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ARGENTINA | 29-05-2021 10:41

What we learned this week: May 22 to 29

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

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

There were 3,702,422 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion and 76,693 deaths at press time yesterday as against 3,482,512 cases and 73,391 deaths the previous Friday. The strict quarantine throughout the week was helped by its first two days being public holidays. The Covid-19 week started on a poignant note with news of the May 21 death from double pneumonia of diabetic veterinary student Lara Arrgeguiz, 22, accompanied by shocking photos of her lying on a Santa Fe hospital floor – the shock came from a confirmation of both the impending collapse of the health system and the increasing youth of coronavirus fatalities. Monday also saw Patricia Bullrich, the former Security minister who now chairs PRO centre-right party, hurling fiery charges that former Health minister Ginés González García had pumped Pfizer for bribes in return for a vaccine contract (rapidly denied by that lab), prompting both President Alberto Fernández and the ex-minister to say that they would sue her – the next day Bullrich scaled down her charges to the government having insisted on a local crony middleman. On Tuesday thousands of citizens chose to marks the May 25 anniversary of the birth of Argentine nationhood in 1810 by protesting against the new restrictions (including the suspension of classroom education) at the Obelisk and in several cities around the country – in Rosario (where the local police chief Adrián Forni, 52, died earlier this month of coronavirus) at least the protests turned nasty with rubber bullets fired and a dozen arrests. The same day also saw 843,000 AstraZeneca vaccines arriving from the United States, with six provinces now joining the national government on the market. On Wednesday Entre Ríos Peronist Governor Gustavo Bordet tested positive for Covid-19 despite the antibodies from both a previous bout with coronavirus nine months ago and a double dose of Sputnik V vaccine (which a Córdoba University study published on Monday had shown to be 99.65 percent effective against the virus). Thursday saw the number of cases top 40,000 for the first time (41,080) although the deaths (551) were well below the record. By the week’s end, further deliveries meant Argentina had received 2.8 million vaccine doses in just six days, made up of AstraZeneca and Sputnik jabs.

 

ALBERTO & ANGELA

On Wednesday morning President Alberto Fernández engaged in a virtual dialogue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who confirmed her country’s support for Argentina’s negotiations towards a “sustainable agreement” with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but there was no word on whether that support extended to talks with the Paris Club, to whom a payment of US$2.4 billion falls due on Monday (with Germany as the leading creditor). In a tour of Europe at the start of this month President Fernández had already confirmed the support of Spain, Portugal, Italy and France for his IMF negotiations. Wednesday’s 40-minute conversation with Merkel also touched on the coronavirus pandemic with an emphasis on Argentina’s vaccination campaign, as well as climate change. The previous day some 2,000 Peronist and progressive leaders (most, but not all, linked to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) signed a proclamation on the initiative of Frente de Todos deputy Fernanda Vallejos calling for all foreign debt payments, whether to the IMF or the Paris Club, to be suspended for the duration of the pandemic.

 

MARKET WATCH

 The “blue” dollar, the main parallel exchange rate, returned to an upward path last week, closing yesterday at 157 pesos from 153 pesos the previous Friday. The official exchange rate entered three digits last week at some levels although 99.75 pesos yesterday as against 99.25 pesos the previous Friday as quoted by Banco Nación – well ahead of the “blue” if the 65 percent surcharges for purchasers are added. Among the unofficial but legal alternative exchange rates the CCL (contado con liquidación) continued to advance, rising to 165.10 pesos as against 162.87 pesos the previous Friday. The MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) inched up to 159.30 from 158.37 pesos the previous Friday. Country risk continued its downward path from 1,535 points the previous Friday to a stable 1,508 both yesterday and Thursday as the Central Bank bolstered its reserves by over US$2 billion last week.

 

 

FOREIGN POLICY SHIFTS

Ex-president Mauricio Macri on Thursday indignantly accused the Alberto Fernández government of "aligning with the Nicolás Maduro dictatorship … as a priority over the lives and human rights of millions of Venezuelans," after the government announced the withdrawal of its support for charges of crimes against humanity by Maduro lodged with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in 2018. This decision had apparently been taken simultaneously with Argentina’s exit from the Lima Group on March 24. Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru were all co-plaintiffs in the ICC case. The previous day Patricia Bullrich, who chairs Macri’s PRO centre-right party, had suggested that the government’s Venezuela policy might have been a factor in the failure of the vaccine negotiations with Pfizer, alongside other criticisms from several Juntos por el Cambio opposition leaders. The government on Thursday also decided to back a United Nations proposal to create a commission for the "independent, transparent and exhaustive" investigation of "presumed human rights violations in Israel and the Gaza Strip," adding that "the only real solution to the conflict would be an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state guaranteeing the right of Israel to live in conditions of peace and security." The resolution was approved by a bare majority of 24 of the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council with nine (including the United States and Germany) opposed and 14 abstaining while Israel’s veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the UN initiative as "disgraceful, making a mockery of international law and encouraging terrorism worldwide."


 

CHOCOBAR GIVEN TWO-YEAR SUSPENDED SENTENCE

Buenos Aires provincial policeman Luis Oscar Chocobar was sentenced Friday to a suspended prison sentence of two years for gunning down 18-year-old thief Juan Pablo Kukoc, just before Christmas 2017. A City court on Friday defined that act as “homicide aggravated by the use of a firearm, committed in excess of the line of duty.” Chocobar was further barred from police work for the next five years.

 

COLOMBIAN NO FOR GRABOIS 

On Tuesday social leader Juan Grabois landed in Bogotá as part of an international mission to observe human rights violations amid Colombia’s unrest but was deported without leaving the airport. The Colombian authorities justified his deportation on the grounds of an invalid passport, which was disputed by the government here.

 

MÁXIMO RUSHED TO HOSPITAL

Frente de Todos lower house caucus leader Máximo Kirchner was rushed to the Italian Hospital in the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata last weekend with acute abdominal pains but had already checked out before this week started. The problem was kidney stones with antibiotic treatment and an abundant intake of liquids sufficing to restore his health. Urologist Carlos Ameri afterwards commented that protein-rich diets and fast food were prime causes of kidney stones with males accounting for three-quarters of patients. 

 

VARISCO DIES OF PNEUMONIA

Sergio Varisco, 60, the former two-term Radical mayor of the Entre Ríos provincial capital of Paraná who was convicted for drug-trafficking links and collusion with a 78-month prison sentence, died of pneumonia on Wednesday night following an operation for a brain tumour.


 

ECLIPSE

An eclipse took the form of a red moon for a couple of hours early on Wednesday morning. Caused by the planet Earth interposing itself between the sun and the moon, it was totally visible in some parts of Patagonia and partially elsewhere, including this city. The next “red moon” is due in 2023.

 

 

OF RUSTLERS AND HUSTLERS

 Daniel Alperovich, son of Senator and former Tucumán governor José Alperovich (himself on leave facing charges of sexual abuse), has been indicted by a Santiago del Estero court for rustling to the tune of 3,500 head of cattle, many of which were found on his La Galesa ranch. The younger Alperovich claimed that he had purchased the animals in good faith from one Luis Magliano late last year without having any idea that they were stolen. The value of the cattle is estimated at 450 million pesos. The court suspects complicity at a high level because the total rustling on trial involved hundreds of trucks.

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