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ARGENTINA | 02-09-2017 14:05

What we learned this week: Pope Francis, CFK and Santiago Maldonado

Santiago Maldonado, the Pope, good economic news and CFK's 'victory'

Santiago Maldonado's disappearance sets the agenda
The disappearance of Santiago Maldonado dominated both the media and politics this week, culminating in a mass demonstration in the Plaza de Mayo yesterday demnanding his safe return (pictured to the right). 

Maldonado, 28, is believed to have gone missing during a protest on August 1 in support of the Mapuche indigenous community. Maldonado has not been seen since and some witnesses have alleged he was taken by members of the Gendarmerie (Border Guards) while on lands owned by the billionaire Benetton family, which are claimed by the Mapuches as ancestral grounds. 

Yesterday’s event, at 5pm, was led by seveal human rights organisations including the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have criticised the government’s response.


Pope confirms he is 100% Argentine
Pope Francis has revealed that he visited a psychoanalyst for six months in the past, when aged 42. The Argentineborn pontiff said the sessions “helped a lot.” He disclosed the information in an interview.


Industry, construction surge 
On Thursday the INDEC statistics bureau had some good news to place on the tables of manufacturers — July industrial output was up 5.9 percent on the same month of the previous year when the year-on-year comparison with 2015 had been negative growth of 7.9 percent. 

Driven by heavy public works spending in an election year, the equivalent construction figures were far more impressive — a surge of 20.3 percent last July as against a mid-2016 plunge of 23.1 percent — but in many ways the industrial data are more significant because the Mauricio Macri administration has found it so hard to coax any growth out of the stricken manufacturing sector, hit by recessive consumer markets and a relaxation of previous protectionism. 

The common denominator of both the industrial and construction figures is that they register growth which still finds both sectors below mid-2015 levels. Employent in the construction industry has now recovered to 435,000 jobs, still below the 458,000 working in the sector in the winter of 2015, while industrial recruitment remains at a standstill— here the expanded output would be due to improved productivity and picking up slack. 

Meanwhile, the government’s row with the United States over steep import duties on biodiesel took a turn for the worst this week as the Foreign Ministry threatened Washington with legal action. On Tuesday, the US announced that Argentine biodiesel would face duties of more than 50 percent and perhaps even as high as 64 percent. Such a move would hit Argentina hard —  more than 90 percent of the 1.6 million tonnes exported by the country went to the US.


Milagro Sala granted house arrest 
The jailed leader of the Túpac Amaru social welfare group, Milagro Sala, was granted house arrest on Thursday, a move which was celebrated by international human rights organisations who had campaigned for her release.

Sala has spent over a year incarcerated under pre-trial detention since she was first detained in January 2016. She was originally charged with inciting violence, although those charges were eventually dropped and replaced by allegations of embezzlement related to government funding for housing projects managed by Túpac Amaru, which prosecutors say were never completed. 

Groups including the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) Amnesty International and the Organisation of American States (OAS) had called for her release, while the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recommended she be granted house arrest. 

Sala has said she is a victim of “political persecution” and the government has resisted international pressure to free her, saying it has no say in the case and that it falls under her jurisdiction.

CFK confirmed as winner of PASO primaries 

Ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was quick to jump on the official count of the August 13 PASO primaries this week turning her waferthin defeat on the night into an almost equally slender victory and relaunching her Buenos Aires provincial senatorial candidacy the next day with a fiercely confrontational speech in La Plata. 

According to many pundits, her final margin (0.21 percent or just over 20,000 votes out of a Buenos Aires province electorate of almost 12 million) was more like a Pyrrhic victory or a moral defeat because it undershot much greater expectations by friends and foes alike, ranging up to 17 percent according to one poll but mostly above three percentage points due to the huge Greater Buenos Aires vote supposedly favouring her. 

Yet CFK claimed triumph in La Plata on Wednesday evening or at least a government defeat —  two-thirds had voted against “austerity,” she said, thus echoing the immediate Kirchnerite reaction to the initially adverse result. “Truth has triumphed over lies and manipulation,” she said, referring to suspicions that results from Greater Buenos Aires precincts had been held back in order to permit her Cambiemos (Let’s Change) ruling coalition rival Esteban Bullrich his 0.08 percent edge on the night of August 13. 

CFK claimed that her Civic Unity slate had won against an “unprecedented concentration of power in Argentina.” Some analysts might find this ironic when coming from the woman who had headed such a strong-armed presidency between 2007 and 2015 but CFK argued that the alliance of the state with big business and the major media gave the Mauricio Macri administration this unprecedented strength. The La Plata rally gave various pointers to a more confrontational style leading up to the October 22 midterm elections. Meanwhile the legal woes of the Kirchner family continued — CFK and both her children have been summoned for November 9 to testify in the Hotesur cases on charges of money-laundering via bogus billing of her mostly Patagonian hotels.   


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