THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
Confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion topped the four million mark last Tuesday, reaching 4,093,090 with 84,628 deaths at press time yesterday as against 3,915,397 cases and 80,411 deaths the previous Friday. On Monday Córdoba reported the deaths of a doctor, aged 44, and a kindergarten teacher, 51, despite receiving a double dose of vaccine and having no apparent health problems, sparking a host of headlines. On Tuesday executives from Pfizer and Richmond labs went to Congress to field questions from the Lower House Health and General Committees – Pablo Yedlin (Frente de Todos-Tucumán), who heads the former committee, was adamant against any changes in last October’s vaccine legislation to unblock negotiations with Pfizer, calling them “unnecessary.” On the same day President Alberto Fernández announced that Argentina would receive US$75 million from the Latin American Development Bank to buy vaccines against Covid-19. On Wednesday there was a famous addition to the four million-plus Coronavirus patients – Susana Giménez, 77, a veteran superstar of the entertainment world, who was stricken in her Uruguayan residence and taken to a Punta del Este hospital with pneumonia in one lung. On Thursday United States President Joe Biden confirmed from London that Washington would be donating half a billion vaccines to 92 poorer countries, though Argentina was not on the list. Finally, the government will be extending the current emergency decree until June 25, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti confirmed yesterday, including the “traffic lights” epidemiological colour coding to segment restrictions by district while President Fernández criticised Congress for delaying the law granting him superpowers for emergency measures, also expressing concern over the appearance of the Delta variant of Indian origin and triple mutation.
President Alberto Fernández yesterday sent a letter to the INADI anti-discrimination institute regarding his controversial remarks about Latin American origins voiced to visiting Spanish premier Pedro Sánchez last Wednesday, saying that he had already apologised “to anybody who might feel offended” and insisting that his government "defends cultural diversity with pride." On Wednesday he told Sánchez that he was European-minded, misquoting a Mexican writer as to “Mexicans coming from Indians, Brazilians out of the jungle but Argentines off boats” and expressing pride in Argentina receiving five million European immigrants in the past century but in yesterday’s letter he stressed the more recent immigration from other Latin American countries, as well as the continued presence of the original population.
SPANISH PM’S VISIT
Spanish premier Pedro Sánchez paid a flying visit here on Wednesday (the first visit here by a head of government since the coronavirus pandemic began), overshadowed by his host’s misguided attempt to bond with his European visitor (see above). Sánchez, who arrived on Tuesday evening, was accompanied by a numerous business delegation coming with investment promises and latent grievances but neither were clearly spelled out. While Argentina has yet to be included among the recipients of the 22 million doses of vaccine against Covid-19 which Spain is donating to Latin America, Madrid’s clearance of Sputnik V last week was good news for this country.
CITY POVERTY RATE
Despite government complaints about the “opulence” of the Federal Capital and its middle-class image, there is no lack of poverty, City Hall statistics for the first quarter reveal, with 26.5 percent of inhabitants below the poverty line while the middle class has been reduced to 44.8 percent from a pre-pandemic 49.6 percent, both record figures. City Hall noted that the withdrawal of the IFE (Ingreso Familiar de Emergencia) benefit since the last quarter of 2020 has had a strong impact with 9.4 percent (or 290,000 people) now destitute. At the other end of the social scale, the upper class is now down to 8.6 percent (or 264,000 people) in 11 percent of households.
The “blue” dollar, the main parallel exchange rate, inched up a couple of pesos last week, closing yesterday at 158 pesos from 156 pesos the previous Friday. The official exchange rate stayed put at the round figure of 100 pesos as quoted by Banco Nación – still ahead of the “blue” at 165 pesos if the 65 percent surcharges for purchasers are added. Among the unofficial but legal alternative exchange rates, the CCL (contado con liquidación) retreated from 166.20 pesos the previous Friday to 164.76 pesos yesterday while the MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) also dropped back to 158.09 pesos yesterday from 160.73 pesos the previous Friday. Country risk was significantly down yesterday at 1,469 points from 1,504 at the close of last week.
Agribusiness exports brought in a record US$13.3 billion between January and May, representing a 91 percent increase over the first five months of 2020 and overtaking the previous 2016 record of US$11.05 billion. Soy and maize were the leading contributors to this record.
In the year’s first midterm voting at provincial level in Misiones last Sunday, the legislative list of the locally dominant neo-Peronist Renewal Front polled just under half the vote, the Juntos por el Cambio opposition a quarter and a Kirchnerite list headed by a La Cámpora militant 14 percent.
Golf Masters champion Ángel "Pato" Cabrera was extradited across the border from Brazil to Misiones on Tuesday to await transfer to Córdoba where he will be remanded in custody and tried for gender violence against his former partner, Cecilia Torres Mana. Cabrera had been detained in Rio de Janeiro in mid-January following the issue of a red alert by Interpol.
MORE DIVORCES THAN WEDDINGS IN CITY
Argentina marked the 34th anniversary of its divorce law last Tuesday with more divorces than weddings for the first time in Buenos Aires City last year after the dissolution of marriage was made even simpler by the Civil and Commercial Code reforms of 2014 (also applying to gay marriages, which had been legalised in 2010). The phenomenon of divorces overtaking weddings is not so much due to more of the former (4,480) than less of the latter (3,861) with all wedding ceremonies suspended between April and September last year due to quarantine while divorces were possible via Zoom – in previous years divorces had been approximately half of total marriages.
GILS CARBÓ FACES TRIAL
Former Attorney-General Alejandra Gils Carbó was sent to trial on Tuesday by federal judge Julián Ercolini on malfeasance charges concerning the irregular purchase of a building for her office, where she had awarded a contract of 43 million pesos out of public funds with the brother of one of her employees collecting three million pesos as a middleman.
Almost a third of households in Argentina do not have a fixed Internet connection, according to a report from the Argentine Internet Chamber (CABASE), with a huge disparity in access nationwide. Buenos Aires City has a total of 108 connections for every 100 households, while nine provinces are less than halfway covered. Formosa ranked lowest, with just 32.