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ARGENTINA | 25-11-2023 14:12

Stories that caught our eye: November 17 to 24

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

 

THE LION KING

Libertarian Javier Milei will be inaugurated as Argentina’s new president next month after winning last Sunday’s run-off by an unexpectedly solid double-digit margin over his Unión por la Patria rival, Economy Minister Sergio Massa (55.69 to 44.31 percent). His anti-system party La Libertad Avanza came from almost nowhere a couple of years ago to sweep the board in 21 of the 24 districts while coming within little more than a percentage point of also taking the Kirchnerite bastion of Buenos Aires Province (Formosa and Santiago del Estero were the only other provinces in Massa’s column). In his victory speech the president-elect promised “dramatic changes,” especially in the economic sphere, while also thanking ex-president Mauricio Macri and last month’s rival Patricia Bullrich for their support. YPF and public media top his privatisation list while other state enterprises face closure or sale.

 

MILEI’S CABINET

President-elect Javier Milei was quick to name the eight ministries in his future streamlined Cabinet (as opposed to the 19 portfolios of the outgoing administration) but is taking more time in completing his list of ministers. The eight ministries are Economy (with former Central Bank governor Luis Caputo as frontrunner), Foreign Relations (with Diana Mondino all but confirmed), Human Capital (Sandra Petovello, confirmed), Infrastructure (Guillermo Ferraro, confirmed), Security (perhaps the most open-ended of the octet), Interior (Guillermo Francos, confirmed), Defence (like Security somewhat in the air and depending on the decision of vice-president-elect Victoria Villarruel) and Justice (veteran criminal lawyer Mariano Cúneo Liberona, confirmed). Nicolás Posse, linked to Milei by his work in Corporación América (as are Francos and Cúneo Liberona), will be the Cabinet chief heading these ministries. Beyond the Cabinet dollarization expert Emilio Ocampo (Central Bank) and defeated Buenos Aires Province gubernatorial candidate Carolina Píparo (ANSES social security administration) are perhaps the most important picks so far.

 

TRANSITION BEGINS

The transition meetings between President Alberto Fernández and his successor Javier Milei on Tuesday and between Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her successor Victoria Villarruel on Wednesday had at least one thing in common – the adjective “cordial” was used by both sides in both cases. Neither meeting departed from the main theme of institutional transition, according to official sources – neither the two-hour working breakfast at Olivos presidential residence on Tuesday nor the Wednesday afternoon meeting in the Senate. According to unofficial sources, Fernández sought to dilute Milei’s intransigence against China and Brazil. The encounter between Fernández was held on the first working day after the long weekend amid a tense backdrop with the parallel exchange rates moving well into four digits while there were price rises of up to 45 percent in the shops.

 

PRE-PRESIDENTIAL AGENDA

Impossible to cram all the week’s activity of president-elect Javier Milei including meetings, interviews and telephone conversations into a brief. Apart from Tuesday’s transition meeting with outgoing President Alberto Fernández in Olivos presidential residence, he met up with many but not all of his future ministers. By midweek Milei had been in direct telephone contact with four Latin American presidents – Luis Lacalle Pou (Uruguay), Guillermo Lasso (Ecuador), Nayib Bukele (El Salvador) and Gabriel Boric (Chile) – although also given moral support by ex-presidents such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump (“Make Argentina Great Again”) of the United States, who promised to come visit. Milei confirmed that he would be visiting the latter (including New York and Miami where he has “rabbi friends”) and Israel before his December 10 inauguration despite the controversy over the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. The libertarian has vowed to move the Argentine Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

 

VATICAN CALLING

President-elect Javier Milei had a “cordial” five-minute chat with Pope Francis last Tuesday, soon after returning to his Hotel Libertador campaign headquarters from his transition meeting with outgoing President Alberto Fernández, inviting the Vatican leader to visit next year in what would be his first return to his homeland since becoming Pope. The call to congratulate the La Libertad Avanza candidate on his massive runoff victory last Sunday seemed to confirm Milei’s presidential debate claims that the hatchet between the vehement libertarian and the “evil Communist” pontiff has been buried.

