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ARGENTINA | 16-10-2021 00:01

What we learned this week: October 9 to 16

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

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

Argentina reached 115,660 deaths and 5,271,361? confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion by press time yesterday as against 115,444 deaths and 5,265,058 cases the previous Friday. The long weekend attested to sharply reduced pandemic data with over four million tourists nationwide while on Wednesday City Hall announced an early start to next year’s school year on February 21 to compensate for classes lost. By Thursday the government reported having received 81,139,985 doses of vaccine. 

 

A LOTTA IMF TALK

On Tuesday Economy Minister Martín Guzmán met up with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva (confirmed the previous evening after having been accused of bending the rules in China’s favour while working at the World Bank). The IMF officials reportedly expressed apprehension about inflation and deficit financing in Argentina while continuing to resist Guzmán’s requests to spare this country the interest rate surcharges on mega-loans. On Tuesday President Alberto Fernández admitted for the first time that he was not expecting any IMF agreement until early next year in a meeting with local business leaders. 

 

ANÍBAL THREATENS NIK

Security Minister Aníbal Fernández stirred up a gratuitous scandal with a threatening tweet early in the week, prompting the opposition to call for his immediate resignation while press associations and even some of the minister’s party colleagues were also critical. Fernández had responded to criticisms of state-paid graduation trips as electioneering from newspaper cartoonist Cristian Dzwonik, better known as ‘Nik’, by identifying the college attended by the latter’s daughters as state-subsidised.

 

HERE’S AN IDEA: PRICE CONTROLS

Closed by President Alberto Fernández yesterday and with input from Pope Francis, the IDEA business symposium ran from Wednesday at Costa Salguero – the same day the new Domestic Trade Secretary Roberto Feletti announced a three-month price freeze on 1,247 items with negative feedback from some business sectors. Also on the same day the symposium kicked off, a City court declared unconstitutional City Hall’s sale of Costanera Norte land (which includes Costa Salguero) for commercial development.

 

IS THAT A HONDA?

Things have not been easy for President Alberto Fernández in the past month – visiting the Toyota auto plant in Zárate on Wednesday, he sought to show his affinity by being photographed driving a Honda, only to be mercilessly ribbed by the social networks. But Fernández denied that there was any error, saying that he was anticipating the plant’s production of a hybrid model.

 

INFLATION ON RISE

Last month’s inflation accelerated a full point from August to reach 3.5 percent, INDEC statistics bureau announced on Thursday, reaching 37 percent for the first three quarters of this year and an annual rate of 52.5 percent.

 

FEISTY CITY DEBATE

Four of the five leading Congress candidate for the City of Buenos Aires in next month’s midterms (missing only fringe leftist Luis Zamora) – María Eugenia Vidal (Juntos por el Cambio), Leandro Santoro (Frente de Todos), Javier Milei (La Libertad Avanza) and Myriam Bregman (FIT Leftist Front) – clashed in a heated television debate last Wednesday.  Vidal kicked off by demanding the resignation of Security Minister Aníbal Fernández for “crossing the line” in his clash with the cartoonist Nik while Santoro admitted that the minister was at fault but insisted that his resignation was the government’s decision, not Vidal’s. Milei had to be restrained at times for his harangues against the "political caste for stealing our future," blaming all his rivals, while Bregman blasted him for defending Spanish monarchists and advising the "genocide (former Tucumán governor Antonio) Bussi," convicted for crimes against humanity, to which Milei retorted that at the time he was a democratically elected governor. Bregman also attacked the Frente de Todos government for its "austerity budget" ignoring the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Santoro interjected that everything against the pandemic had been done by the national government and almost nothing by City Hall while Vidal replied that it was impossible to compete with the Central Bank’s printing-press, also comparing City Health Minister Fernán Quirós favourably with former national minister Ginés González García while Frente de Todos officials and militants jumped vaccine queues – she also pointed out that City Hall had re-opened schools six weeks earlier. Santoro then blasted Milei for resisting vaccination. 

 

MARKET WATCH

The “blue” parallel dollar resumed its climb last week, rising to 186.50 pesos as against 184.50 pesos before the long weekend, placing it 88 percent ahead of the official exchange rate, which rose to 104.50 from 104.25 pesos, as quoted by Banco Nación, or 172.75 pesos with the 65 percent surcharges for authorised purchases. The CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (Mercado electrónico de pagos) parallel but legal exchange rates both rose from just over 176 pesos to 177.77 and 177.68 pesos respectively. Country risk moved up to 1,629 points, a substantial increase from the 1,582 points at the close of last week. 

 

NEW RULES FOR CROPS

On Monday the Agriculture Ministry announced new restrictions for maize exports, increasing tension with the farming sector. In related news, soy production has risen only 10 percent in the last decade in Argentina (from 40 to 44 million tons) while more than doubling in Brazil (from 67 to 144 million tons), farming chambers revealed on Monday, complaining of a "lost decade." But Argentina also industrialises more of its crop, they said.

 

CULTURE BONUS

The government’s "Más Cultura Joven" programme, announced by Culture Minister Tristán Bauer last Thursday and granting 5,000 pesos to go to cinemas, recitals, concerts and theatres or purchase books to some 1.5 million unemployed youngsters on social benefits in the 18-24 age-group during the six months starting on November 1, aims at killing two birds with one stone – to regain youth votes for the upcoming midterms and to revive the cultural sector (one of the sectors most stricken by the coronavirus pandemic alongside tourism). 

 

CRIMEWAVE ON EDGE OF CAPITAL

The Greater Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Quilmes was in an uproar as from midweek after Lucas Cancino, 17, was stabbed to death by assailants seeking to rob his mobile telephone while on his way to school. The Buenos Aires provincial police made three arrests but neighbours complained that there was no justice or security while Security Minister Aníbal Fernández berated the courts for releasing one of the suspects. A Metropolitan Police officer living in Tres de Febrero and a Lanús shopkeeper were murdered in Greater Buenos Aires that same Wednesday. The next day Buenos Aires Governor Axel Kicillof reacted to the Greater Buenos Aires crime wave by announcing an 11 percent pay increase for the provincial police while criticising his predecessor María Eugenia Vidal for flooding the prisons with over 50,000 convicts.

 

MIRACLE ALLOWS SAINTHOOD

Pope Francis announced from the Vatican on Wednesday that his short-lived 1978 predecessor John Paul I would be beatified thanks to the miraculous cure of an Entre Ríos girl with terminal epilepsy invoking his intercession.

 

TEACHER UP FOR UNESCO AWARD

La Plata primary school teacher Ana María Stelman has been picked as one of the 10 finalists for this year’s Global Teacher Prize awarded by the Varkey Foundation and UNESCO in competition with over 8,000 teachers worldwide. The mother of three was praised for her use of digital techniques to teach children with special needs. 

 

MACRI CHALLENGES BAN

Ex-president Mauricio Macri on Thursday appealed the court ban on his leaving the country accompanying his October 20 summons in connection with illegal espionage on the families of the lost ARA San Juan submarine crew. 

 

ALBICELESTE MARCH ON

Argentina’s national side took their unbeaten run to 25 matches and moved a step closer to qualifying for the World Cup with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Peru on Thursday. Lautaro Martínez scored the only goal of the game two minutes before the break with a powerful header while Yoshimar Yotún missed a second half penalty for Peru. The result leaves the Albiceleste second behind Brazil in the single South American qualifying group, with a nine-point gap to those that could deny them a berth at Qatar 2022.

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