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ARGENTINA | 13-03-2021 09:16

What we learned this week: March 6 to 13

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

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

There were 2,185,747 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 53,578 deaths at press time yesterday as against 2,141,854 cases and 52,784 deaths the previous Friday. Tuesday saw chaotic scenes outside the vaccination centre of Luna Park where 2,100 citizens over 80 had been registered for the day but cumulative delays (and perhaps some opportunists taking advantage of the confusion) led to crowds defying all sanitary precautions (especially for that age) forming outside. On Wednesday the prominent intellectual Beatriz Sarlo apologised to Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof for not explaining that his offer of a vaccination out of turn last January was part of a publicity campaign to counter criticisms of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and not anything “under the table.” On Thursday the government restricted flights to Europe, the United States, Brazil and several Latin American countries in a bid to keep the new strains of Covid-19 at bay. The province of Formosa was turbulent throughout the week with shopkeepers and others protesting against the provincial capital being placed under strict quarantine.

LOSARDO ON WAY OUT

Justice Minister Marcela Losardo’s exit was confirmed at the beginning of the week, with the official pleading exhaustion. She will be named as future ambassador to UNESCO but there was no final word on her replacement at press time yesterday.

TV CASH SCANDAL

Questions have been asked about the withdrawal of some 12 million pesos in cash in bags without administrative authorisation by Radio and Television Argentina (RTA) director Rosario Lufrano, who pleaded urgency to meet payments for a programme on the bicentenary of Manuel Belgrano. After the scandal blew up in midweek among independent media, she requested an internal audit by SIGEN comptrollers, also demanding the resignations of RTA’s Administration and Finance director and the public television (TVP) production manager (joining seven other directors who have resigned in the last 13 months) yet critics remain unsatisfied that neither she nor TVP Executive Director Eliseo Alvarez knew nothing of the matter. According to various sources consulted by Perfil, the order was given personally by Lufrano to skip the red tape and collect the money for the programme Los amores prohibidos de Belgrano, which was due to be made last year but cancelled because of the pandemic. But she denies knowing that the money was collected in cash. The Juntos por el Cambio opposition has summoned Lufrano to Congress specifically to explain the withdrawal of four million pesos in cash from a branch of Banco Nación. 

DECREES REPEALED

The government has repealed three emergency decrees by the previous Mauricio Macri presidency allowing advance voting by convicts, Argentines abroad and the security forces, also ruling out mail voting as permitted by electoral law without Congress approval. None of the three decrees came into effect – two were suspended by Macri himself in the light of objections from other political parties while the third clearing advance and mail voting was declared unconstitutional by federal judge María Servini de Cubría, all in the month of May, 2019. The Interior Ministry ratified this week that the Constitution does not permit electoral law to be modified by decree and Macri’s decree were duly ditched by Decree 166/2021 published in the Official Gazette yesterday. Approximately 360,000 Argentines abroad thus lose their vote. 

ECUADOR DIPLOMATIC SPAT

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Luis Gallegos, 74, resigned on Thursday “for strictly personal reasons” just two days after a diplomatic spat with Argentina following controversial comments by President Alberto Fernández concerning his outgoing colleague, Lenín Moreno. Quito had formally protested on Wednesday, recalling its ambassador to Argentina Juan José Vásconez for consultations and "an exhaustive analysis of the relationship." Asked during a recent interview in the television news channel C5N about a possible distance with his Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Fernández replied: "I’m not Lenín Moreno. Those who imagine that don’t know me. I might have differences with Cristina and I do. We have different outlooks on some things but I arrived here with Cristina and I’m leaving with Cristina." Moreno’s response was to quote Mark Twain: "Never argue with a fool or you’ll stoop to his level."

INFLATION INDICATOR

Last month’s inflation was 3.6 percent or 40.7 percent over the last 12 months, INDEC statistics bureau announced on Thursday, thus challenging the official 2021 Budget annual inflation forecast of 29 percent. The key item of food and beverages was above the average at 3.8 percent while core inflation was 4.1 percent.

ANSES SPLASHES CASH

The ANSES social security organisation has purchased dollar bonds to the tune of US$110 million since September out of its sovereign fund in order to help the Central Bank defend the exchange rate by holding the parallel alternatives down. The total of ANSES assets remains a mystery since no official report has been presented since May, 2019.

PROVINCIAL DEBT RACKS UP

Around 60 percent of provincial debt in bonds is in default since provincial governments can find no way to make dollar payments to foreign creditors other than to run up bonds in pesos with the national government with Argentina banished from overseas credit ever since the panic following the PASO primaries of August, 2019. Of a total provincial debt of approximately US$23.7 billion, US$ 5.39 billion is in bonds, of which US$ 9.24 billion is in default, according to Invecq consultants. Most of this debt in default (US$ 8.18 billion) corresponds to Buenos Aires Province with only the City of Buenos Aires and Santa Fe up to speed. 

MARKET WATCH

The parallel “blue” dollar continued its downward course of all this year last week, down from 145 to 141 pesos. The official exchange rate thus moved further ahead (if its 65 percent surcharges are added), up from 95 to 95.75 pesos according to Banco Nación, or 153.84 pesos for savers with the surcharges. Among the unofficial but legal exchange rates the CCL inched down from 149.13 to 149.03 pesos between yesterday and last Friday while the MEP fell from 145.65 to 141.60 pesos, although up from Thursday. Country risk continued to rise sharply from 1,588 points the previous Friday to close the week at 1,631 points, mostly because index-linked bonds were hit by the announcement that INDEC statistics bureau would be modernising its criteria for measuring inflation, thus reviving memories of previous manipulation in the minds of many investors.

WOMEN’S MARCH

Some 40,000 women marched on Monday to mark International Women’s Day with femicide very much at the forefront of their demands.

TOURISM HIT

The pandemic-stricken tourist industry registered a 93.3 percent drop last January by comparison with the first month of 2020 (two months before lockdown) while 80.6 percent less Argentines travelled abroad (mostly within the Americas), official data from INDEC statistics bureau revealed on Wednesday. The recovery plans of the Tourism and Sports Ministry under Matías Lammens are aimed for the second half of the year.  Incoming air passenger traffic was down 92.6 percent down at Ezeiza Airport and 99.9 percent in the rest of the country. 

IS 76 YEARS ENOUGH?

On the plane back to Rome from his strenuous visit of Iraq last Monday, Pope Francis, 84, revealed to journalists aboard that he had no plans to retire in his native land, saying: "I’ve lived 76 years in Argentina, that’s enough isn’t it?" but said that he could visit Argentina along with Uruguay and southern Brazil while still pontiff. 

FOREST FIRES

A farm hand was found dead yesterday in the vicinity of El Maitén in the Patagonian province of Chubut yesterday, an area ravaged by forest fires this summer. The body of Sixto Garcés, missing since Tuesday, was found together with a horse and two dogs, all incinerated. At least 200 houses have been burned to the ground. 

ARA SAN JUAN COMPENSATION

The government has promulgated the law passed by the Senate last month to compensate the families of the 44-strong crew of the submarine ARA San Juan, who were lost with the vessel in the South Atlantic in late 2017, despite the criticism of some of the beneficiaries, especially the clause stipulating that all collecting the compensation should waive any litigation against the state. 

 

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.

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