THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
Argentina reached 115,225 deaths and 5,258,466 confirmed cases of coronavirus contagion by press time yesterday as against 114,828 deaths and 5,248,847 cases the previous Friday. On Tuesday, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti had to be rushed to Otamendi Hospital from Mar del Plata with acute appendicitis but she was back giving press conferences by Friday. City Hall boasted that no citizen of the national capital had died of Covid-19 since the previous week although three non-residents had died in local hospitals. On Thursday it was revealed that the government had been obliged to return over 1.3 million second doses of the Sputnik V vaccine due to labelling irregularities. On the first day of the month yesterday various new relaxations of restrictions in various districts were announced, including the return of nightlife in Buenos Aires Province, while the government approved the use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine for use in children aged between three and 11.
Two Argentines out of every five or some 18.5 million people remain below the poverty line despite the percentage falling to 40.6 percent in the first half of this year from 42 percent in the second half of 2020, INDEC national statistics bureau reported on Thursday. The percentage remains disappointingly high, given the end of quarantine and this year’s economic rebound. Even more disturbing was the rise in destitution amid a slightly falling poverty from 10.5 to 10.7 percent or 4.8 million people. While many jobs have been recovered this year, many of these people remain below the poverty line due to inflation. On Tuesday INDEC posted the average wage in the second quarter of the year as 26,021 pesos but over 70 percent of Argentines earned below that level.
BEEF BOATS TO CHINA
As from Monday the government will be relaxing its meat export cap in favour of selling “old beef” to China, the new Agriculture Minister Julián Domínguez announced at a meeting with Mesa de Enlace farming leaders and several governors. This move will free 89 percent of beef sales abroad while other exports remain banned until the end of October at least with a view to normalising them by December. Previously only the Hilton Quota to the European Union and the Israeli kosher market had been exempted from what had begun as a total beef export ban in mid-May, relaxed a month later to permit half the previous sales abroad. Beef prices and related issues are to be monitored every two months.
The “blue” parallel dollar closed the week at the previous Friday’s level of 186 pesos, well ahead of the official exchange rate, which moved up from 103.75 to 104.30 pesos, as quoted by Banco Nación, or 172.10 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 173.51 to 176.23 pesos and from 173.42 to 176.14 pesos respectively although these tightly regulated pesos are starting to develop their own parallel rates in turn (194 pesos in the case of the CCL). The Central Bank had to shed almost a billion (US$950 million) in the course of last month to hold the exchange rate down. Country risk continued to move up to close at 1,612 points yesterday as against 1,598 points the previous Friday.
President Alberto Fernández on Tuesday participated in a high-level panel convoked by the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation on job creation and social protection with an almost identical main theme to previous recent international huddles on climate change and the pandemic, as well as last month’s UN General Assembly – namely, pressing for debt conditions to be eased. A “new international financial architecture” was needed to face “the triple crisis of pandemic, climate change and debt, which hits middle-income countries like Argentina hard,” he insisted, also advocating debt swaps for environmental commitments and global taxation to favour emerging markets since G20 initiatives until now had been "insufficient."
CRISTINA BLASTS MACRI (PART 592)
Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Tuesday accused the media of "a long history of covering up … to this day" the Macri family, also laying into the ex-president for political persecution which extended to lodging a “ridiculous” case against her late mother Ofelia Wilhelm in 2016 and ruining the health of her daughter Florencia. She revised the second half of her 2016 reaction of “It’s not my mum, it’s your dad and you too” to read “your dad, you and your mother too” on the basis of an investigation into a Liechtenstein trust of US$25 million attributed to Gianfranco Macri (brother of the ex-president) showing that in reality it belonged to Alicia Blanco Villegas, the mother of both.
The new Security Minister Aníbal Fernández announced on Tuesday that 575 Border Guards would be sent to Rosario during the next two or three weeks to deal with the multiple drug-related crimes there, while also proclaiming creation of a new 1,000-strong Unidad 7 flying squad within the Border Guard to be posted in the province of Santa Fe as a more permanent solution. Early last month his predecessor Sabina Frederic had ruled out sending security agents to the province, justifying her decision by saying that they were “thin on the ground” and that there were far more murders in the Federal Capital. On Thursday Máximo Ariel 'Guille' Cantero, leader of the notorious drug-trafficking gang Los Monos, was sentenced in Rosario on a number of counts totalling 84 years in prison. Half a dozen other members of the gang also received prison sentences.
THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION...
Romina Picolotti, a former environment secretary between 2007 and 2008, was convicted on Monday with a suspended prison sentence of three years for fraud, as well as ordered to return 6,941,170 pesos (the total of misspent public funds as calculated by the court) to the current Environment Ministry. Picolotti heard out the trial from Miami, where she now lives and works, and can escape prison if she reports monthly to the Argentine Consulate there. Prior to hearing the verdict, she pleaded not guilty, attributing the charges against her to political persecution. Picolotti was convicted for using state funds for personal expenses ranging from restaurant bills, perfume and flowers to private charter flights although much of the spending (including a topless bar bill) was made by members of her family rather than the ex-official herself. Prosecutor Diego Luciani had requested a prison sentence of 42 months which should not be suspended.
FORD CONVICTIONS CONFIRMED
The Federal Cassation Court on Thursday confirmed the convictions of two former Ford executives for the kidnap and torture of 24 workers during the 1976-83 dictatorship and for having organised a clandestine detention centre within the General Pacheco car plant. Pedro Müller, 90, and Héctor Francisco Jesús Sibilla, 95, had already been sentenced by the Tribunal Oral Federal (TOF) 1 court of San Martín in 2018 to 10 and 12 years in prison respectively. The latter, a former Army officer, was given the stiffer sentence as having been responsible for security at the auto plant. Judge Alejandro Slokar noted that Ford Argentina was keen on working with the military regime in order to crush trade union activity. An estimated 30 of the cases of crimes against humanity involve businessmen.
Mendoza was hit last Wednesday by an earthquake of 5.2 degrees on the Richter scale but nobody was injured and neither was any material damage reported. The epicentre was some 70 kilometres distant from the provincial capital. There were two tremors of similar intensity last June.
DJ SLAIN IN MARDEL
The Atlantic resort of Mar del Plata expressed mass outrage during the week over the murder last weekend of popular disc jockey Leandro 'Lele' Gatti by motorcycle thieves.