly top officials of Swiss-based financial asset management firm Aquila Swissinvest, were accused of assisting Venezuelan officials among others in siphoning off over US$200 million in funds from PDVSA between 2014 and 2018.

 

COPA FEMININA

Following their humiliating 4-0 defeat by Brazil in the Copa América unfolding in Colombia, the Argentine female soccer squad beat Peru by the same scoreline last Tuesday (goals by Yamila Rodríguez, Florencia Bonsegundo, Eliana Stabile and Érica Lonigro) to lie in third place in Group B, behind Brazil and Venezuela (the latter on goal difference).

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