THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
There was a total of 116,892 deaths and 5,382,290 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion at press time yesterday as against 116,748 deaths and 5,354,440 confirmed cases the previous Friday. Amid World Health Organisation (WHO) warnings of “a tsunami of infections due to the Delta and Omicron variants,” the week started with levels of contagion not seen since early September. Following the detection of four Omicron cases in northern Córdoba (Colonia Caroya) last weekend after the first case was confirmed in San Luis the previous weekend, there were fears of a major outbreak in the provincial capital with over 90 suspected cases from end-of-year school parties where all previous variants (including Delta) had been ruled out. Around 800 people were immediately isolated in Córdoba. On Wednesday the lunatic fringe of the anti-vaccination movement triggered controversy when they confronted Radio Con Vos journalists advocating immunisation, of whom at least two (Tomás Eliaschev and Alejandro Bercovich) were Jewish and were told: “We’re going to hang you for being Jewish” as City Police officers stood by without intervening. This anti-Semitic outburst was widely repudiated.
The 2022 Budget was rejected yesterday morning by a 132-121 vote with a fiery speech by Frente de Todos caucus leader Máximo Kirchner burning all bridges – the 2021 Budget will be extended in its place. Economy Minister Martín Guzmán also criticised the opposition for “leaving Argentina, not the government but Argentina, without a budget.” At the start of the week Guzmán had presented the 2022 budget in Congress, celebrating a “double recovery” from recession and pandemic. The minister estimated the primary fiscal deficit to have been cut from 6.4 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2020 to 3.5 percent of GDP, also detailing the customary forecasts for next year such as four percent growth and 33 percent inflation.
The “blue” parallel dollar barely moved last week, closing yesterday at 196 pesos as against 196.50 pesos the previous Friday. The official exchange rate inched up from 106.75 to 107 pesos, as quoted by Banco Nación, or a “tourist dollar” of 176.55 pesos with the addition of the 65 percent surcharges for purchasers. Trading in the other parallel rates – CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (mercado electrónico de pago) – was more confused, moving respectively from 208.72 pesos to a 206-212-peso range and from 196.99 pesos to almost 200 pesos since the previous Friday. Country risk was remarkably stable, given the day’s complications with the 2022 Budget, dipping to 1683 points as against 1,685 points the previous Friday.
GROWTH IN 3Q
The Argentine economy grew 11.9 percent in the third quarter when measured against the same quarter last year and 10.8 percent in the first nine months of the year, INDEC statistics bureau announced on Thursday. The figure also represents a 4.1 percent improvement on the previous quarter.
Frente de Todos caucus leader Máximo Kirchner on Wednesday pressured City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta to explain how he would pay the money due to the International Monetary Fund in 2022 and 2023 under the 2018 agreement signed by the Mauricio Macri government (some US$19 billion in both years), as talks continue. Any agreement reached by the current government was bound to be better, continued Kirchner, also calling on the IMF "not to have such a greedy attitude" in the ongoing negotiations in the wake of the pandemic. The president shared a “very good” videoconference call with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Friday after the budget bill defeat.
BONUS FOR PENSIONERS
The government will grant a Christmas bonus of 8,000 pesos for all retirees collecting the minimum pension, to be paid out between December 20 and 23, President Alberto Fernández announced on Thursday. Those collecting pensions above the floor up to a cap of 37,000 pesos will be eligible for a smaller bonus bringing their final total up to 37,061.63 pesos.
CARNE PARA TODOS (CONT.)
The government is seeking prices with 40-45 percent discounts for five cuts of beef for the last 10 days of the year, sources close to Domestic Trade Secretary Roberto Feletti revealed, following meetings with supermarkets and meat-packers, who will be pledging to shift 10,000 tons of export beef to the domestic market ahead of Christmas and a further 10,000 before the New Year. The prices will thus descend from 1,000 pesos or more to a 390-599-peso range. The government also established new rules for beef exports to the United States next year while releasing 20,000 tons annually for export until 2024 included, according to Resolution 266/2021 published on Monday in the Official Gazette.
The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously declared unconstitutional the 2006 reform of the Council of Magistrates, a bill drafted by then Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The ruling nevertheless upheld everything done by the 13 members of the Council since then “for inescapable reasons of legal security” but ordered it to return to its original number of 20, as well as restoring the Supreme Court chief justice (Horacio Rosatti since October 1) to the Council helm. The future quorum will be 12 of the 20 members. The ruling argued that the 2006 reform had distorted the original balance between politicians, judges, lawyers and academics since seven of the 13 councillors came from the political world. The Council is now given 120 days to return to a full strength of 20 members.
