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ARGENTINA | 05-04-2024 17:12

Stories that caught our eye: March 29 to April 5

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

 

MALVINAS DAY OLIVE BRANCH FOR MILITARY

While calling for the “recovery” of the Islas Malvinas, President Javier Milei gave the claim second place to “a new era of reconciliation” with the Armed Forces and ending their “humiliation” in a nationwide broadcast last Tuesday morning to honour Veteran’s Day marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1982 South Atlantic war. Milei also committed himself to “a clear road map for returning the Malvinas to Argentine hands” without entering into further details other than saying that for the sovereignty claims to be respected, the government would need to win respect since nobody would take seriously a leadership of corrupt politicians guilty of serial defaults. He hailed 19th-century former president Julio Argentino Roca as his “main inspiration” for Argentine sovereignty claims and concluded by saying that the military top brass would be invited to next month’s Pacto de Mayo in Córdoba. The President was accompanied at the Plaza San Martín ceremony by Vice-President Victoria Villarruell, herself the daughter of a Malvinas war veteran (whose honour was later retracted), as well as Defence Minister Luis Petri, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, presidential chief-of-staff Karina Milei, Lower House Speaker Martín Menem and Buenos Aires City Mayor Jorge Macri. Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni announced that the Salón de Pueblos Originarios in the Casa Rosada would be renamed “Héroes de Malvinas” in an initiative which he attributed to Karina Milei. Closer to the war zone the anniversary was also marked by a vigil in honour of the 649 Argentine war dead in the Tierra del Fuego city of Río Grande, headed by local governor Gustavo Melella who was joined by his Patagonian fellow-governors Rolando Figueroa (Neuquén), Ignacio Torres (Chubut) and Claudio Vidal (Santa Cruz), as well as around 1,000 people. In another provincial Malvinas Day ceremony in Pilar, Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof mocked Milei for “idolising” Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s leader during the 1982 conflict.   

 

STANLEY SOUNDS ALARM

United States Ambassador to Argentina Marc Stanley last weekend gave a curtain-raiser to the midweek visit of US Southern Command chief General Laura Richardson with an interview with the newspaper La Nación where he expressed his “surprise” that “Argentina permits the Chinese Armed Forces to operate in Neuquén, in secret, doing who knows what. I understand that there are soldiers of the Chinese Army operating this space telescope, I don’t know what they’re doing and I don’t think the Argentines do either. They should understand why the Chinese are deployed there.” The Chinese Embassy replied on Monday that their presence at the Neuquén space station was due to “strictly scientific” space technology cooperation between China and Argentina and that in 2019, the Foreign Ministry of the Mauricio Macri administration had coordinated a visit of a delegation of diplomatic representatives, including from the United States, which had “fully demonstrated the civilian character … of the station.” Nevertheless, the Milei government is supposedly keen on inspecting the base – and the contracts that allowed it to be built. When General Richardson (a Gulf War veteran) arrived on Wednesday, Defence Ministry sources denied that she had expressed any concern about the Chinese presence on Argentine territory although later admitting that the issue had been raised without forming the central part of the meeting. Instead the Defence Ministry described the prime purpose of her visit as “the transfer of a Hercules C-130 H to our Air Force as a symbol of our solid bilateral cooperation” (the aircraft has a value of approximately US$30 million). Her visit was to conclude with a visit to Ushuaia (where Milei also travelled), taking her Southern Command responsibilities literally, while also addressing a debate panel on the inclusion of women in peace-keeping missions, defence and security in the interests of inclusion and diversity. In the course of her visit General Richardson also met with Cabinet Chief Nicolás Posse, Defence Minister Luis Petri, Foreign Minister Diana Mondino and Armed Forces joint chiefs-of-staff Xavier Isaac.

 

BUMPER EASTER MEGA-WEEKEND

The extra-long weekend between Maundy Thursday and last Tuesday’s Veteran’s Day marking the anniversary of the 1982 South Atlantic war saw 3.2 million tourists on the move during that period spending a total of 631.667 billion pesos, 70 percent higher than last year in real terms, according to a survey by CAME (Confederación Argentina de la Mediana Empresa) retailers’ association. Despite the impressive boom, most tourists did not go the distance with an average stay of 4.1 days. The massive exodus (with 282,000 people flying via state airline Aerolíneas Argentinas alone) led to a collapse of traffic along the main tourist routes with triple the time required to reach the coast or the holiday destination. The huge figures were all the more impressive given that incoming foreign tourists seemed to be outnumbered by Argentines nipping across the border to Chile and Uruguay to take advantage of more favourable prices there. 