 

FEMINIST PUSHBACK

Javier Milei’s electoral triumph has triggered at least two different sets of reactions. Feminist organisations have announced a march for today to “defend their conquered rights,” among which the 2020 legalisation of abortion (whose repeal is sought by Milei) figures prominently with green likely to be a dominant colour. Meanwhile the response of the Women, Gender & Diversity Ministry headed by Ayelén Mazzina, whose closure is pledged by Milei, was to name in midweek 20 new permanent employees to jobs facing extinction in little over a fortnight, one of whom was only identified as “Fabiana” with no surname or DNI identity card number. 

 

YPF SHARES AS GOOD AS CASH

Argentina may pay the US$16.1 billion it owes from an adverse South Manhattan court ruling in the case of the 2012 nationalisation of the YPF state oil company in YPF shares in lieu of cash, Judge Loretta Preska ruled on Tuesday. In her view this was a partial concession to the October appeal lodged by the Argentine state against her ruling awarding the companies Petersen and Eton Park US$14.385 billion and US$1.714 billion respectively for being denied compensation for the YPF nationalisation in a case first mounted in 2015. Preska has given Argentina until December 5 to pay up with the two creditors entitled to an annual interest rate of 5.42 percent until their demands are met. The government’s October appeal pleaded that this ruling would inflict "irreparable damage" on a drought-stricken economy. President-elect Javier Milei has pledged to reprivatise the state stake of 51 percent in YPF, whose shares soared by around 40 percent on the New York Stock Exchange last Monday, as did those of other companies.

 

MESSI’S IN-LAWS AGAIN IN WARS

Criminals stole eight million pesos (US$21,500) from a cousin of Antonela Roccuzzo, the wife of football superstar Lionel Messi, and two employees of her family’s supermarket in Rosario on Wednesday after ambushing the car in which they were transferring cash proceedings to a bank and spraying it with gunfire (also the fate of the family supermarket Único in an attack last March). The police said they were investigating the private security of the supermarket for an inside job.

 

JONES HUALA HUNGER STRIKE

RAM (Resistencia Ancentral Mapuche) leader Facundo Jones Huala last weekend began a hunger strike in his Esquel prison cell, also refusing liquids, with the aim of not only overturning his extradition to Chile but also securing his immediate release. His latest protest was revealed by the Movimiento Mapuche Autónomo del Puelmapu via the social networks, listing his demands as “claiming our political and territorial rights as the Mapuche people and nation, his not being extradited to ngulumapu (Chile) and his immediate release in accordance with the law of the Argentine state, also bearing in mind that he is only eight months away from serving out his prison term as imposed by the Chilean state. A call is also made for freedom of action for our entire people possessing ancestral revolutionary awareness. All methods of struggle are valid.” Last November 14 the Supreme Court confirmed Jones Huala’s extradition to Chile after already having confirmed it as early as August 23, 2018. Convicted across the Andes for arson and the illegal possession of firearms, Jones Huala dodged parole in the summer of 2022, only to be recaptured in El Bolsón, Río Negro nearly a year later last January.

 

CENSUS THIRD TIME LUCKY?

INDEC statistics bureau has published its third and final estimate of Argentina’s population as 45,892,285 inhabitants according to the 2022 Census, significantly down from the initial figure of 47,327,407 issued soon after the census was conducted in May, 2022. In gender terms there are 23,705,494 females and 22,186,796 males (or 107 women for every 100 men with 140 women for every 100 men above the age of 65) while 8,293 are non-binary. An even smaller minority, at least according to the census, are the homeless at 5,705.

 

TERRORIST SCARE FALSE ALARM

An Iranian was arrested by Federal Police officers on Tuesday while trying to enter the AMIA Jewish community (the target of an 85-death terrorist car-bomb attack in 1994 widely believed to have been masterminded by Tehran) but he was released the next day when his passport was found to be in order. Sebastian Human Cardan, 60, was found to be not only apparently Christian but also to be living in California and working as a county sheriff in the Los Ángeles area, as confirmed by the courtroom of federal judge Julián Ercolini.

 

ARGENTINA HUMBLES BRAZIL

The world champions notched a 1-0 away win in Maracaná stadium (Brazil’s first defeat ever in World Cup qualifying play) on Tuesday thanks to a 63rd minute Nicolás Otamendi header in a match marked more by pre-match clashes between Argentine fans and Brazilian police delaying kick-off by half an hour and doubts over coach Lionel Scaloni’s future. Striker Angel Di María later confirmed that he will retire after this year’s Copa América campaign.

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