Friday, October 23, 2020

ARGENTINA | 23-12-2017 11:12

What we learned this week: pensions, protests, ARA San Juan

Key stories from the last seven days.


Pensions and protests dominated the agenda early on in the week, following renewed violence and mass protests on Monday. But the government’s pension reform eventually squeaked through the Lower House by a 127-117 vote at 7am on Tuesday morning after a marathon 17 hours of debate.

Even that narrow margin was only possible, however, after the Mauricio Macri administration agreed to decree a bonus to cover partially the transition period between the two updating mechanisms. Macri made a point of holding a press conference on Tuesday to blame elements of the opposition for the violence, accusing them of “orchestrating” the chaos. The president also reiterated the stability of his government and the determination of his reform drive.

In contrast to the first frustrated attempt to approve the pension reform on December 14, most of Monday’s violence came from extremist demonstrators rather than a relatively passive Metropolitan Police (who numbered 88 of the 162 injured). Over 60 people were arrested but most were released over the course of the week. Sebastián Romero (the subject of a widely published photo showing him wielding a homemade mortar) remained on the run at press time, though his lawyer said Romero would present himself before the authorities in the coming days. For what it’s worth, she described him as a “public figure” and said he wasn’t violent.

Finally, indicating the strength of feeling against the reform, pot-banging cacerolazo protests returned to the streets of the capital on Tuesday night. Some of the spontaneous expressions of protest even led to road blocks.


In the latest of a series of arrest orders against key Kirchnerite figures, Federal Judge Julián Ercolini on Tuesday ordered the arrests of Indalo Group partners Cristóbal López and Fabián De Sousa for fuel tax evasion to the tune of eight billion pesos (now estimated at 10 billion pesos) – the latter was arrested the same day while López turned himself in on Wednesday. At the same time former AFIP tax chief Ricardo Echegaray was indicted without being remanded in custody for turning a blind eye to Indalo’s tax-dodging. Meanwhile, Ercolini refused to approve the sale of Indalo to OP investments, linked to both United States capital funds and Russia’s Lukoil. See more on López on the following page.


The trial against ex-president Carlos Menem and 12 other defendants for placing the investigation of the 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre, which left 85 dead and 300 injured, on a false track entered its final phase last week with the sentences expected in March. The trial has been running since 2015. In their closing remarks Thursday, prosecutors asked that Menem be given four years in jail for his role in the sidetracking the probe and that Juan José Galeano, a dismissed judge accused of malfeasance who was in charge of the case in the 1990s, be given 13 years in prison, the highest penalty for his alleged crimes.

Meanwhile another ex-president – Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – also faces AMIA cover-up charges in a different trial based on her 2013 memorandum of understanding with Iran. Both Menem and Fernández de Kirchner are currently senators, the former (now 87) starting his third term, and are thus protected by parliamentary immunity.


Former general secretary of Interpol Ronald Noble has offered to testify as a witness in the treason case against ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, former Foreign Affairs minister Héctor Timerman and other associates and allies of the Fernández de Kirchner administrations. They have been accused of seeking immunity for five Iranian suspects of the 1994 AMIA bombing in exchange for better trade deals with Iran. “I’m willing to immediately visit the Argentine Embassy or Consul in the United Arab Emirates where I live,” Noble said in documentation obtained by Perfil. The administration “always expressed its belief that the [red-notice] warrants should remain in effect,” Noble wrote. This week, Human Rights Watch described the treason charge as “far-fetched,” criticising Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio and saying the allegation tarnishes the credibility of the Judiciary.


While Cambiemos (Let’s Change) deputy Elisa Carrió blamed the loss of the submarine ARA San Juan on Kirchnerite corruption, the Defence Ministry moved to change the Navy’s helm in the wake of the disaster. Vice- Admiral José Luis Villán, 57, became on Tuesday the first marine to head the force after the previous naval chief-ofstaff Marcelo Srur was ordered to retire right at the end of last week. Meanwhile, Carrió lodged charges in court against previous defence ministers Nilda Garré, Arturo Puricelli and Agustín Rossi (now the Lower House Kirchnerite caucus chief) for “irregularities” in connection with the 2010-4 overhaul of the submarine. On Wednesday, Judge Sergio Torres ordered searches of the Navy’s headquarters and a shipyard as part of his investigation into alleged irregularities in repairs on the submarine that disappeared 35 days ago, judicial sources said. Investigators are trying to determine whether safety and material protocols were fully implemented when the submarine San Juan underwent maintenance and repairs between 2005 and 2015. Judge Marta Yanez is also overseeing another inquiry into “possible wrongdoing,” a response to desperate pleas from family members for answers.


Lower House deputy Martín Lousteau, a former economy minister and City mayoral runner-up who now represents his Evolution party, was attacked and jostled downtown on Tuesday by a group of irate Bapro provincial bank clerks whose privileged pension rights are now being removed in Buenos Aires province. Lousteau reportedly explained that he had voted against the Mauricio Macri government’s pension reform last Tuesday but he has faced criticism by some opposition politicians for having helped to enable quorum. Virtually all parties, including the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) ruling coalition and the Victory Front, condemned the aggression.

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