Thursday, February 22, 2024

ARGENTINA | 15-01-2022 01:00

What we learned this week: January 8 to 15

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



The week ended with a total of 117,901 deaths and 6,932,972 confirmed cases at press time yesterday as against 117,428 deaths and 6,135,836 confirmed cases the previous Friday. As testing centres continued to feel the strain from record levels of contagion from the Omicron variant, the government decreed on Tuesday that asymptomatic close contacts of positive cases who were no longer obliged to take swab tests nor to go into isolation in order to reduce alarming levels of absenteeism from work. On Wednesday former health minister Ginés González García broke a long silence almost a year after losing his job due to the VIP vaccine scandal, insisting that he had done “nothing incorrect” although he had perhaps been “a bit stupid” and also complaining about a lack of support from President Alberto Fernández. Infections climbed throughout, hitting a record 139,853 confirmed cases in 24 hours on Friday.



Last Tuesday, with temperatures topping 41 ºC and electricity consumption rising to record levels, there was a blackout affecting over 700,000 homes, with some without power for more than seven hours. Edenor blamed the cuts on a fire affecting power lines in San Martín district. The City neighbourhoods of Palermo, Belgrano and some Greater Buenos Aires districts such as Vicente López and Don Torcuato were the hardest-hit. Last week’s heatwave was the worst since 1957 when temperatures topped 43ºC and 11 people died of heatstroke and throughout the week Argentina was one of the hottest places on the planet. A total of 10 provinces surpassed 40 degrees on Friday, with Santiago del Estero recording a high of 43.4 degrees Celsius. Illustrating his criticism with an all-black image in his Twitter account to match the blackout, ex-president Mauricio Macri blamed the power cuts on the government, due to their "lack of investments" and frozen utility billing. Other Juntos por el Cambio leaders joined his criticism with deputy María Eugenia Vidal describing the power cuts as "the consequence of Kirchnerite improvisation" while fellow-deputy Ricardo López Murphy lamented: "Populism with [public] services does not come free" and lower house caucus leader Mario Negri pointed out that last year’s subsidies had eaten up US$11 billion or 2.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product. But presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti responded by reminding Macri of the even more massive Father’s Day blackout in 2019 lasting most of the day. Elsewhere in the country, La Pampa homes complained about being infested by insects as a result of the heatwave.



The government decreed two days of home office last Thursday and Friday via Decree 16/2022 – this time not due to the coronavirus pandemic (although that continues) but to lower the huge demand for electricity causing last Tuesday’s power cut after temperatures often topping 40 degrees Centigrade. Essential workers (mostly health service employees, the security forces and state bank clerks) were excluded from the decree. City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta rejected the idea, arguing that the pandemic, as the priority of most municipal employees, could not be resisted from home nor could testing centres handling 50,000 people daily be staffed. Rodríguez Larreta did not propose any energy-saving measures to accompany his rejection.



President Alberto Fernández returned to the attack against the Supreme Court last Monday, affirming that it had "a very serious functional problem" if Jujuy social activist Milagro Sala could remain in jail after six years and blaming his predecessor Mauricio Macri for the "erosion of its credibility." Yet despite his criticisms, Fernández avoided confirming any plans to push a bill reforming the Supreme Court. City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta described the presidential “advance” against the Supreme Court as "very serious since its goes against the separation of powers, which is one of the basic principles of the republican system" while deploring the fact that government officials including Deputy Justice Minister Juan Martín Mena were endorsing the Kirchnerite protest march outside the Central Courthouse called for February 1.



Argentina sent its Ambassador to Managua Daniel Capitanich to attend the inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega last Tuesday but the Foreign Ministry ended up complaining about the presence of Iranian Deputy Economy Minister Mohsen Rezai, suspected of being one of the masterminds of the 1994 terrorist bomb destruction of the AMIA Jewish community centre leaving 85 people dead and for whom an international arrest warrant has been issued. The opposition strongly criticised Capitanich’s presence at the inauguration, calling on Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero to explain it to Congress. "The price of supporting dictatorships! At Ortega’s inauguration in Nicaragua, Capitanich found himself next to an Iranian accused of the AMIA attack with an INTERPOL red alert. The Memorandum (of Understanding with Iran in 2013) was a tool for impunity," commented PRO chair Patricia Bullrich.



