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ARGENTINA | 22-09-2023 00:04

Stories that caught our eye: September 15 to 22

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

 

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST

Juntos por el Cambio last Sunday ended 16 years of Peronist hegemony in Chaco (including three terms for outgoing Governor Jorge Capitanich) when  Radical Leandro Zdero won the provincial elections with 46.13 percent of the vote as against 41.7 percent for Capitanich in a polarised race. The surprise first-round win (widely expected to go to an October 8 runoff) was perceived by analysts as placing Juntos por el Cambio presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich back in contention. The June femicide of Cecilia Strzyzowski was recognised as being key to the result by provincial Government (Interior) Minister Juan Manuel Chapo. Flying to Resistencia on election night to celebrate the triumph, Bullrich the next day braved the low-income housing estate built by picket leader Emerenciano Sena (whose family is charged with killing Cecilia) where hostile local female militants tried to bar her entry.

 

CRISTINA COURTS TROUBLE

Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s week began with a double whammy from the Federal Cassation Court – not only did they order her trial (which had been nipped in the bud by a lower instance) for money-laundering via her Patagonian Hotesur hotel chain but they also quashed her previous acquittal in the case probing the controversial 2013 memorandum of understanding with Iran, first lodged by late AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman, while the judges responsible for the earlier rulings were sanctioned. More bad news for the acting president (with President Alberto Fernández addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York) on Tuesday when the Supreme Court accepted the constitutional validity of the law permitting the legal use of the confessions of whistle-blowers, a key tool in the investigation of corruption. Máximo Kirchner will also face charges in the Hotesur trial but not his sister Florencia on the grounds that she was only 12 when first named a director of the hotel chain.

 

TAX FLOOR ON HOUSE FLOOR

After eight hours of debate the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday approved by a 135-103 vote Economy Minister Sergio Massa‘s income tax reform raising the tax floor to a monthly 1.77 million pesos. Among opposition parties, Juntos por el Cambio was almost alone in resisting the bill as “electioneering” with an exacerbation of fiscal imbalance risking hyperinflation - both the libertarians and the far left voted in favour.

 

ROSATTI NIXES DOLLARISATION

In an interview published last Tuesday in the Spanish newspaper El País,  Supreme Court Chief Justice Horacio Rosatti clashed with the dollarisation proposals of libertarían presidential candidate Javier Milei as a clear violation of the Constitution, specifically Article 75 stipulating that "there must be a currency printed in Argentina.” Rosatti insisted: "I cannot regulate the value of another country’s currency. We must put a stop to that fantasy” while not ruling out linkage to another currency or a basket, mentioning the example of convertibility. All politicians and economists had to be bound by the Constitution, he insisted. Rosatti also criticised the “uncontrolled” printing of money.

 

ALBERTO’S BITE OF BIG APPLE

President Alberto Fernández last Tuesday addressed the 78th annual General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, criticising both the “blockades” against Cuba and Venezuela and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for its interest rate surcharges making foreign debt “unbearable.” His speech also urged Iran to cooperate in the investigation of the 1994 car-bomb destruction of the AMIA Jewish community centre and reasserted Argentine sovereignty over the Malvinas. On the previous day he met UN secretary-general António Guterres, with the Malvinas sovereignty dispute and the need to review the international financial architecture the main topics of their conversation, as well as local Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who has accused Paul Singer of bribing members of the United States judiciary, including a Supreme Court justice, to rule in favour of vulture funds and against Argentina) and Council of the Americas president Susan Segal. President Fernández also attended the symposium “Towards a Fair International Financial Architecture” organised by the Spanish government and the closing reception hosted by US President Joe Biden at the Metropolitan Art Museum.

 

VEEPS CLASH

The five vice-presidential candidates – Cabinet Chief Agustín Rossi, Juntos por el Cambio’s Luis Petri and the deputies Nicolás del Caño (left), Florencio Randazzo (dissident Peronist) and Victoria Villarruel (libertarian) – competed in a television debate on Thursday night with the latter (the only female candidate) very much in the middle of the crossfire.