Nicaragua received a rare rap on the knuckles from the Frente de Todos government when Argentine Ambassador to Geneva Federico Villegas (who will be chairing the 54-nation United Nations Human Rights Council next year) on Wednesday questioned the Sandinista government’s decision to bar the UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet from entering the country to investigate violations, also “reiterating our concern for the situation of human rights in Nicaragua, especially referring to the exercise of political rights in the context of the elections last November 7.” Nicaragua walked out of the Organisation of American States (OAS) a month ago following a resolution concluding that those elections “lacked democratic legitimacy.” Despite this week’s criticisms, Argentina continues to abstain in international votes to condemn human rights violations in Nicaragua.
ALBERTO EYES COURT, CAPITAL TRANSFER
Amid such immediate issues as the arrival of the Omicron variant and stormy seas for the 2022 budget, President Alberto Fernández proposed at least two new topics for debate when addressing the Socio-Economic Council in midweek – an “honest discussion” on the best working mechanism, the optimal numbers and division of labour in the Supreme Court while also proposing the “reconstruction of federalism” by saying: “It’s been going around in my head the idea of transferring the Federal Capital inland,” arguing that this would create a new pole of development and oblige the whole Buenos Aires metropolitan area to be redesigned.
‘THE FIRST FEMINIST’
If Juan Domingo Perón prided himself on being “the first worker,” President Alberto Fernández is "the first feminist," or so he told a largely female audience on the occasion of the First Federal Encounter of the 1,000 Days Plan (the programme offering state support for the first three years of infancy accompanying last December’s abortion law). The President said that he felt “ridiculous” calling for an end to discrimination between men and women but had to do so because that discrimination still existed. President Fernández was accompanied at the Tecnópolis event by pregnant First Lady Fabiola Yañez as well as ministers Carla Vizzotti (Health) and Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta (Women, Gender and Diversity), among others.
LÓPEZ, DE SOUZA ACQUITTED
The TOF(Tribunal Oral Federal) 3 on Thursday ruled the acquittal of businessmen Cristóbal López and Fabián De Sousa in the trial of multi-billion tax evasion by their company Oil Combustibles with former AFIP tax bureau chief Ricardo Echegaray taking the rap in the form of 56-month prison sentence for "fraudulent administration" as well as a lifelong ban on holding public office. The prosecutor had requested the same prison sentence for both businessmen, who had already been remanded in custody for two years in this case and who claim to be victims of persecution.
BERNI’S LATEST BOMBSHELL
Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni, a politician always on the lookout for releasing bombshells, announced his 2023 presidential ambitions (not necessarily within Frente de Todos) in midweek, also admitting to estrangement from Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner after feeling left out of last month’s midterms. Berni said that President Alberto Fernández was no longer qualified to take decisions on behalf of Frente de Todos after squandering five million votes and his credibility.
EX-MAYORS ON TRIAL FOR GRAFT
The Federal Cassation Court on Wednesday confirmed the trial of four ex-mayors (of whom the best-known is Francisco “Barba” Gutiérrez of Quilmes) for embezzling over 604 million pesos from the GIRSU programme for recycling solid waste. The accused were originally indicted by the late federal judge Claudio Bonadío over two years ago. The judges determined that over three-quarters of the recycling projects were not completed and in some cases not even started, despite receipt of the funds, which were distributed in “arbitrary fashion” and “without control.” A further 40 ex-mayors and three former Cabinet chiefs (Aníbal Fernández, Jorge Capitanich and Juan Manuel Abal Medina) face similar fraud charges.
KUN HANGS UP BOOTS
Sergio ‘Kun’ Agüero, 33, tearfully announced his retirement from professional football on Wednesday, only six weeks after a spell of arrhythmia in a Spanish league match posed a huge question-mark over his future career. Starting out at Independiente (where he always dreamed of ending his career), he entered European football via Atlético Madrid but his best years were his decade at Manchester City ending last May, where he became the club’s highest scorer with 184 goals. Despite these glories, he defined the Argentine national team as “his greatest love” at the press conference announcing his retirement with last and final club Barcelona.
MARADONA SELFIE SHAME
An undertaker who downloaded selfies of himself next to Diego Maradona’s corpse onto social networks last year was sentenced on Thursday to 50 hours of community work, a suspended prison sentence of four days and a 10,000-peso donation to an anti-addiction foundation.