In agreement with over 100 retail companies the government has renewed the ‘Precios Cuidados’ price controls scheme for 1,321 products “of primary need” for the first quarter of this year, capping price increases at six percent and adjusted to each province. On Thursday, the INDEC national statistics bureau reported that inflation last year totalled 50.9 percent – one of the highest rates in the world.



The “blue” parallel dollar closed at 210 pesos yesterday as against 208 pesos the previous Friday. The official exchange rate moved up from 108 pesos last Friday to 108.75 pesos yesterday, as quoted by Banco Nación, or 179.43 pesos if the 65 percent surcharges for savers and tourists are added while the parallel but legal exchange rates of the CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (medio electrónico de pagos) moved slightly downward to close at 209.37 and 201.17 pesos respectively as against 211 and 203 pesos the previous Friday. No closing figure for country risk was available at press time yesterday but it was 1,863 points on Thursday, as against 1,801 points the previous Friday.



 Journalist Santiago O’Donnell has described a court ordering him to hand over the tapes of Mariano Macri underlying his book Hermano as "a very serious threat to the freedom of expression." The journalist was ordered last Monday to comply with the order, issued by magistrate Marta Gastaldi in late 2020 in response to a petition by Mariano Macri, on pain of paying a fine of up to US$67,000. In the book ex-president Mauricio Macri’s younger brother airs the business manoeuvres of the Macri clan. The journalist feels that this would be "a good opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule in an area where there is no protection for press sources as in Europe and other advanced countries." His argument was upheld by legal experts and journalists across the political spectrum.



One talking-point last week was PAMI chief Luana Volnovich’s choice of summer holiday destination – the Holbox island beach off Cancún. Opposition politicians were quick to compare her Caribbean jaunt with the minimum pension of 29,000 pesos. Volnovich was not the only government official vacationing in the Caribbean – Housing Minister Jorge Ferraresi picked the Cuban beach resort of Varadero even if President Alberto Fernández had urged all members of his administration to give priority to tourism in Argentina (as flagged by the Previaje programme) although the minister also said that he was ready to cancel his trip if such was the presidential wish. 



The Argentine mini-satellite General San Martín (constructed in Mar del Plata to aid Internet communications nationwide) took off without mishaps at Cape Canaveral soon after noon on Thursday through the Space X rocket via Transporter-3. President Alberto Fernández congratulated the team: “This is sovereignty, this is what we can get to know. My heartfelt congratulations, I’m full of satisfaction. They are Argentines with an enormous vocation to connect the fatherland.” A further 104 satellites constructed by 20 countries were also launched into space by the Falcon 9 rocket of Space X, the firm of Elon Musk.



The government has revived the 2010 Conectar Igualdad programme via Decree 11/2022 published in the Official Gazette last Wednesday, giving out netbooks for secondary students in the new context of a pandemic which has badly hit classroom schooling. The first edition of the programme Conectar Igualdad delivered over 5.3 million computers to students and teachers nationwide.



The City Criminal Appeals Court on Wednesday confirmed the trial of four more policemen for covering up the police slaying of Lucas González in Barracas last November, remanding them in custody, while acquitting two policewomen for lack of evidence. 



Federico Nacarado, 40, won the raffle of libertarian deputy Javier Milei’s first monthly salary last Tuesday. Nothing very remarkable about his use of the windfall of 205,596 pesos – it will go towards clearing his bank overdrafts. Nacarado, who admitted to Kirchnerite political sympathies in a television interview, was one of over a million people entering the raffle with around seven million visits to the website, which collapsed at times.



Nahir Galarza, 23, convicted to life imprisonment for shooting her boy-friend Fernando Pastorizzo dead in late 2017, now maintains that he was slain by her father Marcelo Galarza, a claim to which her mother Yamina Kroh lends credence, denouncing gender violence by her ex-husband. Garlaza’s accusation (which is already her fourth version of the killing) was rejected by the Gualeguaychú court, which nevertheless extended an anti-panic button to Kroh. Nahir’s lawyer Raquel Hermida Leyenda described the ruling as "typical of the machista justice of Entre Ríos," insisting that the case be reviewed with a "gender perspective," but the Gualeguaychú prosecutor said that the murder of Pastorizzo had passed through many judicial instances falling only short of the Supreme Court with the guilt always pointing in the same direction.



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