 

MILEI WITH BARRIONUEVO

After more than a week of speculation as to his relationship with the notorious trade unionist, La Libertad Avanza (LLA) presidential candidate Javier Milei yesterday evening appeared in public for the first time with UTHGRA restaurant workers’ union secretary-general Luis Barrionuevo at an event organised by Barrionuevo himself at the Salón Golden Center of Parque Norte, which belongs to veteran shop workers leader Armando Cavalieri. Following Milei’s PASO primary victory, Barrionuevo tipped him as strolling to a first-round win next month.

 

ECONOMY ON DOWNWARD SLIDE

Economic activity in the second quarter slumped 4.9 percent on a year-on-year although still measuring a growth of 1.5 percent for the first two quarters of this year as compared to the first half of 2022, Indec statistics bureau announced on Tuesday, while the second quarter of this year was 2.8 percent down on the first. Indec squarely attributed the downturn to a drought considered the worst in history and causing a plunge of 40.2 percent in the strategic agricultural sector in the second quarter as against the same period last year. 

 

DAIRY SECTOR RELIEF

Economy Minister Sergio Massa on Wednesday responded to the crisis in the dairy industry by announcing a suspension of export duties for the rest of the year, representing a fiscal sacrifice of 7.2 billion pesos for the state which will invest a further 3.5 billion into sustaining production. In return the sector is required to freeze its prices for the next three months. The presidential candidate also told the farmers that once elected, he would be sitting down with them as from December 10 to work out a longer-term plan for the next four years. The announcements were made at the installations of the Tremblay dairy company where Agriculture Secretary Juan José Bahillo also spoke.

 

BULLRICH NOT ALL FINE WITH WINE

In a Wednesday radio interview Juntos por el Cambio presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich sought to shrug off a constant smear of being drunk tagged on her by critics and set the record straight on her relationship with alcohol, saying: “If I want to drink two glasses of wine, I don’t drive.” While admitting to a taste for drink, including a glass of wine as a nightcap, she denied ever having been drunk in any of her numerous public appearances, insisting that the issue was “totally minor” when compared to other things happening in the country. Her reputation stems from being detained for drunken driving by traffic police in 2009 (when a deputy for Elisa Carrió’s Coalición Cívica ) after testing positive on a breathalyser.  Later in the week, when Bullrich praised Italy’s ultra-rightist premier Giorgia Meloni for “the authority with which she takes decisions ... especially putting a stop to the wise guys living off social plans,” nobody asked if she was drunk.   

 

NEW WAR WITH PARAGUAY?

Paraguayan deputy Rubén Rubin, 30, of the fringe Hagamos party, on Thursday urged his country to buy missiles in order to bring Argentina into line in the disputes over Hidrovía waterway tolls and the sharing of the costs and benefits of the bi-national Yacyretá hydro-electric dam.

 

YOGA SCHOOL TRIAL

Federal judge Ariel Lijo on Tuesday ordered the case of the Villa Crespo yoga school to be sent to trial on charges of the sexual exploitation of several of the 179 students and money-laundering. According to the investigation, the technique of instruction was to drain the pupils of all personality, thus placing them at the mercy of school head Juan Percowicz. Over US$1 million was found on the premises in court raids.

 

LAST OF THE BIGTIME ROBBERS

The famous chef Germán Martitegui returned from a trip to the United States, only to find some half a million dollars missing from his safe, promptly denouncing his housekeeper to the police, he revealed on Thursday.

 

MALAYSIA DAY MARKED

The 60th anniversary of the creation of Malaysia (actually last Saturday) was celebrated last Tuesday with a reception in a downtown hotel hosted by Malaysian Ambassador Nur Azman Abdul Rahim and sponsored by Petronas (Malaysia’s national oil and gas company, a global player) with the event also marking a slightly belated 66th Independence Day (August 31). Addressing a crowded salon in Spanish, the envoy underlined his country’s intense interest in Argentina since establishing diplomatic relations in mid-1967 with a diverse investment portfolio ranging from Petronas in Vaca Muerta shale, the western highway access route to Luján and Aerodyne drones as the newest investor to Las Leñas ski resort. This investment totals US$2.3 billion while bilateral trade (where Kuala Lumpur’s man here highlights the Halal beef opportunities) entered 10 digits last year at US$1.1 billion. Malaysia is also actively seeking a free trade agreement with Mercosur. February's Buenos Aires Times interview with the Ambassador featured in the accompanying video. MS

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