 

AN ‘EXQUISITE’ MINISTER?

Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni on Wednesday sprang to the defence of Health Minister Mario Russo, widely criticised for his passive handling of the dengue outbreak, calling his work “exquisite.” The Health Ministry itself presented a different line of defence, attributing the criticisms to the pressures of companies pushing their vaccines which Russo considers “useless” to mitigate the epidemic which had so far claimed 130 lives. But the minister did admit to “bottlenecks” in the supply of mosquito repellent, promising that they would be resolved “in two weeks.” As of midweek, more than 129 deaths have been recorded from some 180,000 cases – more than six times the previous season (2022/2023) and more than 10 times the figures of 2019/2020. Reacting to outrage at the lack of government action, the Casa Rosada said Thursday that it would free restrictions on the import of mosquito repellents for 30 days, ordering the ANMAT health regulator to step aside for aerosol, cream, spray and gel products, both for importers and for the acquisition of individuals via door-to-door delivery.

 

BARRA STAYS MUM

On Wednesday President Javier Milei excused Treasury Prosecutor Rodolfo Barra from intervening in the Manhattan trial of the 2012 expropriation of YPF where Argentina faces an adverse ruling to the tune of US$16 billion. This only increased the rage of the opposition Coalición Cívica party, already furious with the former Supreme Court justice for an earlier “legal expert” ruling that there was no basis for trying ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the Causa Vialidad trial of fraudulent Santa Cruz highway contracts, with caucus chief Maximiliano Ferraro calling for his resignation. Meanwhile Coalición Cívica founder Elisa Carrió weighed in on Tuesday, declaring Milei to be just as “fascist” as the Kirchners. Just as the Kirchners reached power with nobody knowing where they came from or what they had done, the same applied to Milei, she said. Carrió also commented on the political clout of presidential chief-of-staff Karina Milei when she had no known previous job. The veteran politician declared her support for the fiscal surplus achieved by the libertarian administration while deploring the austerity whereby it had been achieved. She even complained about her utilities bill. 

 

MORENO ON TRIAL

Guillermo Moreno, Domestic Trade Secretary from 2006 to 2013 during Kirchner presidencies, went on trial last Wednesday for manipulating the inflation data of INDEC statistics bureau, the sixth trial he has faced (three convictions and two acquittals).

 

STOP THE CLOCKS

Senator Julio César Cleto Cobos (Radical-Mendoza) has presented a bill to change the clock in order to save energy, calling for Argentina to adopt a new time zone.

 

SUELDO GIVES UP STATE SUELDO

Labour undersecretary Mariana Hortal Sueldo became the latest government official to leave her post on Wednesday, quitting as state lay-offs deepened. Falling within the orbit of the Human Capital Ministry, Hortal Sueldo – seen as close to recently ousted Labour secretary Omar Yasín – only took office on February 15 and will no longer be collecting a state sueldo.

 

ANTI-INDOCTRINATION? OR THE WRONG SORT?

President Javier Milei’s government will modify Argentina’s Education Law with the aim of “penalising indoctrination in schools,” Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni said Thursday. The decision was taken after a controversial speech given by a teacher during a ceremony marking the anniversary of the Malvinas War went viral. “By decision of the national government, Articles 11 and 126 of the National Education Law will be modified with the aim of penalising indoctrination in schools,” declared Adorni. Article 11 mentioned by Milei’s spokesperson specifies the “aims and objectives” of the national education policy and in its 23 paragraphs, it addresses multiple points that include issues such as the quality of content, democratic participation and the promotion of scientific knowledge, comprehensive sexual education and multiculturalism. Article 126, also mentioned by Adorni, refers to the rights of pupils. A helpline will be opened by the Human Capital Ministry allowing parents to denounce such behaviour, he added.

 

 

DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY

Argentina joined a number of other nations this week in supporting two key votes on motions at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Diplomats backed a resolution on tackling discrimination against intersex persons, despite opposition from several countries to the terminology used who wanted language watered down. The resolution, entitled “Combating discrimination, violence and harmful practices against intersex persons,” was brought forward by Australia, Chile, Finland and South Africa and seeks to raise awareness about prejudices facing intersex individuals. Argentine diplomats also backed a call to extend an independent international fact-finding mission investigating Iran’s deadly crackdown on protests that erupted in 2022 for another year.

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