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ARGENTINA | 04-03-2022 23:18

What we learned this week: February 26 to March 5

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

 

ALBERTO ADDRESSES NATION

The first week of the parliamentary year was unusually intense with President Alberto Fernández delivering a controversial state-of-the-nation speech triggering a partial opposition walkout to open ordinary sessions of Congress on Tuesday and the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) entering the Chamber of Deputies yesterday. The Juntos por el Cambio opposition was divided in its reactions with the deputies responding to the PRO centre-right party walking out to protest President Fernández restricting the blame for Argentina’s insolvency to the debt to the IMF incurred by his predecessor Mauricio Macri while Radical and Civic Coalition deputies respected the institutional responsibility to inaugurate Congress although not uncritically. Tuesday’s inauguration was preceded by a minute of silence for Ukraine with opposition benches festooned with the blue and yellow flags of the invaded country.

 

GANG RAPE IN PALERMO

A girl of 20 denouncing being gang-raped inside in a car in Palermo last Monday pressed charges against the six suspects on Wednesday. The sextet (aged between 20 and 24) had already been arrested and were interrogated by judge Marcos Fernández via Zoom the same day with new videos surfacing to complicate their legal situation. None of them had a criminal record but there is medical evidence of sexual abuse. The youngest of the suspects was the target of an “escrache” protest at his Villa Crespo home on Monday. Women, Gender and Diversity Minister Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta made some comments on the case which were a puzzling variation of the feminist outrage which might have been expected, blaming society. The suspects "are not monsters but males socialised by this society," she said, amplifying: "It would seem that the problem lies in some individuals who have problems, and not in society," also blaming male bonding. Two years of her portfolio had not been enough to make the necessary changes, she concluded. PRO chair Patricia Bullrich rapidly called for the minister’s resignation, accusing her of justifying rape. City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta condemned the “aberrant” crime as such, expressing his solidarity and pointing out that the City Police had quickly detained those responsible.

 

CICCONE GETS A BILLION

The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that the state should pay a billion pesos to the Compañía de Valores Sudamericana (formerly Ciccone Calcográfica) for its illegal expropriation in 2013. Former vice-president Amado Boudou has already been sentenced in the case after buying up the money-printing firm by paying 1.8 million pesos to lift a bankruptcy which he himself had imposed, working via the proxy firms The Old Fund and London Supply. The compensation was originally set at 275 million pesos at 2013 values at a cumulative annual interest rate of six percent.

  

MARKET WATCH

The “blue” parallel dollar closed the week yesterday fully 10 pesos down at 201 pesos from 211 pesos the previous Friday, inevitably influenced by the previous day’s approval of the staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Meanwhile the official exchange rate rose during the week from 112.50 to 113.25 pesos yesterday, as quoted by Banco Nación, or 187 pesos if the 65 percent surcharges for savers are added. But the parallel but legal exchange rates of the CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (medio electrónico de pagos) moved in the opposite direction, the former up to 201.69 pesos from 199.68 pesos the previous Friday while the latter advanced from 195.31 to 197.60 pesos in the course of the week. Country risk registered the sharpest increase of all, rising from 1,777 to 1,851 points by the close of last week, thus reflecting continuing uncertainty as to final approval of the IMF agreement. 

 

SCHOOL YEAR STARTS, MANY WITHOUT CLASSES

President Alberto Fernández inaugurated the school year in La Rioja on Wednesday, hailing the return to normal life and telling the schoolchildren: “You are the future of Argentina, you are extraordinary," but other provinces were less fortunate. At least four provinces (Santa Fe, Río Negro, Chubut and Jujuy) have been unable to commence classes due to teacher strikes with no wage bargaining agreement in sight. Santa Fe’s offer of a pay increase of 41.7 percent by September was “insufficient” to satisfy teachers, far less the 20-21 percent proposed by the other three provinces. Meanwhile Santa Cruz teachers have called a 72-hour strike to protest the delayed start of collective bargaining. Fernández further announced in La Rioja that a million computers would be issued nationwide to schools this year.

 

ANIBAL GETS DRUG ROLE

Security Minister Aníbal Fernández was elected on Wednesday to head the Latin American Committee of Domestic Security against drug-trafficking and mafias during an international meeting against transnational crime in Brussels. Fernández told the committee: “There are no simple answers to complex problems” with technology, creativity, multinational cross-checking, criminal sociology and artificial intelligence all required.

 

AMBASSADOR STANLEY, I PRESUME

Ex-president Mauricio Macri met up with the new United States Ambassador Marc Stanley on Thursday for an intense discussion of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS 

With Covid cases falling, there was a total of 126,624 deaths and 8,929,898 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion at press time yesterday as against 125,958 fatalities and 8,887,973 confirmed infections the previous Friday. 

 

MALVINAS ANNIVERSARY

With the 40th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1982 South Atlantic War less than a month away, preparations are already underway with a spiritual retreat between veterans of both sides headed by Colonel James Pollock of the Scots Guards, Lieutenant-Colonel David Wheen of the Royal Marines and Gurkha Major Nigel Price on the British side with Geoffrey Cardozo (who identified so many of the Argentine war dead) also inevitably present among several others. A special Ecumenical Encounter for Peace at 10.30am in the downtown Anglican cathedral (25 de Mayo 282) will commence a month of commemoration. 

 

BISHOP JAILED FOR ABUSE

A retired Argentine bishop seen as close to the Pope was yesterday sentenced 54 months in prison for the sexual abuse of at least two seminarians. A court in the Salta town of Orán, where Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta, 57, was bishop from 2013 to 2017, ordered his immediate arrest. Zanchetta, who also worked as an advisor for the management of Vatican property until last year, had denied the charges. He was appointed to the Orán diocese by Pope Francis.

 

ANTI-GAY ATTACK

Carnival celebrations in the small hours of last Tuesday had their ugly side when a group of youths attacked a party organised by the LGBTIQ community in a downtown bar, using pepper spray. The targets of the homophobic attack strongly repudiated it. 

 

RIP SEGUI 

The painter and sculptor Antonio Seguí, 88, died in this city last weekend. Although based in France since 1963, fate decreed that his life should end in the country where it began while on a visit to his birthplace of Córdoba. He died while undergoing a hip operation which his ageing heart could not resist. Seguí was a prolific artist whose work exuded an ironic and nostalgic view of society with midget men wearing antiquated hats as his satirical trademark.

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