Friday, June 21, 2024

ARGENTINA | 17-04-2021 09:21

What we learned this week: April 10 to 17

The pick of the stories that caught our eye over the last seven days in Argentina.



There were 2,658,628 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion and 59,084 deaths at press time yesterday as against 2,497,881 cases and 57,350 deaths the previous Friday. The 132 deaths reported for last Sunday included a famous name – 73-year-old television journalist Mauro Viale. The midweek announcement of the new restrictions was preceded by emergency meetings throughout the previous days with a total lockdown initially contemplated on the recommendation of health experts but running into resistance from City Hall. On Tuesday the Conicet Scientific Research Council published an encouraging report showing that the first dose of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine sufficed for antibodies to develop in 94 percent of recipients. The next day (with the key 84-year-old federal judge María Servini de Cubría entering an intensive care ward with coronavirus that afternoon) President Alberto Fernández decided to bring forward the announcements originally timed for yesterday. The most controversial of the new restrictions was undoubtedly the suspension of classroom education in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA) for the rest of this month but a virtual curfew between 8pm and 6am was imposed with shops obliged to close an hour beforehand while all indoor collective activities (including religious services) were banned. City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta promptly complained on Thursday about not being consulted and said that he would be appealing the suspension of classroom education to the Supreme Court, apart from demanding an immediate meeting with President Fernández. Rodríguez Larreta was not alone – several provinces including Santa Fe, Córdoba, Mendoza, Misiones, Río Negro, San Juan and Santa Cruz all responded that the new restrictions could remain within AMBA as far as they were concerned although Catamarca, Chaco and Formosa all said that they would follow suit while Tucumán expressed approval of the new measures without implementing them. On Thursday model Antonella Delmonte, 24, became the first person to be prosecuted for being vaccinated without belonging to any risk group, facing a possible six-year prison sentence. She denies the claim and says she was entitled as a healthcare worker.


Hundreds of people protested last Thursday outside Olivos presidential residence against the new restrictions, especially the suspension of classroom education for the rest of this month and the closure of shops as from 7pm. The protest was preceded on the Wednesday night of the presidential announcements by saucepan-bashing in various neighbourhoods of the metropolis that same evening, especially Recoleta, Palermo, Belgrano, San Isidro and Olivos. 


Last month’s inflation weighed in at 4.8 percent, INDEC statistics bureau announced on Thursday, the highest in the last 18 months, thus closing out the first quarter of this year at 13 percent and 42.6 percent for the last 12 months. The key item of food and beverages was almost as high as the general average at 4.6 percent with meat (5.9 percent) and dairy products (7.2 percent) registering the steepest increases. But the main culprits were education (28.5 percent) and garments (10.8 percent), the former always a major factor in the first month of the school year, while many regulated prices of public services were almost static. Last month was thus the worst inflation since the 5.9 percent of September, 2019, the month after the PASO primaries triggering a steep devaluation, and leaves the 29 percent annual inflation forecast of the 2021 Budget in ruins. A six percent gas hike for next month (20-100 percent for companies) announced last Monday will not help. 


Economy Minister Martín Guzmán was in Europe last week seeking support for Argentina’s renegotiation of its massive debt with the International Monetary Fund and the more immediate sums owed the Paris Club, starting with a meeting with his German counterpart Peter Altmeier in Berlin over the weekend before moving on Tuesday to Rome where he met his Italian colleague Daniele Franco, as well as Pope Francis in the Vatican on Wednesday. Thursday was the turn of Madrid where he met with Spanish Cabinet Chief Iván Redondo and his opposite number Nadia Calvino ahead of the final stop of his European swing, France. 


The main parallel exchange rate, the “blue dollar,” closed the week yesterday at 142 pesos, up from the previous week’s final figure of 140 pesos but down from Thursday. It continues to lag the official exchange rate of 98.25 pesos as quoted by Banco Nación if the 65 percent surcharges for purchasers are added. Among the

unofficial but legal alternative exchange rates the CCL (contado con liquidación) closed yesterday on the rise at 151.98 pesos from 149.86 pesos while

the MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) continued the previous week’s downward course, sliding down from 144.38 to 143.71 pesos. Earlier on country risk was 1,602 points with no closing figure available at press time.


One of the several charges against Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner evaporated on Tuesday when the Cassation Court ruled that the dollar futures case against her and several other co-defendants was based on a political decision and thus could not be placed on trial, which was quashed altogether.


Federal prosecutor Miguel Ángel Osorio on Tuesday approved the release of former Public Works secretary José López upon payment of a million-dollar bail after being detained on embezzlement charges almost five years ago when he was surprised tossing bags containing almost US$9 million over a convent wall in mid-2016. The approval was based on the conviction being still under appeal and on López having already served over two-thirds of his sentence (58 months behind bars), as well as the prisoner’s good behaviour. But the prosecutor’s opinion failed to satisfy López, who demanded to be paroled on his own cognisance, as he already has been in six other cases. 


Veteran Boca Juniors star Carlos Tevez, one of the 11,855 people registered by AFIP tax bureau as possessing the fortune of over 200 million pesos to pay the wealth tax, is nevertheless loath to make the “solidarity contribution,” lodging a lawsuit against it on Thursday as “confiscatory.” 


National Security Council member Juan González and State Department undersecretary Julie Chung, the special envoys of US President Joe Biden, were in town for two days last week, meeting up with government officials and businessmen. Renegotiation of Argentina’s debt with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was at the forefront of their agenda, which also included potential mediation with Venezuela, co-operation against the coronavirus pandemic and criticisms of the vaccine salesmanship of China and Russia. Early in his visit the Colombian-born González held a two-hour Zoom lunch on Tuesday with President Alberto Fernández, the latter’s first activity since emerging from coronavirus isolation.


There was a shootout outside the La Plata house of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo president Hebe de Bonafini in the small hours of Tuesday when Federal Police bodyguards frustrated a robbery attempt, wounding one of the burglars who were arrested upon entering San Martín Hospital for medical attention when their car was identified.


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