Wednesday, February 21, 2024

ARGENTINA | 21-08-2021 09:35

What we learned this week: August 15 to 22

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



Argentina moved past the mark of 110,000 Covid-19 deaths yesterday with 110,070 deaths and 5,124,963 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion by press time yesterday as against 108,815 deaths and 5,074,725 cases the previous Friday. On Monday thousands of stones bearing the names of coronavirus dead were deposited outside Government House and Olivos presidential residence in silent reproach for the first lady’s birthday party at the latter place last year in violation of quarantine – the government collected the stones and said that they would be used for a memorial site. President Alberto Fernández apologised for the lockdown violation but said that it would not topple him as opposition politicians split over whether to press ahead with his impeachment. On Tuesday classroom presence in City primary schools was reported at 88 percent.   



President Alberto Fernández announced on Wednesday that the 2020 National Census (postponed by the coronavirus pandemic) would be held next May 18. The President said that such data as the number of homeless, the prison population and the total of people engaged in farming would help guide government policy. Fernández further argued that the delay would make for a technologically superior census. Gender identification would be up to the respondent and not the census-taker, presidential officials elaborated, while INDEC statistics bureau informed that "experimental" tests ahead of the census would already be carried out in November and December. 



The government’s Previaje programme to revive pandemic-stricken tourism was published in the Official Gazette last week and flagged by President Alberto Fernández in Misiones. The plan is based on a 50 percent credit towards the advance purchase of tourist services through to the end of next year. 



A household of four persons needed to earn 67,576 pesos last month in order to remain above the poverty line and 29,002.86 pesos not to become destitute, the INDEC statistics bureau reported. This family shopping-basket thus more than doubled the minimum wage (27,216 pesos last month). The July inflation of three percent took the annual total up to 51.8 percent.



There was chaos downtown in midweek as the result of picket demonstrations while nationwide there were protests in 20 provinces by some 50 social organisations with Polo Obrero the most prominent. Polo Obrero leader Jeremías Cantero said that with an average monthly wage of 40,000 pesos, many employed workers were below the poverty line while pensions and social plans were beneath the levels of destitution. The leftist demonstrators expressed zero confidence in the new Social Development Minister Juan Horacio Zabaleta and in the Frente de Todos administration. 



As the opposition continued to blast the first lady’s Olivos birthday party last year in violation of quarantine while the government added videos to the photos of the event in order to head off their release closer to the election, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sprang to the defence last Tuesday, saying that "the errors of popular governments are blown up to irritate [society]" at an Avellaneda rally shared with President Alberto Fernández. Far worse, she said, were the four years of the "república de morondanga” (slang for useless, or worthless )" under Mauricio Macri, whom she accused of staying out of the country to elude justice and of having plunged the country into "unlimited" debt. But she also chided the President, telling him: "Alberto, calm down and sort things out where they need sorting out." Recently back in the country, Macri retorted that Argentina was now suffering the biggest exodus in its history when there was none during his 2015 to 2019 presidency and blamed populism for the difficulties of his minority government, which nevertheless had its successes such as rising exports and international recognition.



After a slide during the week the “blue” dollar closed yesterday at the same level as the previous Friday, 182 pesos. The official exchange rate (102.50 pesos as quoted by Banco Nación) stayed put with the 65 percent surcharges for authorised purchases taking it just over 180 pesos. Capital controls on the CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) parallel but legal exchange rates, limiting transactions to personal accounts, were tightened just before last weekend and neither moved much from last week with the CCL closing at 169.27 pesos and the MEP at 169.32. Country risk rose last week from the 1,538-1,567 points range of the previous Friday to 1,589 points yesterday. 



A low turnout and a high percentage of blank ballots characterised last Sunday’s Salta provincial elections won by Governor Gustavo Sáenz with almost 44 percent of the vote for two lists backing him (although little more than a quarter of that total for the list closest to him). Juntos por el Cambio (17.48 percent) finished comfortably ahead of Frente de Todos (9.17 percent), which trailed the spoiled ballots (12.1 percent) in the electronic voting. Interpretations were divided as to whether the Covid-19 pandemic or political disenchantment were most responsible for the low turnout of 64.4 percent. All three elections so far this year (also including Jujuy and Misiones) have been won by the corresponding provincial government. The Salta governor’s victory places him in a strong position to reform the provincial Constitution with a view to seeking re-election in 2023.



A fugitive from justice made the mistake of running for town council in the Formosa locality of Laguna Blanca (his birthplace) and was arrested at a campaign rally last Thursday. Construction entrepreneur Max Talavera, wanted by the Santa Fe provincial police on fraud charges in Venado Tuerto, was running for the opposition to Formosa Governor Gildo Insfrán.



Nordelta in the Greater Buenos Aires district of Tigre is being overrun by around 400 carpinchos (whose indigenous and international name is capybaras), the world’s largest rodents weighing up to 70 kilos, who have already killed a pet dog and caused a traffic accident. The aggressive animals were displaced by construction from their natural habitat of swampland in the vicinity. Specialist Adelmar Funk warned that they breed rapidly.



Malcolm Roberto Hunter OBE, 91, an important British community leader, died last Monday after a staircase fall several years ago had left him confined to his Vicente López home. His presidency of the Argentine-British Community Council (ABCC) in the past century made it what it is today, earning him his OBE award, but he also made a major contribution to the British Hospital and many charities. Aside from his family, he will be especially missed by his beloved Chain Gang (in prolonged hibernation during the pandemic).  



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