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ARGENTINA | 23-09-2022 13:08

Stories that caught our eye: September 15 to 22

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

 

ALBERTO IN THE BIG APPLE

Addressing the 77th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York on Tuesday (his maiden live speech to that forum due to the coronavirus pandemic) President Alberto Fernández warned of “humanity at risk” and of “the fascist violence disguised as republicanism” and hate speech in Argentina, referring at the start of his delivery to the attempted assassination of his Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as interrupting four decades of democratic consensus. He further called for an end to the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine with Argentine ready to meet the resulting food and energy shortfalls, as well as insisting on Argentina’s Malvinas sovereignty claims against “anachronistic colonialism” and requesting the co-operation of Iran in the clarification of the terrorist attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA Jewish community centre so that the culprits could be “identified, tried and eventually convicted.” Fernández also called for the “blockades” against Venezuela and Cuba to be lifted, affirming that “Argentina condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.” Earlier that day he rehearsed most of these themes in a lecture to students at the New School. On Monday he marked the 10th anniversary of the CAF (Corporación Andina de Fomento) Latin American development bank by calling Latin America “the most unequal continent on earth.” Also on Monday he inaugurated the itinerant museum of the Navy Mechanics School concentration camp at the Argentine Consulate in New York, describing it as “an emblematic space of memory” of “genocide.” After dining with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday night, he flew the next day to Houston to meet 30 top Texan oil companies with a view to wooing investments for Vaca Muerta shale before returning home on Thursday, offering them such benefits as exempting 20 percent of their production from export duties and allowing them to repatriate dollars.

 

BUILDING BRICS

Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero was assured by his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi of Beijing’s “firm support” for Argentine entry into BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) at a Tuesday meeting in the framework of the 77th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. China, the destination of an extended presidential visit last February, is one of Argentina’s two main trading partners alongside Brazil but Cafiero underlined the importance of a more balanced and diversified trade between the two countries, also welcoming more Chinese investment in key sectors such as energy and lithium. Finally, Cafiero thanked China for its support in the Malvinas issue.

 

SOY DOLLAR FURORE

The Central Bank on Monday abruptly banned all exporters selling their grain at the special “soy dollar” rate for 200 pesos from further participation on exchange markets but partially backtracked the next day under Economy Ministry pressure to clarify that the measure only applied to companies, not individual farmers. The tersely brief Monday resolution read: “Those economic agents who have sold soy in the framework of the Programme to Increase Exports will not be able to have access to exchange markets to purchase foreign currency nor transact operations in bonds and shares cashed in foreign currency.” The previous week the Central Bank had similarly banned those maintaining energy subsidies from buying dollars on the official market nor via other parallel but legal exchange rates (MEP, Contado con Liquidación). Until this week the programme had prompted sales of some US$3.5 billion worth of soy, of which over US$2.3 billion were netted for Central Bank reserves. There were suspicions that the Central Bank was deliberately sabotaging the programme since it had obliged them to print almost half a trillion pesos to pay the 200 pesos per dollar. Following immediate protests by the farming sector, Agriculture Secretary Juan José Bahillo was quick to intervene on behalf of farmers with backing from Economy Minister Sergio Massa although confirming that the programme would be terminated at the end of this month with “no possibility of continuation” although it had “surpassed expectations.” Complying with this pressure, the Central Bank clarified: “The companies selling soy in the framework of the Programme to Increase Exports and reached by Communication A 7609, conserve the instruments permitting them to leave their sales in dollar-linked accounts.”

 

FATAL REFINERY FIRE IN PATAGONIA

At least three workers died on Thursday when an explosion ignited a crude oil storage tank at a refinery in Plaza Huincul, Neuquén. The oil workers union immediately called a total strike.

 

ATTACK ON CRISTINA

Fernando Sabag Montiel, who tried to shoot Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner at the start of this month, and his girlfriend Brenda Uliarte were both formally indicted and remanded in custody on Wednesday following a continuing stream of incriminating mobile telephone messages which included Uliarte saying: “The next one to pull the trigger will be me.” Meanwhile the Frente de Todos lower house caucus urged the PRO centre-right party to ditch the lawyer Brenda Salva as an advisor to their deputy Karina Bachey for assuming the defence of Nicolás Carrizo, the leader of the so-called “candy floss gang” who is under arrest in connection with the plot to kill the former president.

 

FACIAL FREEDOM

The Health Ministry marked Spring Day last Wednesday by publishing in the Official Gazette Resolution 1849/2022, signed by Health Minister Carla Vizzotti, lifting the obligation to use face-masks on the grounds that the coronavirus pandemic had become a “seasonal phenomenon” with a sustained fall in cases and 82.5 percent of the population vaccinated. Each provincial jurisdiction is left free to handle the situation as it sees fit while continued use is recommended for closed spaces, places of education and public transport (although no longer compulsory). City Hall took the same step of lifting the obligation (while recommending its use in closed spaces and public transport) on June 16.

 

EXTRADITION INCOMING

Mexican businessman Isaac Esparza Hidalgo, suspected of offshore money-laundering to the tune of at least US$30 million on behalf of the late Daniel Muñoz, the secretary of the Kirchner presidential couple, is to be extradited from Mexico to Argentina between now and next month after the Foreign Ministries of the two countries completed the formalities earlier this month. The extradition of Esparza Hidalgo, who was arrested in Monterrey late last year, was requested by the late federal judge Claudio Bonadio as early as 2019. Julián Ercolini will be the judge and Carlos Stornelli the prosecutor of the case once the Mexican is extradited.

 

QUEEN FUNERAL SNUB

The massive worldwide coverage of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II last Monday also included an Argentine footnote when Alessandra Viggiano Marra, the wife of Argentine Ambassador to Britain Javier Figueroa, saw her offered handshake declined by the protocol official ushering diplomats into Westminster Abbey. The official, who claimed not to have seen her hand, afterwards called to apologise but the snub had a social network audience of at least four million, according to The Daily Mail. Viggiano Marra expressed more annoyance over not being praised for her stylish hat.

 

MIRTHA BACK ON TV

Just 10 months younger than the late Queen Elizabeth II, Mirtha Legrand ended a nine-month absence from television screens last weekend in radiant and emotional fashion. She commented on the recent deaths of the Queen and broadcaster Nelly Trenti (85) and on the attempted assassination of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (“terrible”).

 

TETO MEDINA NABBED

Marcelo ‘Teto’ Medina, a television sidekick of Marcelo Tinelli from the Carlos Menem years, was arrested on Thursday on charges of fraud, virtual slavery and exploitation of labour at his "La razón de vivir" centre for treating drug addicts in the Greater Buenos Aires district of Florencio Varela. A total of 16 arrests were made. The victims are calculated at 200, of whom 10 denounced the centre in court last month, charging that not only were they forced to work free but their families were made to pay money.
 

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