THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
There was a total of 116,748 deaths and 5,354,440 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion at press time yesterday as against 116,639 deaths and 5,334,692 confirmed cases the previous Friday. Cases picked up this week, with more than 3,500 new cases reported on Friday alone. On Monday, Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof announced health passes based on two doses of vaccination for both outdoor and indoor activities as from December 21. He warned that the numbers in the region were on the rise, even if only 700 cases as against a peak of 12,000 earlier this year, as well as expressing his worries over the entry of the Omicron variant. Health passes have already been introduced in Tucumán and Salta.
#10D DEMOCRACY RALLY
A mass rally to mark International Human Rights Day and the 38th anniversary of Argentina’s return to democracy was underway in Plaza de Mayo at press time yesterday with President Alberto Fernández and Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner headlining the event accompanied by Brazilian ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Uruguayan former president José ‘Pepe’ Mujica as their star guests. Lula was treated to a Thursday night dinner at Olivos presidential residence, also attended by Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa and Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof.
The 127 new deputies and 24 senators elected in last month’s midterms duly swore into Congress for the next four years in generally smooth proceedings last Thursday with Sergio Massa re-elected as lower house Speaker (despite Graciela Camaño of Interbloque Federal arguing that it was time for a woman). Most incoming deputies used the Bible or the Constitution for their oaths but leftists Nicolás del Caño y Romina del Plá swore "to throw the International Monetary Fund out of the country" while Hugo Yasky of Frente de Todos included the release of Jujuy social activist Milagro Sala in his oath. The low-key proceedings in the Senate did not match the historic loss of a Peronist majority there. While the 24 new senators (for the provinces of Córdoba, La Pampa, Chubut, Corrientes, Santa Fe, Mendoza, Tucumán and Catamarca) made their entrance for terms running until 2027, one made his exit – Esteban Bullrich (Juntos por el Cambio-Buenos Aires Province) confirmed his resignation due to his progressive illness of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which he has been battling for the last eight months. Bullrich gave an emotional farewell speech pleading for consensus, for which he was giving a standing ovation. He will be replaced by José María Torello, a former chief advisor of Mauricio Macri during his presidency. Meanwhile legislators at provincial and municipal levels were also swearing in with the dominant news item there being the youngest City legislator, Ofelia Fernández of Frente de Todos, requesting a question of privilege due to repeated insults by libertarian militants. Video footage of her remarks was promptly shared by men and women alike demanding respectful treatment.
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Argentina is to chair the United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time in the person of its ambassador to Geneva, Federico Villegas Beltrán – unanimously chosen for the post by the 47 member states of the Council last Monday. The chairmanship rotates between five continental groups and 2022 will be Latin America’s turn. Argentina’s tepid stance on accusations of human rights violations in countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua or Cuba proved no obstacle to the unanimous choice of Villegas.
ABSTENTION ON NICARAGUA
The Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Wednesday approved a resolution affirming that Nicaragua was not complying with its commits under the Inter-American Democratic Charter with Argentina among eight countries abstaining (also including Bolivia and Mexico among others). The resolution, calling for "free, impartial and transparent presidential and parliamentary elections with credible international observation" was approved by 25 of the 34 member states. The abstention was accompanied by a Foreign Ministry communiqué highlighting that "Argentina reiterates that its commitment to the defence of human rights is … irrevocable … but always via dialogue, never via sanctions or blockades, which in our hemisphere has only led to negative results."
NO TO OLYMPIC BOYCOTT
Argentina last Thursday confirmed its "strong support" for next February’s Winter Olympics in China, thus defying an international boycott headed by the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia in the name of human rights. On the same day President Alberto Fernández was participating in the democratic summit organised by his US colleague, an event excluding China. The Games will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Argentina and the People’s Republic.
Brazil has decided to hold the upcoming Mercosur Summit in Brasilia via videoconference next Thursday and Friday, the Foreign Ministry informed last Thursday. No reasons were given but the Brazilian press interprets the change as due to the new Omicron variant of coronavirus plus the Jair Bolsonaro government being presumably aggrieved over the participation of leftist ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at yesterday’s Plaza de Mayo rally – an interpretation ruled out by presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti, who attributed the change solely to sanitary precautions. Brazil, which holds the pro-tempore presidency of Mercosur, had registered six Omicron cases at the time of announcing the change. Mercosur is currently going through one of the biggest crises in its 30 years of existence with both Brazil and Uruguay pressing for greater integration into the global economy.
BEEF BAN RELAXED
The government has relaxed the beef export ban, Agriculture Minister Julián Domínguez told farming leaders on Thursday, but will maintain restrictions on seven cuts for the domestic market.
The dollar was on the retreat last week in most of its various incarnations with the “blue” parallel version down below the 200-peso mark to 196.50 pesos yesterday from 200.50 pesos the previous Friday. Only the official exchange rate moved in the opposite direction, rising from 106.25 to 106.75 pesos, as quoted by Banco Nación, or a “tourist dollar” of 176 pesos with the addition of the 65 percent surcharges for purchasers. The other parallel rates – CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (mercado electrónico de pago) – dipped more sharply than the “blue” from the previous Friday, from 219.71 to 208.72 pesos and from 204.21 to 196.99 pesos respectively. Country risk marked the sharpest fall of all, retreating not only below 1,800 points but also 1,700, 1,685 points as against 1,827 points the previous Friday.
SORIA v SUPREME COURT
Justice Minister Martín Soria last Tuesday held a tense meeting with the Supreme Court to seek solutions to the “crisis of legitimacy” suffered by the Judiciary, which he contrasted with the ministerial visits during the previous Mauricio Macri administration, describing them as “coffee, smiles and photos” as they plotted the “persecution of the opposition.” The minister challenged the justices to overrule the judicial reforms proposed by the government and criticised them for their tax exemptions.
Almost two-thirds of Argentine children (64.9 percent) are living in poverty, according to a new report by the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA). The study also found that 43.8 percent of people in Argentina were living below the poverty line in the third quarter of this year with 8.8 percent considered destitute, as against the INDEC national statistics bureau’s latest poverty figure of 40.6 percent (down from 44.7 percent in the same quarter last year).
At least three police officers were charged last Monday with the “doubly aggravated homicide” for their role in the death of 17-year-old Barracas Central footballer Lucas González last month. City police officers Gabriel Alejandro Issasi, Juan José Nieva and Fabián Andrés López were all remanded in custody and ordered to pay 1.8 million pesos each by Judge Martín del Viso. Should the trio be found guilty, they could face life imprisonment. It is not known who fired the fatal shot. Early yesterday, there was a new case of trigger-happy policing in the Atlantic resort of Miramar where a policeman shot dead 16-year-old Luciano Olivera through the chest while he was trying to flee in an incident still awaiting fuller clarification. Local residents responded by stoning police patrol cars.
ANOTHER GRUESOME INFANTICIDE
Only a few days after the horrendous murder of Lucio Rey in La Pampa, it was Neuquén’s turn to shock the nation last Monday when a two-year-old was sexually abused and beaten to death, presumably by his stepfather, whose house was set ablaze by outraged neighbours while he was taking the unconscious child to hospital, despite police presence at the scene of the crime. The three siblings of the dead infant passed to the care of a relative in the mother’s absence.